If you approach dating thoughtfully after your divorce and consider your children’s needs, it will pay off in the long run. Your kids may feel a mixed bag of emotions about you dating and even harbor fantasies that you will reconcile with your ex-spouse. This might make it a challenge for them to accept someone you are dating into their lives.
As a result, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether your new romantic relationship is casual or might be permanent. Ask yourself: Is my new partner a good fit for my family? After all, you might have great chemistry and compatibility with someone, but they might not be well suited to join your family.
The number one thing to keep in mind when deciding when to introduce your partner to your kids is timing after your divorce. What’s the hurry? Even if both of you are in love and seem to have a lot in common, breakups are common and kids get caught in the crossfire. Next, the setting and length of an introduction is crucial to success. Rather than planning a long visit, it’s best to have a brief, casual meeting with few expectations.
Additionally, keep in mind the age of your children when introducing them to a new love interest, because younger children (under age 10) may feel confused, angry, or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Renowned researcher Constance Ahrons, who conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce, concluded that most young children find their parents' courtship behaviors confusing and strange.
While adolescents may appear more accepting of your new partner than younger children, they may still perceive that person as a threat to your relationship. Ahrons also found that teenagers may find open affection between their parent and a partner troubling – so go easy on physical contact in front of them.
Do you want your children to model their dating behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships sensibly.
Just because you are smitten with your new love, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interest – especially during the first few years after the divorce.
Children need time to adjust to their parents' split, and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions. Introducing a new love interest too soon may delay or damage this process. You owe it to your kids to take it slow!
Introducing your new lover to your kids can increase stress in the house and take energy away from your kids' ability to grieve the losses associated with your divorce.
If you introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually, this may create ambivalence for them about intimacy if things don’t work out. Inform your kids that you are going out with friends, which is enough information.
Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships, so proceed with caution.
If you’ve been dating someone for a while (at least 3-4 months) and feel relatively confident that you are heading toward commitment, talk to your children and explain that you are dating someone who you care about and that you’d like to introduce to them. Ask them if they have any questions. Keep the first meeting short and low key. Going to a restaurant or neutral spot for the first meeting is best. Ask your kids where they’d like to go and don’t invite your partner’s children to join you on the first few visits.
Be sure not to plan an overnight with your new love interest in your home right away. If you have shared custody, it should be easy to spend an overnight with them when your children are with their other parent. Having your new partner spend the night should only be an option once you are fairly sure that your relationship is permanent.
It’s important to assure your kids that your partner will not replace their other parent or change your relationship with them. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. The following story of Tom illustrates a blogger who didn’t have his eyes wide open and was blindsided by blending his kids with his girlfriend too soon.
Tom, a 45-year-old newly divorced dad, described his new partner Kendra as sexy, fun, and the complete opposite of his ex-wife Shana. They had been dating for a little over two months and she was head over heels in love with him. He had just asked her to move in with him and decided to call me for coaching because his teenage daughter, Abby, complained bitterly when he told her.
As Tom spoke, he was eager to share: “Kendra’s just so different from Shana, and I can really be myself with her. She has two daughters and is a great mom. I figure my daughter will like her because she’s a lot of fun to be around.”
During our second discussion, I asked Tom to make a list of any disadvantages of introducing Kendra to Abby too soon. When Tom and I spoke a week later, he was feeling distraught and disappointed that a meeting between Kendra and Abby was a disaster. In fact, Tom was questioning if he was ready for an instant family and wished he hadn’t rushed into introducing his daughter to his new girlfriend.
Tom’s situation illuminates the importance of dating thoughtfully after divorce. You can enjoy dating and support your children at the same time. It’s crucial to consider the amount of time since your divorce and delay introducing your kids to new partners who you are dating casually.
In closing, post-divorce dating can be enjoyable if you approach it attentively. Keeping your children’s needs in mind will help you preserve your bond with your kids and promote their resilience while you make a smooth transition into the next phase of your life.