Helpful Advice on Dating After a Divorce
If you’ve gone through the trials and tribulations of divorce, then you know it’s a terrible experience for the whole family. Yes, it’s probably hardest on you and your partner considering it’s the disintegration of your marriage, but it’s a very confusing and difficult time for your child as well (your child’s confusion is also another added element to the already chaotic divorce).
A functional bond between parents gives a child some sense of stability. If a child is very young (around toddler or elementary school age) she might not even be able to comprehend the notion that parents sometimes have to split up because the relationship has become too rocky. If this foundation of stability suddenly crumbles, a child often doesn’t even know how to comprehend exactly what’s happened (at least at first).
Preteens and teenagers typically understand that romantic relationships can turn sour, but that still doesn’t mean that they will necessarily handle the situation with ease just because they know that breaking up or divorce is always a possibility. It’s difficult no matter what.
It doesn’t matter the age of your child; divorce is going to have an affect on your child whether you want it to or not. One of the toughest parts about having a family (if not the toughest part) is that every decision or action made by any one family member is going to affect the unit as a whole. When the decision that’s made is to break the family unit apart (somewhat), confusion is bound to arise for every family member.
Dating after divorce and your child
Of course, you know that just because you and your ex-partner could no longer make your marriage work it doesn’t mean that you wish to avoid romantic relationships or a potential new marriage altogether. A divorce isn’t going to erase any emotional needs you might have that can be fulfilled with the help of a partner. Eventually, you’re most likely going to want to start dating again and even find someone else to settle down with.
But how do you tell that to your child? How exactly do you help your child to understand that you have certain needs, and that the way to meet those needs is by finding a partner?
How do you explain to your child that your desire for a partner or your choice to go find one has nothing to do with her? Well, quite frankly those are hard questions to find immediate answers to. Broaching the subject of dating after divorce to your child isn’t a simple thing to do, and that certainly makes the idea a scary one.
This isn’t to say that no child is incapable of handling the idea of a parent dating after divorce. But, it’s still something that has to be dealt with, and it has to be dealt with using careful consideration. If you’ve been through a divorce and you’re worried about how to approach the subject, that’s totally normal. Just know that there are steps to take and that there are productive ways to discuss dating after divorce with your child.
How your child might be affected
What you need to think about when talking to your child about the idea that you want to start dating (or that you already have), is that your child could very well still be confused about the divorce to begin with (this is especially true if your child is very young and the divorce has happened fairly recently). If you’ve been divorced for some time now, that still doesn’t mean your child has fully accepted it, or at the very least it doesn’t mean that your child is comfortable with it or happy about it.
Just remember that because you feel you made the right decision and that you feel good about it, it doesn’t mean that your child feels the same way. The divorce means something different than it does to your child.
For you, you get the chance (and the choice) to start your life anew and move on from something that caused you pain (your marriage). The same doesn’t hold true for your kid.
Your child isn’t the one who chose for you to get divorced, it was simply something that just happened that she’s forced to deal with.
Your kid really had no say in the matter, and she isn’t going to have much say as to when you begin to start dating either. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start dating just because you feel your child will be upset and confused, but it’s important to keep in mind that she might not be thrilled or comfortable.
You don’t have to tell your child right away
While you certainly want your child to be comfortable with the idea of you dating, that doesn’t mean that your child needs to know about it right away. If it’s a preteen or teenager you’re dealing with it’s never a bad idea to let her know that getting back into the dating world has been on your mind, but you don’t really need your kid’s permission to begin dating.
If you’re worried about how your toddler or elementary school aged child might handle it, just understand that they don’t need to know about it as soon as you begin. After all, just because you go on one or a few dates it doesn’t mean you’re going to spend the rest of your life with that person.
In the instance that you do go on a casual date, your child doesn’t need to know exactly where it is you’re going or with whom. If you’re going on a date on a Friday night you can simply tell your child that you’re going to go hang out with a friend of yours.
You don’t even have to tell your child who that friend is or what it is you’re going to do. Of course, honesty and transparency are always part of a healthy relationship between parents and children, but telling your toddler you’re going to spend some time with a friend is no way dishonest.
And remember, your child doesn’t need to know about every little thing it is that you do. While your child is certainly a big part of your life, you’re still an adult with your own life and that’s something that needs to be acknowledged and respected.
You aren’t going to be able to hide the fact that you’re dating forever, but your child doesn’t need to know right from the start.
You don’t have to introduce your child to everyone you date
Given that you don’t need to let your child know that you’re going to start dating before you do so, it’s also important to know that your child doesn’t need to meet every single person that you date.
Really, the only time your child needs to meet someone you’re dating is if it’s someone with whom you feel you can have a serious relationship with, or at least someone whom you foresee yourself dating for a while. There’s no time table for when a relationship becomes serious or not, but you should make sure to use your best judgment as to when it’s time for whomever your dating to become a part of your child’s life (and vice versa).
If your child meets every single person you date, she might get confused as to whom she should trust or take seriously. Your child could very well become attached to a person quickly or might feel some sort of disappointment if someone she likes just all of a sudden disappears.
None of this is to say that you should keep your dating life totally secret (if your child knows you go on dates from time to time there’s nothing wrong with that), but your child should only meet the person you date if you could potentially see this person being a part of both you and your child’s life.
Just think about this: Why should your child meet someone that won’t play any significant role in her life? The point of introducing your child to the person that you date is because you think the time is right for both your child and the person you date to get to know each other.
The initial introduction
Figuring out how to introduce your child to the person you’re dating can be kind of tricky. While your child can’t make decisions for you, you might want to ask your child if she feels she’s ready to meet your potential partner. You don’t want to just forcefully push a person into the life of your child. That doesn’t mean that your kid gets the final say as far as whom you decide to spend your life with, but you at least want your child to be prepared to meet the person that you’re dating, and you want her to be prepared for what that actually means.
You don’t need to tell your child that this person is going to be a part of her life and there’s nothing she can do about it (really, there isn’t), but she should understand that the possibility of this person being around for the long haul—or at least for a little while—is a realistic one.
But, you don’t have to put it in intense terms. You can simply say, “I’ve been spending a lot of time with this particular person and I like this person a lot. I bet that you would like this person too, and because of that I think the two of you should meet.” You want to make your child understand that her feelings are important, and you can more or less think of the initial introduction as something you’re doing for your child and not just for you. You should make that clear to your child. She should know that the meeting is for her sake, and that you feel it’s time that she meets the person you’re dating because you care about the way the relationship you have with this person affects the life of your child.
Let your child decide how they meet
One good way to introduce your child to the person you’re dating and also let her know that you care about her feelings, is to ask your child where and how they meet.
You could see if your kid would like for you all to spend a day at the park, if she would like to go out to dinner, if she’d like to have a nice dinner at home, etc. If you’re child gives you some outrageous or unrealistic suggestion you don’t have to follow it, but you should at the very least allow her the chance to have some input. If the person you’re dating could potentially be part of your family, you need to let your kid know that her feelings are important simply because she’s part of the family too.
Don’t be discouraged if the introduction doesn’t go well
It would be fantastic if your kid and the person you’re dating hit it off right away but that doesn’t always happen. Even if you’ve made clear to your child how you feel about this person and made it clear that you want this person in your and your child’s life, she isn’t necessarily going to be excited about the idea just because you’ve taken her feelings into consideration.
Remember, this is a new experience for both you and your child. Up until the point of your divorce, your child might not have understood that it was possible for you to love somebody else than your child’s other parent.
You also need to keep in mind that many children feel as if you’re trying to replace their other parent with a new one. If your child does feel that way having that discussion can often be very difficult and intense, and it’s most likely going to be discussed even if your child likes the person that you’re dating.
Your child’s other parent isn’t being replaced
If your kid does indeed feel as if you’re trying to replace her other parent with the person you’re dating, you should make it clear to her that just because this person could potentially be you’re partner that it doesn’t mean the person will be your child’s parent. Let your child know that your ex-partner will always be the parent of your child even though you’re with somebody else.
You aren’t trying to create an entirely different family here, you’re just making an addition or a slight change. An addition is not the same thing as a replacement, and you should make sure your kid understands that.
Let your kid know that both you and your ex-partner love your child very much, but that you and your ex-partner are no longer in love with each other. Your child should understand that choices you make in regards to your love life have nothing to do with the love that you and your ex-partner have for your child.
Ask your kid how she feels about the person you’re dating
Even if the initial introduction goes well, you should remember that that doesn’t mean that you automatically know how your child feels about the person you’re dating. Your child might not dislike the person you’re dating per se, but she could very well feel indifferent, or there’s always the possibility that your child just tried to be well-behaved during the initial introduction.
As you and the person you’re dating become more serious over time, ask your kid how she feels about that. You still want your child to know that her opinion matters beyond the initial introduction. It’s ok to talk to your child about whether or not she feels this person is right for you, and to see how she feels about this person being in her life.
Of course, you can’t break off a relationship simply because your child may feel uncomfortable. Your child is a huge part of your life but you can’t let her be the one to make decisions for you.
You’re the adult here, and ultimately you know what’s best for you. Regardless of whatever decision you make, though, it’s going to mean a lot to your child that you care about how she feels.
Give it time
There’s so much you have to take into account as far as how dating after divorce is going to affect your child. She’s most likely going to feel confused, she might feel unloved, or she may feel as if she no longer matters to you simply because you’re making some changes to the family that she’s a part of.
But, you never know. Maybe she’ll be excited for you and maybe she’ll be excited at the prospect of a new addition to the family.
If your child doesn’t take it well at first, you just have to give it some time. Remember, if she’s uncomfortable the first few times she meets the person your dating that doesn’t mean she’s going to feel uncomfortable forever. It takes everyone time to get used to change no matter how big that change is.
You just have to let your child know that you’re there for her every step of the way, and that both you and your child can become comfortable with the new change together.