When you divorce as a parent the experience can be extremely traumatic — especially because of your concern for the children. Another great challenge comes when you’re ready to move on after divorce. It’s a time to be very gentle, both with yourself as well as with your children.
Chances are, you made a considerable emotional investment in your marriage. Having seen that relationship fail can make you insecure about facing new relationships ahead. But if you take the time to go within, learn from your mistakes, understand the lessons from your marriage and determine new ways to approach future relationships, at some point you will feel ready to step back out into the dating world again. Then you face the challenge of breaking the news to your children.
Be Sensitive and Empathic!
Of course the age of your children will play a big part in how to talk to them about your starting to date. The rapport you have with them and closeness within your own relationship with the kids will also play a part in this difficult conversation.
Remember, your children are smarter than you think. They can pick up on your emotions and when you’re telling untruths. It’s best to be honest about your feelings regarding bringing another potential partner into your life. But be very sensitive about their emotions on this topic.
Let your children know you’re healing, feeling better about yourself and are now ready to explore meeting new friends. Remind them how much you love them, how important they are in your life, and that dating has nothing to do with replacing them – ever! Explain that you will still be the attentive parent you’ve always been and that they always come first in your life. Be very clear that no one will ever replace their other parent either!
You may need to have this conversation many times over several weeks or months to give your kids time to digest the concept and express how they feel about what you are saying. Encourage them to ask questions and share their opinions. Be patient and understanding of their perspective, even if you don’t agree with it.
Be Selective in Choosing Partners!
Don’t introduce your children to every new person you date. You can let them know that you are going out with friends every once in a while, if they ask, but don’t bring causal relationship partners into their world. This can be confusing for children and disappointing for them if the new partner they meet disappears or gets replaced a few weeks or months later.
When you do find a person you are seriously involved with, prepare the children in advance for the first meetings. Spend short intervals together and let the exposure build over time. Ask the kids for their feedback. Discuss their feelings. Watch how your partner behaves with them. Make sure the kids never feel threatened by the thought they are losing their Mom or Dad to a stranger. How you approach adding a new partner into your life will affect their long-term relationship with the children. So be careful, considerate and empathic in all your actions. Needless to say, make sure you choose a partner who treats your children well.
Children who have close relationships with both biological parents are more likely to accept a new parent partner into their lives without distress. Because they feel safe in their relationship with Mom and Dad, they are less likely to be threatened by a new adult entering the picture. When one biological parent disrespects and disparages the other parent, it puts the children on the defensive, making them much more likely to reject a new relationship partner entering the family dynamic.
So take your time when transitioning into dating after divorce. Move slowly when opening the door to new relationships that will be affecting your children. Putting yourself in their place will give you insight into what it can be like to find Mom or Dad with a new partner. Talking with a therapist or relationship coach can be quite helpful as you transition into this next phase of your life.
Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce Coach and author of the internationally acclaimed guidebook, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook™ Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love! It can be found at http://www.howdoitellthekids.com. Her free eBook on Post-Divorce Parenting, free articles, free ezine and other valuable resources for parents are all available at http://www.childcentereddivorce.com.