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Q. I've been divorced for almost a year. At first I didn't want to meet another man because I was still hurt. Then later, when I would have dated I didn't because I was afraid my daughter, 13, would feel hurt. How long should I wait before dating anyone?
There's no prescribed timeline for a single parent to start dating. But how you talk about it with your daughter beforehand is very important. To soften the transition, you may want to first establish a weekly "date" with your daughter. Pick a time when neither of you are typically busy, possibly Sunday afternoon or Monday evening. Your mother-daughter date needn't be lengthy or complicated, but do make it a weekly ritual. Prepare dinner together or go to a restaurant for a simple lunch. End your time together by watching a weekly TV show together, going to a movie, or doing little shopping.
Once this weekly date is in place, your daughter won't be quite so threatened when you start to go out on real dates. In order for this to work, however, you must make your mother-daughter date sacred and not re-schedule or put your daughter off, particularly for a date with a man.
One of your mother-daughter outings would be the perfect time to tell your daughter that you're interested in starting to date. Explain to her that it's normal and natural for you to be interested in men, as she someday will be interested in dating boys. Promise your daughter that you'll always love her, want to spend time with her, and that no man will ever be more important to you than she is. Ask her about her thoughts and feelings related to you going out with men.
Be prepared for her reaction. Your daughter may feel hurt, jealous, fearful, threatened, or even embarrassed once you start dating. You can't prevent her from feeling any or all of these emotions. She may feel hurt because she's afraid you'll prefer going out on dates to spending time with her. She may feel jealous when you're out for a fun evening and she's home alone watching TV. She may be fearful that you'll desert her for someone you date. At a time when she's developing her own sexuality, she may be embarrassed to think of her mother as an adult with sexual feelings.
Don't be tempted to avoid dealing with your daughter's feelings, even if your aim is to protect her from experiencing painful emotions. This is a chance for her to learn about and learn to manage a new set of emotions. And it is an opportunity for you both to build a new level of intimacy between you. You can't protect your daughter from experiencing emotions, but you can prevent her acting out on these emotional responses with dangerous or destructive behavior. This could include wanting to alienate herself from you, or rebel in a way that keeps her from living up to her academic, home, and family responsibilities. This you cannot allow.
The best way to combat the negative behaviors is through communication. Opening lines of communication begin with that first conversation with her about the possibility of you dating. Create that ritual of shared "talk time" between the two of you, and you'll have established a way of dealing with emotional issues that come up. This will serve you both well as your daughter matures and the issues you deal with as a parent grow in complexity.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.