Starting to Date Again: For Single Parents

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After a divorce or the death of a spouse, people go through many emotions. You may feel grief, anger, betrayal, confusion--and perhaps, in the case of a difficult marriage ending, relief.

Sometimes, newly single people also feel lonely and “adrift.” It may be tempting to start dating again right away. However, experts generally advise waiting. It takes time to heal from your loss, to process your feelings, and to begin to understand yourself as a single person. Though no one can tell you the right amount of time for you, many suggest waiting at least six months to a year.

When It’s Time

When it does seem like the time has come to consider dating, you’ll probably be nervous. It might seem hard to find anyone appealing who’s also interested in you. If you were married for a long time, or got married young, dating may actually be unfamiliar!

But let’s say you do find someone you want to date. You’re excited, but probably a bit apprehensive. And then there’s the question of your children. What should you tell your children, and when? How will they handle the idea that mom or dad is seeing someone new? It can seem pretty tricky, but experts have advice on how to handle this milestone in your new life. Read on to learn more.

Tips For Starting Over

  • Take your time and go slow

Check in with yourself. Are you emotionally ready? Have you truly “let go” of your ex? Maybe casual dating is the way to go for now. It’s not necessary to start an immediate search for the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. You can just dip your toe in.

  • Be developmentally appropriate

How and what you say to your children about casual dating should be tailored to their age and developmental stage. Babies and toddlers simply need to know that you are leaving and will come back soon. Preschoolers and school-aged children can be told that you are spending time with a friend. Tween and teen-aged children should be told that you are dating. Ask them how they feel about it, but don’t “ask for permission.” You’re the adult, and it’s okay for you to make this decision for yourself.

  • Don’t rush into having him or her meet the kids

It’s not necessary or wise to introduce your children to every casual date. This has the potential to confuse them and lead to hurt feelings. If and when things become serious and you are pretty sure this person is going to be in your life for the long term, it’s time to make the introductions. Even then, keep things fairly light, and don’t treat the new partner as a “new parent.” There’s plenty of time for that relationship to develop later if that is where things go.

  • Be aware of your child’s potential reactions

Watching you date is likely to bring up some complicated feelings. The reality of the end of the first marriage may feel more final when he or she sees you with a new partner. The child will have to “share you” again. It may be confusing in terms of his or her loyalty to the other parent. Finally, the child may be wary of becoming attached to another adult when that relationship might also end.

  • Let them share their feelings

Your child may not be thrilled about your decision to date again. Sometimes, he or she may dislike your new partner. Allow your child to talk about and share these feelings, even if it’s difficult for you. If your child at any point expresses serious reservations about your new partner, listen carefully.

  • Protect them from sexuality

If you are physically involved with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t make a big deal of that in front of your children. Younger children may find it confusing, and tweens and teens are likely to be embarrassed.

  • Allow them to be sad if the relationship ends

Sometimes, children become attached to a new partner, but for various reasons, the relationship comes to an end. Even if you feel quite confident that this is for the best, your child has a different perspective, and may not agree. Allow him or her to grieve this additional loss.

  • Communicate with your ex

You and your ex should discuss ground rules for dating and the children’s awareness and understanding of it. It’s generally respectful to let each other know if you have become seriously involved with someone.

Dating again after the end of a marriage or loss of a spouse can be tricky, but it can also be positive for families. You are likely to be happier and more cheerful, and your children may benefit from having a new person in their lives. Take time to think through the process and to communicate and share, and things are likely to go more smoothly.

By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

References

Divorcehelpforparents. (2015). Dating after divorce: The basics. Retrieved from http://www.divorcehelpforparents.com/dating-after-divorce.html  

Healthychildren.org. (2004). Dating after divorce. Retrieved from  https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/types-of-families/Pages/Dating-After-Divorce.aspx

University of Alabama. (2016). Parenting support: Dating after divorce. Retrieved from http://www.pal.ua.edu/parent-support.html

University of New Hampshire Extension. (2006). Dating when you have children. Retrieved from http://coparenting.okstate.edu/sites/default/files/22%20UNH%20Dating%20with%20Children.pdf

Wallace, L., & Sparks, K. (n.d.) Helping Preteens and Adolescents Adjust to Divorce. Retrieved from http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH6616