Do you plan on dating with kids? Think it’s going to be easy? Assuming it’s going to be incredibly tough?
Doesn’t that depend on the personalities of your children, their ages, and their emotional maturity? What about how long it’s been since your marriage ended, and the ways in which your ex-spouse is involved in their lives?
What about his social life, and the way your children may be impacted?
Sure, I was devoted to my kids. And never more so than in those first few years after divorce. They were vulnerable and trying to be brave. Their father lived out of state. They were my first priority and I never regretted it.
As for my ex, he began dating during our drawn out divorce. I wouldn’t have known except my kids informed me. I imagine if their father lived in town and they saw him more often, their reactions would have been more pronounced, and potentially more conflicted.
As it is – and was – I could only get them to say so much, and I didn’t press. I left them to share what they felt comfortable with.
Talk to Your Kids About Dating
By the time my ex had gone through one major relationship and was on to the next (the woman who became his second wife), I was yet to dive back into the dating pool.
The pace I needed?
I had the kids almost all the time, my work situation was ambiguous and stressful, money was a perpetual problem, and I was still putting Humpty Dumpty together again – not only myself, but also my children.
I talked with my kids about many subjects. I tried to be sensitive when they didn’t want to talk at all. And I paid attention when my gregarious firstborn insisted on talking. He goaded me into dating, or it’s likely that I would’ve waited even longer. He’s an intuitive kid and saw that I was lonely. He made sure I knew that it was “okay” for me to date, at least – okay with him.
He was right that I longed for adult company, but I will also say that pop culture gives short shrift to reality with lines like “happy wife, happy life” or in this case, “if mom’s happy, everyone’s happy.”
Neither is true, and certainly not the latter! If your children are bothered, frightened, or confused by your dating, even if it feels good to get out, how can you pretend they’re “happy,” too?
How Children React to Parents Dating After Divorce
Children do have reactions to their parents’ dating behaviors. And I suspect that the parent that is more the “anchor” is the one whose changing status poses the most potential threat to their sense of security.
When I began to date after divorce, it was roughly three years since my husband had left. Our lives were still unsettled – only a few months in our downsized home, new neighborhood, new school bus route – my work situation and money, ambiguous.
My now 12-year-old was all for me getting out of the house. But my younger son, who was barely 11? He was less comfortable with change, more dependent on me emotionally, and seemed more worried about anyone invading our threesome.
It was a difficult process of making the world “safe” for him again, and I didn’t want him to feel it shaking. I thought long and hard before setting up a profile online, and doing the dating thing. I was genuinely concerned about his response, and I was extremely circumspect in the how and when I went out on dates.
Circumstances, Time, the Other Parent
When my ex-husband remarried, my boys didn’t seem bothered. My elder wasn’t thrilled with some of the logistical arrangements of traveling to see his dad and the new blended family, but as long as things at home stayed status quo, he seemed fine.
There was friction with his father, but I can’t say if that was the dawning of adolescence, residual anger from the divorce, the newness of the situation, or strong personalities that clashed even when he was little.
My younger son had little to say on any of it. But I sensed that being circumspect about my own dating life was essential. “Home” – the much downsized version we were trying to establish – still felt fragile. I didn’t want to jeopardize the progress we were making.
* What if their dad had been around?
* What if we had shared co-parenting?
* What if co-parenting had been cooperative rather than contentious?
* What if I had extended family to help, or money to pay for help?
* All of that could have changed the picture.
Run Your Social Life, But Listen to Your Kids All the Same
Were my sons running my social life or preventing me from dating?
Not at all. But I was sensitive to their needs, as well as my own. For me that was a slow restart, and I pursued most of my dating during the very few weeks of summer they were with their dad.
Did they know I went out?
Did they tease me when they saw a furtive kiss on the doorstep as they were peeking out a window?
Yes, indeed! But they didn’t see much more than that. When I did meet someone I truly liked, there were no sleepovers when my kids were around. That’s a model I didn’t care to create. And do I really have to add that you put yourself and your children at risk if you bring a stranger home for the night?
Only when I was involved in a serious relationship did I talk with my children about the person I was seeing, allow them all to get to know each other, and then – respecting everyone’s privacy – an occasional sleepover was part of the equation.
It’s worth noting that in one relationship when my boys were teenagers, they told me after the fact that something about the man didn’t sit right. It turned out he had been seeing multiple women while I thought we were exclusive. Kids have excellent instincts. We need to pay attention..
The very good man in my life now? Not only did I ask my sons’ impressions, they checked him out and gave him a big thumbs up!
How Do You Know When to Date?
No one can tell you when to date, how seriously to date, or how many people to date at once. No one can tell you when you’re emotionally ready to date after divorce.
You may need flirtation. You may need sex. You may need companionship – someone to talk with who’s at the same stage in divorce or healing.
You may be desperate for romance, even after an amicable divorce. You may be unsure if you’re emotionally ready to get back in the game.
But if the marriage appeared calm to the kids, don’t they harbor dreams that their parents will get back together? If one remarries, won’t they grieve the loss of that possibility – even if far-fetched?
More Post-Divorce Dating Details
Some children will resent anyone you date – at least at first. They may have had the lion’s share of your attention for months or longer. Now they have to share you.
Other children will attach to a father figure in ways that are premature. One friend of mine dated constantly in the years after her divorce. Unfortunately, she fell hard and fast, got engaged multiple times, moved fiancés in and out of her house, and one of her children in particular always grew attached.
He was sorely disappointed each time his hopes were dashed.
A few of my personal rules?
* If your children are old enough, talk to them about needing adult company.
* Always, always, always ensure the safety and security of your kids!
* Don’t make promises to your kids that you cannot keep.
* If your children are uncomfortable, consider erring on the side of going slowly.
* Pay attention to their instincts. They’re often excellent.