How do I date wisely after divorce when I have kids?
The first thing we have to deal with as divorced people is… how to set up the perfect online dating profile. This is written a bit facetiously. But honestly, the major thing on the minds of the recently split is how to find someone new, and better. Drafting your first dating profile usually happens about two weeks to two months before the divorce is finalized. Not too long after that we are dealing with the question of when to introduce our new dating partner to our kids. This happens anywhere from one week (not recommended!) to one month to six months after we meet someone. And way too soon after that, we are deciding how to merge our family with another in, yikes, the same house!
All of this can happen during the time of ‘unreason’, that time when we are post-divorced and pre-sane. During this period the concept of time is elusive and the hormones from meeting and touching someone new are in serious overdrive. We believe we can see the future! And it involves lots of sex! Once you take a breath, you start to realize that the relationship before you is a relationship just like any other, where we make mistakes, missteps, and misfires. Now however, there are lots of other people involved in our mistakes, namely our children. So take a breath, and think about these three suggestions as you date post-divorce.
1. Have the conversation with your kids.
Ideally, a newly-dating adult has prepared their children prior to getting online and dating. (See “What can I say to my children?” for ideas.) That is what the experts, including myself, recommend. From much experience, however, I know most of us start dating before having this conversation. That’s okay. Just have it as soon as possible.
2. Be prepared to answer hard questions.
Your kids are concerned about their experience. They want to know what is going to happen to them. You may be thinking about what to wear on your hiking date to look cool and casual, yet fit and vivacious, but your 5 year-old is thinking about whether he will have a new dad, new brothers and sisters, and whether he will have to move from his favorite bedroom. Your 15 year-old is wondering if you are having sex with other people and whether she will have a nasty new step parent. Children are the ultimate pragmatists and a bit egotistical in their perspective, and they have every right to be. If there are any questions that you don’t expect, give yourself the time to think through your answer by saying, “Let me think about that”, or “I am going to talk to your mom about that one and get back to you.”
3. Observe yourself as you date.
Don’t do things you wouldn’t advise for your kids when they start dating. You are now a serious role model for your children. You were before too, but now you are going to show them what it is like to meet people, date, build relationships, and sustain those relationships. And you are doing it during a time when emotions and challenging situations are circling around you. Be easy on yourself, be honest with yourself, and be honest with your children.
What are my children concerned about?
These are the questions spinning around in your child’s head.
– Will my dad still be my dad? Do I have to have a new mom?
– Will I have to move? Will I have to go to a new school?
– Will I have new brothers and sisters? Will my mom/dad love them better than me?
– What is going to happen to me? Are things going to change?
What can I say to my children?
Keep it simple, straightforward and honest. Keep their developmental level in mind. What words and concepts will make sense to them? Don’t bring the hurt and the pain, or your feelings about your ex into it. Have the talk at a time when you can be calm and measured. These are some refrains you can use.
- As your dad and I form new lives, we will both be meeting and dating new people. It is nice to go through life with someone and that is why I will be meeting new people.
- You will not be expected to be a part of it unless you want to be.
- It is natural for adults to want to live their lives with other people.
- It takes time to really get to know people, so I may date a couple people before I find a person I want to date over the long term.
- No one will ever replace your dad (or mom). I will always be your mom. Your dad will always be your dad. We will always be your parents.
- You all come first and I will make decisions about my dating life with you in my mind. I will look for someone who is good for me and who is good for you all too.
- There won’t be any big changes in your life that you don’t know about. I will let you know ahead of time about anything that impacts your life.
- Do you have any questions?
Do I have to tell them??
Yes, you do. This is one of those hard moments as a parent where you would love not to have adult responsibilities. It may seem easier to just keep on keeping on, or to think that you are protecting your children by keeping them in the dark, or that they are too young to be in the know. Let me clue you in… kids know whether you tell them or not. They see you texting, they hear your phone pinging with the latest OkCupid notification, they notice you laughing more, and going out more. If you don’t tell them, they will come up with a story and the story will be much more dramatic, dire, and fanciful than reality. So suck it up, sit down, breath, and be honest with your children about what life is like for you in this new reality.
The last word…
This is a hard time. You are finding someone new while finding yourself at the same time. The best you can do is to be aware of the choices you are making and to give yourself permission to begin each day anew. We all make mistakes during this time. Apologize, be honest with yourself and your children, and start again.
Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.
Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well. Contact her now at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-200-3970. More information here. localflamesmaine.com