If you’re ready for that next step in risking love again, there’s new rules in the game with kids involved.
My parents were divorced almost thirty years ago. My mom remarried when I was three, before I have any conscious memories and my dad remarried when I was seven, so many years ago that I rarely spend time thinking about the time before his wife was around.
As with so many things in life, it isn’t until we are on the other side of things that we start reflecting on what happened and how and what it must have been like for them.
So for me, it wasn’t until I had friends who were dating men and women with children that I started remembering and wondering what it was like for my mom and dad when they started dating. I remember wanting to tell my friend who was dating the man with kids to be careful, that they would remember, and they were paying attention. I wanted to safeguard her and the kids and the dad because I suddenly remembered how complicated it could be.
Then when I started studying children’s emotional and mental development, I really started putting the pieces together. I had a new compassion for both the parents as they date again and for the kids as they wade through the process with them.
Dating without children is tricky enough. There’s so much to think about and consider personally: whether you’re attracted to each other, how your personalities jive, if your goals are the same, if you get along with each other’s parents, and so the list goes on and on.
Now you have kids to add to the mix. Does he like kids? Does he want to have kids already? Would my kids like him? What would he be like in a fatherly role? What are his feelings on the things that are important to our family? Again, just a tip of the iceberg of questions that get added. Not to mention the fact that you’ve recently been through what may be considered your greatest heartache or may sometimes feel like your greatest failure with your marriage ending.
All that to say, dating was already complicated and now is a lot more complicated for you! For many people, it’s enough to keep them off the dating playing field for a long time, some for forever. Others are anxious to have a partner again, a companion, someone to share life and family again quickly. I could see myself landing on either side.
I’m not here to tell you one is better than the other, and I’m not going to give you a timeline for what is best for you and your children.
This is not a blog about if you are ready or not. As always, we focus on the kids here. The truth is – only you can know where you land and only you can know what is best for you and your family.
So that personal work? The part of you trying to decide if you’re ready or not? That’s for you to work out with your trusted family members, your friends, your mentors, your therapist, and all the wise counsel in your life. Invite them into your journey, share your heart and desires, and let them weigh in as you make your decision.
If you’ve arrived at the place where you are no longer standing for your marriage and you’ve been through the discerning process and decided that you and your kids are in fact ready to move on and begin the dating process again, the rest of this blog is for you.
A note: you may think I harped on that a little too strongly or a little too long. I can take that, but I won’t take it back.
The truth is this: your dating life is now currently not only a big deal to you but also to tiny developing minds. For their sake and yours, I always air on the side of remembering that healing takes time and space and is essential before barging into the next chapter of anything.
What I want for your children is precisely what I bet you want for them too – less harm and I believe in my heart (and through some good studying and training) that your children will only benefit tremendously if you take the time to do the work to be ready before you drag them into a new world of dating.
After all, this new person you’re introducing to them will be a new authority figure to them. It will also be someone who is taking mom or dad’s attention away from them and to you, what could be a casual date may be someone they are immediately wondering if they will one day refer to as their stepmom or stepdad. It’s a lot for a kid! That’s why I don’t take it lightly.
I also don’t take it lightly because I’ve lived it. I remember a few of the women my dad took on family dates with us. I remember his wedding. I remember my mom and stepdad combining our families. I remember so many of the feelings along the way.
Thankfully, I can report that my parents each married someone who loved and considered us. We all made it through the child-rearing years and now they each love our children as grandchildren. It can go well, that’s for sure. We certainly hope for the same for you and your children.
So maybe now you’re wondering some things as you jump back in the pool. Things like: Should my kids know when I start dating? What do I tell them? Should they be included or not? How do you even date with kids? What do my kids need from me in the process?
To answer some of these questions, I have put together a short list from the perspective of your child of things they need as you start dating again. It’s included below.
Six guidelines for dating my parents:
1. Do your healing first. Mom and Dad, please don’t start dating before you’re ready. We’ve been through so much and don’t want to see you hurt again.
2. Be patient and gentle with me. I’m still healing too and this is all new for me. It might take me some time. Please love me through it and try to understand my point of view.
3. Think before involving me. I can get my heart broken just like you can, so don’t let me fall in love with someone until it’s time for me to be involved. But when it’s time, I need to be involved and get to know this person too, especially if they are going to stick around forever.
4. Set up good boundaries, for all of us. By this I mean, I don’t need to hear about all of your dates and I don’t need every person you date to know all of my secrets either. Talk to people about what I should and shouldn’t know before talking to me.
5. Choose wisely. Don’t date people you wouldn’t want us dating one day. Your best judgment is key here. It will forever affect more than just you.
6. Give me lots of assurance. I may get a little worried that you’re going to replace me or not have time for me anymore. I may get worried that you’re trying to replace my other parent. Assure me often that there’s room enough for loads of love for everyone, especially me.
So often, we don’t give kids the credit they deserve because they aren’t able to voice things like their “guidelines” above in such succinct terms. But the truth is this: they are always paying attention and certainly know more than they let on. Your kids may not say it exactly like I did, but I can assure you they are thinking it and know so much.
The reality is that they shouldn’t know yet how to tell us, the parents, to look out for them. That’s not their job. Their job is to be a kid and our job is to look out for them.
Remember as you go: this is not a one size fits all thing. There are dozens and even hundreds of factors that affect where you and your kids are standing on this and how ready you each are.
Sometimes a child may be ready for one parent to date again and not the other, depending on relationships. Sometimes kids are more ready or less depending on their level of hurt or trauma through the divorce. Sometimes they are more protective of you or their family as it was or as it is now. There are developmental factors at play depending on age or temperament too.
As always, so many factors go into how your child is responding to the divorce or your decision to date again. Knowing yourself and knowing your child can help choose the timeline that is unique and right for you as you begin moving on in the journey. No two families will have the same timeline, and that is just as it should be.
This time in your family’s life can be tricky, sure, but it can also be a lot of fun. We wish you and your children all the unity and strength for the path.
We’d love to hear some feedback from you too! What are some rules your kids would add to our Guidelines list?
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