5 Rules for Divorced Dads to Make Dating OK For Their Kids

5 Rules for Divorced Dads to Make Dating OK For Their Kids June 16, 2024

While it’s normal to seek solace, companionship, and a sexual relationship after a breakup, it’s crucial to take it slow when you have kids so you can assess whether this relationship is casual or might be permanent. If you approach dating thoughtfully and consider that your children’s loyalty may be divided, it will pay off in the long run.

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Your kids may feel a mixed bag of emotions about you dating and even harbor reconciliation fantasies. The wildly successful “Parent Trap” storyline of identical twins switching planes and reuniting their wayward parents looms large in the minds of many kids who harbor reconciliation fantasies after their parents split. Both the original (1961) and the 1998 remake have been extremely popular in part because plenty of kids buy into the myth that their parents with reunite even though it’s rarely happens.

The number one thing to keep in mind when deciding when to introduce your partner and 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 parent’s 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 teenager to model their behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships thoughtfully.

5 Rules for Introducing Your New Partner to Your Children:  

  1. Timing is essential to healthy family adjustment after 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. Just because you’re smitten with your new partner, it doesn’t mean your kids will be. You owe it them to take it slow! You may have moved on from your divorce but kids may not be there yet. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interest – especially the first few years after the divorce.
  2. Consider your children’s emotional needs. Introducing your new lover to your kids can increase stress in the house and take energy away your kid’s ability to grieve the losses associated with your divorce.
  3. Have fun dating when your kids are with their other parents or family members. If you introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually, this may create uncertainty and ambivalence for them about intimacy if things don’t work out. You can inform your kids that you are going out with friends and that’s enough information.
  4. Set an example for responsible parenting. Consider that you are a role model for your kids and exposing them to casual partners may not be in their best interests. Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships. Do you want them to feel pessimistic about lasting love if things don’t work out in your new relationship?
  5. Don’t be hesitant to ask for support if your kids seem angry or defiant toward you or your new love for more than a few weeks. Talking to a relationship coach or therapist may help you to make a smooth transition into this next phase of your life.

If you’ve been dating someone for a while (at least 4-5 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 your ex. Having your new partner spent the night should only be an option once you are fairly sure that your relationship is permanent or you are engaged.

It’s important to assure your kids that your partner will not replace their other parent or change your relationship with them. Most young children view their parent’s dating behaviors as confusing – they may feel threatened or resentful about having to share you with another person. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. The 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, Allysa, will like her because she’s a lot of fun to be around.”

During our second discussion, I asked Tom if he had thought through any disadvantages of introducing his two daughters, ages ten and thirteen, to Kendra too soon. He paused and said “not really” and so I asked him to write down a list of pros and cons and email his list to me. His list never arrived but when Tom and I spoke a week later, he was feeling distraught and disappointed. The meeting between Kendra and his girls was a disaster.  In fact, Tom was questioning if he was just ready for an instant family.

Tom’s story illustrates the value of approaching dating thoughtfully when you are a divorced dad. You can enjoy dating and help your kids cope effectively if you consider the amount of time since your divorce and don’t introduce your children to new partners who you are dating casually.

Don’t feel guilty about having a social life and dating because it will help you lead a happy and balanced life. However, keeping your children’s needs in mind will help you preserve your bond with your kids and promote their resilience.

Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True in 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

 

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