Dating After Divorce: Explaining It to the Kids

Jan Faull, M.Ed., answers a single parent's question about explaining "dating life" to the children.
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Q. I am a divorced mother of two -- a boy, 7, and a girl, 11. I've been divorced for more than two years and would like to start dating again. In fact, I have a blind date soon that a friend fixed up. Now, how do I begin to explain "dating life" to my kids?

A. Explain the prospect of dating as you would any other occurrence, such as moving, a new job, or a grandparent's illness. Be brief; explain what the term "dating" means and why it's important for you to do it.

Explain to your children how your going out on dates will affect them. Reassure them that they will always be the most important people in your life, but let them know that it's normal and natural for you to want an adult companion, lover, significant other, or friend in your life.

There's no need to feel guilty about dating or apologize for it. Approach the prospect of dating with an air of confidence, communicating to your children, as much as is appropriate for their age, where you'll be going, what you'll be doing, and who you'll be with.

Be prepared that they may balk, cry, worry, or feel threatened that a man in your life will take you away from them. Keep in mind that a child's imagination can run wild, and be sure to reassure your kids that you won't be abandoning them for a love relationship.

You must reassure them over and over that dating a man doesn't mean you love them less, that you'll never love your date more than them, and that your date's children (if there are any) will never be as important to you as your own children are.

Once you've said these words, however, you must now prove what you've said by your actions. Take each of your children into consideration each time you schedule a date. Would you be missing one of your children's basketball games, a dance recital, or a carpool obligation? If so, you'd better bring your date along or go on your date after you've met your responsibility to your children.

If you miss certain parenting responsibilities for dates, resentment and jealousy will build between your children and your date.

If you include your date in family gatherings or activities, tell your children in advance. Also explain your expectations for their behavior and attitude toward him.

Incorporate this outsider slowly into your family's life. Do so as you would when mixing milk into melted butter and flour when preparing a white sauce. Too much heat or too little stirring will cause the family sauce to curdle and burn. Turn the temperature down, mix in the outside ingredient with loving hands surrounding your children. In time, they'll accept the fact that you're dating -- and eventually they will accept the man who becomes a significant part of your life.


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