DATING after divorce! A very complex and challenging situation as is, add children to the mix and you have a lot to worry and think about. I have seen many people introduce significant others to their children way too soon, which resulted in confusing the children and triggering a lot of unresolved emotions.
You may be ready to open up and allow yourself to trust someone new into your life, but just because you are doesn’t mean your children feel the same way. Personally I always advise clients and people who ask me to take their time with dating after they get divorced. Take time for yourself, mourn, heal and find yourself. Take the time to create a stable solid environment for your children again and bring normalcy back after the divorce. Once you start dating be sure not to introduce casual dates to your children. While it is normal for you to feel lonely and seek companionship, it is very important that you take it slow to avoid confusing your children. You don’t want to introduce your children at a time where you aren’t yet certain if this is really a long term relationship. There is NO RUSH! Even if you are at the point where you are madly in love and you think this is it, take the time to wait. Get to know your new partner really well and what their feelings and thoughts are about children in general. Often times we get blinded by how a new partner makes us feel that we forget to notice any red flags pertaining to parenting.
It is important to take into consideration the children’s ages when introducing your new love. Constance Ahrons, who is a PH.D and specializes in helping families cope with divorce conducted a 20 year study and concluded that most children under the age of 10 feel confused, angry and sad and find it confusing and strange when being introduced to their parents new partners. Children this age tend to be possessive of their parents and have a hard time accepting the concept of a stranger coming into the picture.
On the other hand adolescents may seem like they are handling it better and are more accepting, but they often feel that the newcomer is a threat to their environment and connection to their parent. Teenagers also find physical affection between their parent and a new partner troubling and disturbing. Think about what example you want to set for your children because they will mimic your behavior so be cautious of what you do in front of them. Keep physical contact private.
The number one key is timing, is it too soon? Are you overly excited about the relationship and don’t realize that it will take your children time to come around? I have seen many relationships fail or sometimes get into rocky doubt situations because a new partner was introduced too soon, and the child didn’t share the same enthusiasm as the parent. The parent then starts thinking that their new partner isn’t ideal, which isn’t necessarily the case. Children take time to warm up to the idea, and even though you are trying to get them to bond, too much too soon can really work against you. So beware take it slow!
Another big mistake people make is the length of time on the first meetings. I am guilty as charged on this one. When I was dating my current husband, he planned a grand day for the first meeting. Out of the goodness of his heart he decided to treat my daughter to a full day of outings, so he planned a yet sky excursion, lunch and shopping. I realized pretty early on it was WAYYY too much and too long. She started getting stressed and uncomfortable because she needed her space to digest, internalize and probably share her thoughts and feelings with me. Instead I felt her tension and heard her unspoken words. Thankfully we are married today and she loves him dearly, but I do know from this experience that short introductions work best. So make sure to keep the first meeting/s short and casual, without expectations in order to keep the pressure of the kids.
Another very important aspect new couple’s seems to forget is that your children need a lot of reassurance; they need it in an intact home all the more after divorce. When you bring a new person into your life, it’s sometimes hard to balance how much love and time you give to them. Be sure to provide your children with a safe and reassuring environment and giving them MORE, not less, time, affection, and understanding. Express to them time and time again that they are everything to you and that you have enough love to go around.
This one is a big one. I have clients who meet someone and fall head over heels and don’t really think about how this partner fits or doesn’t fit into the full picture of their life which includes their children, the most important precious thing life has to offer!
Don’t allow chemistry and the voids this man/woman fills for you to cloud your judgment. Get very clear on how suitable this partner is for your children and all the dynamics involved. Not to sound harsh, but your kids ARE priority, they didn’t ask to be born into this world and surely didn’t chose to be born to divorcing parents. So make sure you put them FIRST!
One of the things I find helps a lot is involving children. Just like when you have a new baby coming along, your other children adapt best when involved and spoken to about it, be sure to involve them once you are pretty positive that you will introduce your new love to them. Start talking to them that you are seriously seeing someone, slowly share things about this new partner with them and allow them to make plans on how they would like to meet him/her the first time. Let your children decide where they want to go; it will give them a sense of control in a world where they have no control and will make them feel important. Do not invite your new partner’s children (if s/he has any) the first time your children meet him/her. Make sure the attention is only focused on them. Last but not least don’t be touchy in front of your kids, keep it casual and balanced so you give your children a chance to process, digest and absorb this new reality.
Please openly allow your children to express their thoughts and feelings about your new partner. Don’t shut them down if their feedback is negative. Listen and allow your children to express their dislikes or concerns. Sometimes they have very valid concerns and may see some serious red flags. Don’t dismiss them just because you are in love and your children are just kids.
Don’t be surprised if your children at first reject your new partner and give you a hard time. Give them time to adapt. They will come around. Best of luck on your new journey!
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