Thinking of dating after divorce fills many parents with trepidation. Once they get their own butterflies under control, another concern emerges, “What will my children think?”
Why is me dating again so hard for my children?
The most important factor for parents to consider–Your children’s security comes from their parents’ relationship.
A divorce strikes a huge blow at that foundation of security. More, the burden of coping with the divorce falls largely on children as they transition between homes and navigate crafting relationships with each parent separately.
This foundation of security can be rebuilt through a healthy co-parenting relationship. As your children see their parents work together to continue caring for them, trust in the two of you and their redefined family starts to grow. Given time and attention, children’s security returns.
Nothing threatens this process quite like Mom or Dad beginning a new relationship.
Because new relationships take time, emotion, and energy—they can make already insecure children feel more isolated. That isolation can drive a wedge between the children and the new romantic partner and even between children and their parents.
New relationships have the best opportunity to succeed if parents wait until children are ready, too. Some factors to consider include:
Take children’s “reunion fantasy” seriously.
All children, no matter their age, fantasize about their parents re-uniting. Gary Neuman, author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way, states, “Some children cling to the belief that their parents will get back together even after one has remarried. The reason is simple. A child’s identity is tied to their family. When the family disintegrates, a child’s sense of self is threatened even if he maintains strong ties to both parents. As one 13-year old put it, ‘I feel, now that my parents are divorced, that I don’t exist.’”
Just as parents need to heal before re-entering the dating game, so do their children. Understanding the grief journey your children must navigate helps you give your children the time they need to heal.
Focus on children apart from the new flame.
“All my dad wants to talk about is his new girlfriend. I don’t care about her!!!!! I want him to spend time with me,” said 10-year-old“Jenny” to her therapist. Jenny echoes most children.
While the new romance brings energy, happiness, and excitement to the parent—it likely brings a sense of being replaced to their children.
Children need their parents’ time and attention—especially after divorce. Parents who focus exclusively on their children help children establish a sense of self and builds trust that their new family system will work. A trust that can eventually open children to accept new people. Both before beginning to date and even after starting a new relationship—you should actively guard time with and attention on your children apart from the new person.
Don’t try to force a relationship.
This new person may be your perfect match, but they may mean nothing to your children.
Your children didn’t pick them, may not have anything in common with them, and may not even like them.
Every person has the right to develop their own relationships—even children. So don’t try to force a relationship.
Especially for teens (whose developmental task is to separate from parents), trying to force bonding with a new flame goes against everything their development is asking.
Instead, lay the ground rules such as “everyone must treat each other with honor and respect.” But, don’t expect anyone to jump into feeling a contrived emotion.
Build small, low-pressure connection moments through activities such as playing board games, attending fun events, or doing outdoor chores that allow your children to get to know the other person without expectations.
Give children permission to accept the other parent’s new flame.
At the other end of the spectrum are children who are ecstatic about mom or dad’s new romance. They genuinely like the other person and begin building their own relationship with them.
At the same time, they may feel they are betraying their other parent. Giving children the space and freedom to develop their own relationships with the people in their lives communicates that their desires and feelings matter—one of the greatest gifts parents can give.
If you are contemplating a new relationship, you also need to navigate how this new relationship will affect your relationship with your children.
Good parents acknowledge the challenge to identity and security new relationships put on children. As you give your children the time and attention they need to feel assured they remain a priority, most children come to accept new relationships—and even benefit from them.
If you would like help navigating life after divorce, we stand ready to assist you. Please call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to serving you.