Parents Dating After DivorceMarybeth Sampsel
Divorce isn’t the end. In fact, it’s really a new beginning. And for many parents, that new beginning involves starting to date again. For most people, dating was a confusing and tumultuous experience. And I’ve got news for you. This emotion roller coaster isn’t made any easier with kids. Actually, it adds a whole new layer of complexity. How do I explain dating to my kids? How will my kids be affected? Should I wait until my kids are grown? When should I introduce my new partner to my kids? When is the right time to start dating? What if my kids don’t like the person I’m dating?
The bad news is that there are no easy answers. But I’ve seen enough of my clients go through this process that I’ve picked up a few pieces of advice.
How do I explain dating to my kids? The answer to this depends largely on how old (and mature) your kids are. For children under five, the best approach seems to be to describe the person as a friend. For school age children (6-10), more information may be appropriate – such as describing the person as a “special friend.” Pre-teens and young teens probably know more about your situation that you’d like to think. I think it’s totally appropriate to use the word “date” with them. In fact, it may provide a great opportunity to discuss the whole concept of dating with them. By the time your children are teenagers, it’s best to just be honest. They’re probably dating as well, so they’re familiar with the deal. Remember though, it’s important to remain the parent. As easy as it is to gush or complain about your date, that’s not really an appropriate parent-child conversation.
How will my kids be affected? Every child reacts uniquely, it’s the nature of kids. You know your child and can probably predict their reaction better than anyone. But there are a few things to remember. Your child is probably holding out hope that you will reunite with his other parent. Dating can destroy that illusion and that can hurt. Also, your child is going to have to start sharing you in a new way with a complete stranger. This is a big adjustment and not an easy one.
Should I wait until my kids are grown? There’s really no right answer here. That’s a very personal question that has more to do with you and your family that childhood development. But make the decision based on what you think is best for the kids – not out of guilt or fear.
When should I introduce my new partner to the kids? I always recommend waiting until the relationship is serious. What serious means is up to you, but stability is always key in a child’s life and this is no exception. Dating is naturally a roller coaster, but part of your job as a parent is to shield your kids from some of the ups and downs. It’s easier to do that in a more stable relationship, even when it is still just a dating one.
When is the right time to start dating? You’ll know. But, as a rule, it takes between one and three years for a person to emotionally recover from a divorce. That’s not a timeline for you, just something to keep in mind.
What if my kids don’t like the person I’m dating? This one is tough, and often my divorce client’s biggest fear. It’s important to listen to your children’s concerns and take them seriously. But you should not be asking permission from your child to date someone. Putting your child is that position isn’t healthy for either of you.
This is a tough situation, and not something that a couple hundred words on a website will solve for anyone. But hopefully I’ve given you some things to think about in the journey.