When our dog, Pepper, died, my sister and I lost our constant companion. He licked our faces. Chased our balls. Curled with us at night for 9 years.
My sister and I cried for three weeks. To ease the suffering Dad brought home a hamster.
My sister immediately embraced the little guy–feeding, playing, and cuddling.
I wanted nothing to do with him. I wanted Pepper. Not a substitue.
As parents move into the next stage of life after divorce, they often long for a new relationship. One that heals all the hurts from their marriage. Fills the places of isolation.
But, what about the children?
Some children immediately cling to the new person in Mom or Dad’s life. Enjoying the attention. The stability. The smile on their parent’s face.
Other children avoid the new person like the plague. The pain from losing the family they knew proves too great to risk to inviting another person in.
Either situation proves risky. Children who cling quickly suffer anew when a potential relationship fades. More, they fail to process the keen grief of losing their core family.
Children who work hard to avoid connecting develop a habit of refusing to connect. A steep challenge if a stepparent does enter the picture.
Five rules help parents navigate the dating issue.
Rule 1) Be Honest.
Don’t try to hide your relationship. Kids are smart. They will figure it out. If you don’t initiate the conversation, you will lose their trust.
You don’t have to give every detail. Just a general, “I’m going to spend time with someone Friday night” will do.
Likewise, answer children’s questions honestly but without sharing every detail.
“Are you going to marry her?” can be answered with “I have no idea. Today, we are just having dinner. I promise nothing big will happen without you knowing.”
Rule 2) When dating–keep any new person away from your children.
Any casual relationship should be far from children. Again, be honest–but set boundaries. Your child’s heart is tender. Easily wounded. Easily scarred. Don’t invite your child to develop an attachment too early. They can know you are enjoying times with someone without knowing the person.
Rule 3) When courting–include your children.
Dating encompasses simply spending time with someone for fun. Courting emerges when conversations turn to the possibility of joining your life with the other person’s. If you enter the courting stage, begin to include the children in your time together.
After all your life includes your children. The new person needs to join them as well.
More, anyone looks good in the fun of dating. The point of a date is to get away from everyday life for a time.
But, you live in the everyday. Courting opens the question, “Can this person be part of my everyday life?”
When the new person begins to take part in your life, children and all, you discover whether the fit really works.
Rule 4) NEVER offer the new person as a replacement for the other parent.
Trying to substitute a hamster for a dog was a mistake. A mistake that pales with trying to substitute a new relationship for the other parent. It won’t work.
It shouldn’t work.
No one becomes ex-mom or ex-dad after a divorce.
While the new person may bring a special bond to your children, they can’t replace the other parent. You protect your children when you make clear the difference.
Rule 5) Keep your children first.
A young girl interviewed for Divorce Kids, by Johnson and Rosenfeld, noted, “I wish someone would tell my dad to get rid of his girlfriend and her kids–and pay a little more attention to me.”
Parents often long for the nurture and intimacy of an adult relationship. When one comes along, it’s easy to get lost in the new thrill.
Your children need you. The foundation of their lives was their family. That foundation is gone.
They can survive–even thrive. But, they need a new foundation to do so. You–working with their other parent–need to build it. If you keep your children your highest priority, they will heal.
And, they will be ready to join when the new relationship is right.
Dating after divorce brings tricky waters. Be honest. Set good boundaries. Keep your children first. When you do this–you create smooth sailing for the whole family.
If you need help knowing how to address the issues of divorce, The Resolution Center offers a variety of support:
- Divorce coaching–to help navigate all the emotional and practical implications of divorce
- Child and Family Advocacy–to explore parenting strategies during and after divorce
- Mediation–to process through divorce issues in a way that preserves the best possible relationship with the other parent and helps you understand what went wrong–opening the opportunity for you to have a better relationship with the next person.
Call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com for more information.