The Murky Waters of Dating as a Single Parent
Dating after divorce is hard enough. But dating after divorce when you have children is especially tricky. So, you’ve managed to survive the division of property, custody arrangements with the visitation schedule, and the divorce itself, what’s next? Once the divorce papers are signed (and more often, even before that has taken place) one or both parents start looking for their next partner. Whether it’s the emptiness of loss, the sting of rejection, guilt, shame, sadness, loneliness, or even boredom, divorce leads to some overwhelming feelings. A lot of people turn to “romance” to fill the void and to once again be partnered with someone. I refer to what I call marital amnesia with my clients – it’s the desire to date again even after a painful divorce. They jump into the dating scene when the ink from the Judge’s pen is still wet on the divorce papers.
Single parent dating seems like the next logical step but there are several important factors that ought to be considered:
- How do I know if I am ready for another relationship (and all that entails)?
- How will I know if my child/children are ready for me to start dating?
- What message does my child interpret from my dating?
- How is dating/marriage going to affect my child/children and my parenting of them?
- How will marriage and a blended family impact my child/children and what steps do I need to take to help them in this transition?
- How will the transition of dating affect our parent/child relationship?
- How do I introduce my child/children to someone I am dating? And, what if they don’t like each other, what then?
- How do I know whether my new intended partner will be a good step-parent to my children?
Marriage (coupleness) usually precedes having children and forms the foundation of the family. It is this foundation, the roots of the family, that provides security for children. Every other relationship is an outgrowth of this foundation – think of it like a tree with roots, then a tree trunk grows, then branches sprout, and finally leaves and fruit are produced. The roots feed the rest of the tree and they depend on one another for survival. When children are born into this family, the parent-child relationship may drain some time and energy from the marital relationship; but, it does not compete with it. When the couple/marriage precedes children, attachments between family members mutually strengthen each other.
However, the truth is, when a single parent enters a love relationship with someone other than the other parent, a competing attachment begins. It is only natural. The child believes the parent’s love and increasing involvement to a new partner competes with their relationship with that parent. It is not intentional. Parents sometimes say that their child is manipulating them to gain their attention and keep them away from dating someone else. There is some truth to that statement … they DO want their attention but what they aren’t able to verbalize is that what they REALLY want is the security they felt before their family was splintered.
It is tough enough being a single parent. Balancing your desire for love with your kids’ need for stability and emotional safety is difficult. You will need wisdom and maturity navigating this path. Your decisions will have emotional, psychological, and relational impacts and should not be taken lightly.
Things Your Children Wish You Knew
- It might take some time for us to be comfortable with you dating. Seeing you with someone other than our other parent also feels like rejection and maybe even betrayal to us.
- We are half you and half our other parent and we love both of you. We will always secretly hope that you get back together and we see the person you are dating as getting in the way for that to happen. It does not mean we are trying to split you up, it just means we don’t “get it” and it may take time, unconditional love, and reassurance.
- Please be patient with us. We don’t want to hurt your feelings but we didn’t want our family to be “torn apart” and we see your dating as splintering our family even more. It leaves us kids alone because now you have someone else and don’t need us as much.
- When both of our parents remarry, we feel left out and it’s as if we don’t fit in anywhere now. Both of you have your own lives now and although we are a “part” of it, it isn’t like when it was “our” family.
- Even if one of us decides it’s okay that you’re dating or who you are dating, that doesn’t mean that all of us do. We will each have to process it in our own way and in our own time.
- When you start dating someone, one of our fears is that you will leave and we won’t have you in our lives. We also fear that one of our parents will remarry and move away OR that one of you will want full custody and we won’t get to see our other parent.
- We often believe you feel the need to date because we aren’t “enough” to make you happy. It makes us question our worth and value.