When you have kids, dating after divorce doesn’t always go precisely as you plan. Children have just endured a major disruption in the family and had their parenting figures divided in two. Now one or both of these parents is going out and actually searching to find another person who is going to come in and suck away even more of their beloved parent’s time and attention. Or at least this is how kids often see it.
So when divorced parents start dating again, kids aren’t always too keen on this development. If the situation is handled abrasively, children can quickly set out on a warpath to disrupt your endeavors and make the whole process as miserable for everyone as they feel it is for them. In order to keep them (and you) happy, we offer the following advice, which should help keep things running smoothly.
How long should I wait after divorce before dating again?
Divorcees should feel free to begin dating again as soon as they feel psychologically ready. But for the sake of your children, it’s best to wait until the dust settles from the divorce before jumping back into the dating pool. There is no clear-cut rule for this, but as a general guideline, we would recommend waiting at least 6 months from the time you get settled into your new living arrangements before you actively start dating again. If you start seeing other people while the transition is still taking place, kids are going to feel rejected and abandoned, as though they are now an afterthought of your life that you’d just as well get rid of too. Feel free to mingle or test the waters, but allow children time to adjust before you start formally dating.
Dating after divorce: Ways to make the process easier on kids
Once you decide to start dating again, there are several things you can do to make this process easier on kids:
Talk things out with them
Before you start actively dating, talk with the kids about your plans. Let them know that you want to start looking for someone else to be with and fill mommy’s/daddy’s role as it pertains to you, and give them a little explanation as to why. Tell them that it has nothing to do with them, that they are great to be around and that you love spending time with them, but that adults also need the company of other adults. Give them this analogy:
Ask them to imagine for a moment what their life would be like if no other kids were around. Think about it: Whenever they go to a new neighborhood or attend a special event of some kind, what’s the one question typically asked: “Are there going to be any kids my age there?” Kids ask this because they like to socialize with other kids their age. But when kids want to play with other kids, it’s not because they don’t love their parents or don’t enjoy spending time with adults just the same. Quality time with adults is loads of fun, too – every bit as thrilling as time spent with peers. It’s just that there’s also something special about interacting with people your own age, who relate on the same level you do, that you just can’t get anyway else. Or imagine what would happen if suddenly there were no adults around and only kids. This might be even worse! Kids need both types of relationships in order to feel whole and complete.
Adults are the same way. They love your company. They enjoy spending time with you. But they also need the company of other adults their own age. As much as you love your parents, you probably wouldn’t like it if all of a sudden all the other kids vanished and were never around. This is the way moms and dads can feel after divorce when they no longer have a partner around.
You should also explain a little bit about what dating might involve: that you’ll be going out with different people to see how well you like each other, that there may be some nights when you leave them with a sitter or relative, and that if you find someone you like, you might begin seeing them more often – maybe even get married if you meet someone you really like.
Keep things discreet at first
style=”text-align: justify;”>Do your best to schedule new dates on nights when the kids are with the other parent. This way you’re not taking anything away from their time with you. It’s also best not to rush to introduce dates to children right away. Wait until you’ve been out with someone at least a few times. If it’s someone who already knows the child, this isn’t necessary. But they certainly don’t need to be introduced to every casual stranger you go out with once or twice.
Make up for solo date nights with special nights for the kids
style=”text-align: justify;”>When you begin dating again and have to go out some nights while leaving them with a sitter, make up for it with a special mother-child or father-child “date night” where you do something special with the kids. Establishing these rituals will help to ease some of the tensions your child may experience, quelling some of the inner jealousy your kids will feel about this new person in your life.
Try to go on family dates
style=”text-align: justify;”>Once it progresses and your children have been introduced to the person, try to go on family-oriented dates that include the children. Not only will this provide a chance for your potential partner to become more familiar with the kids (and vice versa), but it also diminishes the likelihood that your children will see this new person as a competitor for your love and affection. When you’re going out twice a week and leaving the kids with a sitter, it’s a lot more likely that a jealousy complex will develop. This leaves children feeling like they’re competing for your affection, and may develop into conflict or behavioral problems. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still go out on your own from time to time, but try to include the kids more often than not.
Turn up the degree on TLC
style=”text-align: justify;”>Be sure to up the amount of physical affection you display toward kids while in a dating relationship. Random displays of affection – such as going over to hug and kiss a child out of the blue while they’re watching TV or swooping them up in your arms and dancing around with them – can allay fears that you’re losing interest in them. It also helps them develop a positive association in their mind: If mom or dad becomes more affectionate when going out with their adult friends, then maybe these new people aren’t such a bad thing after all.
Don’t keep kids in the dark
style=”text-align: justify;”>You should continue to talk to them in age-appropriate ways throughout the process, keeping them clued in about what you’re doing, where you go, or the people you meet. The more secretive and mysterious it all seems, the more insecure and suspicious children will be that some fishy conspiracy is being hatched to replace them, or that mom’s up to something that isn’t in their best interests. With kids in elementary school and younger, you can even make a game of it by talking about the project to “find daddy’s Cinderella” or “search for Prince Charming.” It can even become educational when you talk about the different things you look for in a partner, such as kindness, caring, someone who is responsible, etc.
Additional tips for divorced dating with kids:
- It’s best to be open and honest about whether you have any desire to remarry again, and if so, under what circumstances.
- Do tell dates about your kids and talk about them like you normally would. They’re a big part of your life, and there’s no point in hiding it. There might be some people who are turned off by this, but it’s better to find out now rather than later.
- Don’t badmouth your ex on dates or complain about their behavior to boyfriends or girlfriends. Not only does it look bad upon you, but it comes with hidden risk. If this person turns out to be someone you’re serious about, you don’t want to condition them towards a hostile attitude that will create conflicts down the road. Not only must you keep things civil with your ex, but any new partners you bring into the equation must also keep the peace. Talking incessantly to new boyfriends or girlfriends about how horrible or inconsiderate your ex is doesn’t bode too well for avoiding future conflicts. Simply say something like, “It’s complicated. We had both good times and bad.” Complain to your girlfriends instead, and if you do need to unload some frustrations, do so in a tactful, reasoned and respectable way.
We’ve got more tips on dating after divorce in our Divorce eBook.