Reentering the dating world after divorce
It was the last thing on my mind. Since getting divorced, it was all I could do to get my children fed. With work, homework, school commitments, Little League, driving everyone everywhere, keeping my dogs and children alive, and maybe taking a bath once a week, dating was the last thing I was thinking about. Sex was even further down the list. What was sex again???
Then one day, my wise 10-year-old son pointed out I was a human first, then a woman, then a mom. And according to my friends, this human needed to start dating. My ex had remarried, my single friends were dropping like flies, and my social life consisted of attending bridal showers, baby showers, and weddings. Boy, was I crabby.
So with the help of a pitcher of margaritas, my girlfriends dressed me up, took photos, and put me online. Being a Solo Mom writer who worked in her pajamas . . . in her bed . . . day and night . . . online dating was my only option for reentering the dating world.
I thought that starting to date would be no biggie for my kids—after all, their dad was already remarried. I fancied myself a great mom with an open-minded little family, so when it came to bringing men into our world . . . I was completely wrong.
At first when I would tell them I had a date, my son would cry.
Then I didn’t tell them when I had a date:
Me: “I’m going out to dinner.”
My son: “With who? With who? With who?” Etc., ad nauseum.
Finally, I lied: “I’m going to grab a burger with Lissa.” I hated lying to my son. (My daughter couldn’t care less.)
I decided that after the third date, it would be OK to introduce a guy to my son. The first time I did this, my “suitor” offered to teach my son to surf, but then made the cardinal mistake of putting his hand on my knee. My kids hated him. They were right. Turns out he was married.
The second time I did this, the fellow didn’t have children and wanted mine to be his. My kids hated him. They were right. He was needy—as in he needed to move into my house because he didn’t have one of his own.
The third time, the guy was tall, dark, and handsome; he was a musician who was fun and liked fast cars, etc.—everything you’d think teenagers would like. They hated him. They were right. He was a douche bag.
The setup was complete. It was now predetermined and ingrained in my children’s minds to hate anyone I dated.
So I decided to never introduce my kids to anyone until I had a ring on my finger.
That was two years ago.
What I learned from those experiences, and subsequent research, is that all kids are different (duh!); each with his or her own emotional reactions to potential change in the family due to age, maturity, and, well . . . potential for change.
Depending on the circumstances of your split from your ex, a lot may relate to your child’s anxiety over possibly losing his or her “primary” parent—which, in most cases, is Mom. My ex left me for “another woman” and now rarely sees his children. While my daughter, who is older, is ambivalent about me dating, my son has a deep-rooted fear he will lose his mother as well.
It’s not only fear of abandonment that is triggered when a Solo Mom starts dating, it’s also your child’s fantasy that this will ruin the chances of a parental reconciliation or that your date could become competition for Mom’s time.
While we Solo Moms may believe it is better for a child to grow up in a single-parent home, as opposed to one fraught with fighting and emotional upheaval, your child most likely doesn’t share this common sense.
Before you begin dating
Wait: Don’t get right back on the horse postbreakup. Give your child time to adjust to the new configuration and accept that Mom and Dad (or Mom and Mom) are no longer together. If your child needs professional assistance, so be it. But make sure your child has successfully dealt with his or her emotions and grief before moving on.
Reiterate that no one will come between you and your child. Explain to your child that moms need friends, too, and that nobody will ever come before or between your relationship.
Don’t feel guilty. Don’t let your children manipulate you. They would try to negotiate for that piece of candy even if you weren’t a Solo Mom.
Don’t expect your child to act and look like a little angel so you can get a man. Don’t even think about it!
Look for a date who shares your compassion for your children’s situation. If your date does not respect your children’s situation—delete!
Wait six months before introducing your children to a new partner. Six months is the general rule, as it is considered enough time for you to establish that the relationship is solid. Kids can get attached; so if your new romance is on rocky ground, don’t introduce them at all. (Sadly, I have yet to make it to six months.)
Remember your children don’t know this person. If you’ve known your “new date” six months before your breakup, remember your children haven’t.
Don’t introduce your children when you are aflutter with budding love. We all know how obnoxious this is with our friends. Multiply that by 100 for your children.
Don’t neglect your children. With a new relationship, you may inadvertently neglect your children. Remember when you were in high school and your BFF got a boyfriend and suddenly you were alone on Friday nights? Don’t do that to your kids.
Meet on neutral ground. Remember when your kids were toddlers, and you would introduce them to a playdate, and they would play with blocks next to each other as opposed to with each other? That form of play is known as parallel play. Approach your date’s introduction to your children in the same fashion. Meet on neutral ground or in a group setting where your kids can “be around” your “new friend.” Don’t show affection just yet. Let them get used to him or her slowly.
In the beginning
Your children may attempt to spoil things for you by being rude. Don’t take it personally. Calmly let them know such behavior isn’t OK.
Their anger and negativity could be directed at your new partner. Yes, this is something you will need to work through with your kids. And, yes, you apologize to your suitor. But remember, this person is lucky you are introducing him or her to your kids in the first place. And if this person doesn’t respect your concern for your children, he or she is not the one.
If your children hate your new partner without reason, discuss the relationship. Let them know what you want in a partner, and explain how this new person is meeting your standards (e.g., “He is thoughtful, respectful, and makes me laugh.”).
Mom’s new relationship can threaten a child. Make one-on-one time with your kids. Make sure to tell them you love them a lot . . . and all the time!
Don’t. Or at least wait until you are certain this is going to be long term and your children are comfortable with him or her; otherwise, do your sleepovers somewhere else.
Realize this quandary can be especially difficult for teens just discovering their own sexuality. Remember how you felt about the idea of your parents having sex?
For the love of God, don’t discuss your sex life with your kids. While they should know some of the nuts and bolts of your social life, they don’t need to know the down and dirty of your sex life!
In short, by staying dialed in to your child’s maturity and emotional needs, by taking it slow and minimizing conflict, and by getting to know this new person extremely well before doing anything, you will most likely help your littles feel secure, loved, happy, and therefore more accepting of your new sweetheart.
Oh, and by the way, congrats on your new sweetheart. Will you please ask if he or she has a friend for me?
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.