Dating And Your Kids Hate It?
Here’s Your Dating After Divorce Plan Of Action
Rita Adams’ divorce from her husband, Mark, was so devastating that for the longest time she refused to date at all. “It was just too painful to consider. I was too vulnerable. And yes, I’m glad I waited until I was more open, and less judgmental.”
After waiting over a year, Rita may have been ready to move on, but her daughter wasn’t ready for her to do so. “Katie was only five when we broke up, and truly worshipped her father. The first time Rita invited a man into her home to introduce him to Katie, the child fell to the floor, weeping. Rita winces at the memory. “She said so mournfully, ‘My life is over!’ The date ended right then and there. He had no interest in competing for my affections. Not that he ever could. Seeing her reaction made me consider giving up dating altogether.”
“It’s quite natural for children to react negatively when their divorced parents begin dating again,” says Dr. Judith S. Wallerstein, founder of the Center for the Family in Transition. In her book, What About the Kids? she writes: “The first appearance of a new adult in the wings is a major statement that the divorce is for real. Children who have been dutifully told about the divorce and understand perfectly well that you are living separately are suddenly struck with the realty. My mom is dating? Another man can put his arm around her waist? My dad is taking out a strange woman? To avoid these kinds of reactions, it’s better to tell your children in advance about your plans to date so that they are not surprised when it happens.”
“The last thing you want to do is spring your new friend on your kid, or hide the fact that you are dating. At all times communication is key,” explains Wallerstein. “It’s better to tell your children in advance about your plans to date so that they’re not surprised when it happens. If you start to date frequently, tell the children your plans so that they gradually understand that you have a social life that is different and separate from your life with them. Explain that you and your new friend are getting to know each other, and that takes times.”
By the time Katie was seven, she had matured enough to realize that Rita’s dates weren’t competing with her for her mother’s affections. When she got to the point where she was actually happy to see me in love, it was great. Rita also came to recognize that men with experience raising children of their own were more in tune with her daughters’ needs. They would treat her with respect, applauded her maturity, and she appreciated that.
On the other hand, men who had never had kids were invariably less empathetic. “One guy whom I dated for a short amount of time when Katie was eight invited her to go out with us to dinner, and then he immediately started criticizing her table matters! She didn’t say a word, but I could see the tears in her eyes.” That was one of many difficult nights in a serious of life lessons for Rita on divorce and dating. She has never regretted, however, the decision she made at the restaurant that night. “We walked out right then and there. I was a parent first and foremost. Whomever I was dating needed to know that.”
Wallerstein advises, “Use the courtship time to observe the new person carefully. How is he with his children? Is he an honorable man? Is he a bore? Can you rely on him? How important are these flaws? Keep a running diary in your head of all of your observations and try to make a thoughtful decision that balances virtues and drawbacks.”
Of course it’s wonderful when a relationship is all you had hoped it to be: mutually satisfying and long-lasting for the adults, and welcomed by your children. However, should the relationship go to the wayside, use it as a learning experience, both for your children and yourself. Writes Wallerstein: “If your heart is broken, say it. You can use this opportunity to comfort your children and yourself and to teach them about relationships. It’s never helpful to say that if someone leaves, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ It does matter. You want your children to learn how important it is to choose wisely and to pay attention to what people need and deserve from one another.”
DOS AND DON’TS OF DIVORCED PARENTING
For nearly all of us, the desire to share our lives with a loving mate is eventually an undeniable need. And while it is difficult making all the pieces of your life fit back together, it can be done. Dr. Constance Ahrons, a former professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, conducted a study of 173 adult children whose parents she interviewed two decades earlier as they were going through a divorce. The results of that study were published in her book, We’re Still Family. Some of that advice from the front lines will ensure your smooth transition into date mode. Here are a few of her tips:
1. Don’t put the kids in the middle.
It’s not fair to them to ask for information as to whom your ex is dating.
2. Do think of the children first.
They are your first consideration, whether you choose to date, or not.
3. Don’t disparage your ex in front of your children.
Your ex has a right to his or her choices, and to make his or her own mistakes. Undermining your child’s respect for your ex reflects worse on you than it will on your former partner.
4. Do communicate openly and consistently.
Fear is rooted in not knowing, and not understanding. To as great an extent as is age appropriate, tell the children what’s going on, and where they stand in the process. They will be much more open to your new life if they better understand the open and loving person you truly are.
5. Don’t make believe that everything is just as it once was.
So your new relationship didn’t work out as you planned. It’s okay to acknowledge this reality, to yourself, and to your children so that you can all move on.
6. Do stay involved in your children’s lives.
Often their greatest fear is that they will be forgotten. If you have been neglectful of their needs, a new relationship may well heighten their fears.