When a marriage or serious relationship ends and you’ve dealt with the heartache and gotten back on your feet, you will likely want to get back into the dating scene (as terrible as it may be at times). However, if you have children and if they’ve only ever seen you with one person — that being their other parent — the thought of seeing you go out on dates with a bunch of different strangers will likely be a little weird to them.
But, by having a frank and open discussion with them, you can prepare your kids for your post-divorce (or post breakup) dating life.
Here are some vital things to keep in mind when talking to them about it.
Keep the conversation age appropriate.
Talking to young children is different than talking to teenagers about anything and that includes your dating life. If your child is too young to understand the concept of dating and/or relationships, that doesn’t mean you get to skip this step. It just means you need to alter your language so they can understand it.
For toddlers, preschoolers and young children in the 3 to 10 age range, use the term “friend” when talking about a date, as in; “I’m going to visit a friend” or “I’m going to spend some time with my friend tonight.”
Pre-teens and early teens will likely have some knowledge about dating and romantic relationships and may know that “friend” is a euphemism for something else. If you feel like they’re mature enough and know the basics about how relationships work, you can just start using the term “date.”
Talking to teenagers might be trickiest of all, as they are going through an onslaught of hormones, dealing with school pressures and experiencing all the mood swings and emotions that come with puberty. They are also likely dating themselves. So, while you can use this as common ground to talk about your dating, you shouldn’t get too chummy with them and turn into a friend as opposed to a parent. With teenagers, you can just use the normal language of dating while keeping in mind that it may be a little awkward for them to have a parent dating at the same time they are.
Teenagers will likely have questions about your dates and you can answer them while keeping the conversation appropriate. You might even invite them to “participate” by helping you pick out an outfit or a restaurant.
Reassure children that you are not holding auditions to replace their other parent.
A fear that some kids might have is that you are going on these dates to find someone to replace the other parent in their lives. If they express this kind of sentiment, let them know that any new person who may come into your life is not there as a replacement for anyone, including their other parent or even themselves. Explain that their other parent will still be a part of their lives and their relationship with that parent and with you is in no way threatened by any of the people you are seeing.
“Children who have close relationships with both biological parents are more likely to accept a new parent partner into their lives without distress,” Rosalind Sedacca, author of “How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce,” says. “Because they feel safe in their relationship with mom and dad, they are less likely to be threatened by a new adult entering the picture.”
Obviously, this is another good reason to keep your post-breakup relationship with your children’s other parent civil.
Prepare them for what may come.
At some point, hopefully, you are going to meet someone who you want to see again, date on a regular basis and maybe even spend the rest of your life with. You’ll need to prepare your kids for the possibility of having to meet a new person in your life eventually. So, when you think it’s appropriate to tell them, let them know that this whole dating thing is about finding someone you like enough to welcome them fully into your life.
Obviously, a conversation like this should happen before you actually do introduce a new partner, but it doesn’t have to wait until you meet that special someone. As long as they are mature enough to understand, you can tell them you are seeing people in the hopes of finding someone special who will make you happy for a long time.
Listen to them.
While younger children will probably just take your “friends” comments at face value, older kids who know what’s going on might give you some pushback about your dating life. Encourage them to say what they need to say by listening to them and showing them that you consider their opinions important.
Although you should definitely listen to them, you shouldn’t make it seem like you are asking their permission to date or giving them some kind of veto power over your dating life. You are the parent, after all. Simply let them know that you hear any thoughts or concerns that they have.
This probably goes without saying, but you should definitely also listen to any red flags your children tell you about if they do meet a potential long-term partner. They might see something that you are blind to in your newfound happiness. Anything they have to say about a potential new partner should be taken seriously.
Post-divorce or post-breakup dating with children need not be difficult for you or for your children. With open and honest communication, you can have a fulfilling dating life and still be a wonderful parent who puts your children first while searching for that special someone.