When parents divorce or separate, their children’s world is often turned upside down. Feelings of loss, anger and confusion are common among children whose parents have separated or divorced. Children who have lost parents through death have similar feelings. Even children of single parents can have negative feelings associated with “not having” a mother or father in their life.
When a parent begins dating, these negative feelings can be intensified for the child. Dating is a huge step for single parents—and their children. If you’ve decided to start dating, it is important for you to discuss and accept all of your child’s feelings when this happens. It’s also critical that you carefully consider who will be spending time around your children.
Impact of Parental Dating on Children
When a parent begins a new relationship children experience a range of emotions, such as:
- Feeling insecure: Some children may feel their security threatened when their parents begin to date. They may become angry and aggressive. Some children wonder if they will still be loved if their parent finds a new partner. Make sure to ease your child’s fears by showing and telling them how much you love them. Show an interest in everything they do and congratulate them for their achievements as well as their efforts.
- Feeling jealous: It’s common for a child to feel jealous of a parent’s new companion. They may compare your new friend to their mother or father who doesn’t live in the home anymore. Due to these feelings of jealousy, some children may seek a lot of attention or interrupt conversations you have with your new friend. Be patient. It will take time for your child to adjust to your having relationships with other adults.
- Dealing with change: It is sometimes difficult for children when there are changes in routines. This is particularly true when it involves a parent’s new friend. For example, be sensitive to how your child feels when your new friend comes to dinner. Be thoughtful about seating arrangements and have your child sit in their normal place.
- Worries about a new parent: When dating gets serious and children hear the phrase “new parent,” they may be concerned that one of their parents will literally be replaced. Make sure to reassure your child that if your new relationship becomes permanent your new partner will be an addition to their life, and not a replacement.
Remember, your children need comfort and reassurance. They need to know that their parents will always love them, even if and when their parents form new relationships.
Dating Do’s and Don’ts for the Single Parent
When parents decide to bring their new boyfriend or girlfriend into their child’s life, it is important to do so very carefully. Children need their parent’s support and attention during this transitional period. Children also need to feel and be safe when this happens. Here are some do’s and don’t’s for dating when you’re single with children:
DON’T force your child to like a person just because you do.
DON’T completely ignore your child’s negative reaction to a person. You can often learn something about a person’s character from his interaction with children.
DON’T leave your children alone with a new friend until you are sure you know him or her well enough.
DO respect your child’s feelings and opinions about your new friend.
DO put your children’s interests first.
DO allow your child time to express his or her feelings naturally. Never suggest that a child kiss or hug a friend unless they want to.
DO let your new friend know your family safety rules, especially about touching. Tell him or her that your children have been taught to tell if any of these rules are broken no matter what.
DO ask your children if they like the new person and why or why not.
DO watch your children’s reactions for clues to how they feel.
DO make surprise visits when you have left them alone.
Parents who have successfully incorporated a new mate have managed by listening to their child when he or she expresses concerns or fears about their changing world. They are observant and watch their child’s behavior.
When is the “right” time to introduce your new significant other to your children?
Bringing a new person into the family can threaten your child’s sense of security. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider how and when you should introduce your new significant other to your children. The “right” time for introductions will vary from family to family because all children are different. However, here are a few dating guidelines that everyone can benefit from:
- Do not expose your children to every casual date
If you introduce your children to everyone you date, they may take away a small feeling of loss each time it doesn’t last longer than a few dates. Children tend to believe that things happen because of what they do. They may feel responsible for the end of your relationship. So it is best to be selective, introducing your children to only the people with whom you feel you have a serious chance of a future together.
- Introduce your children to your new relationship slowly
When you plan to introduce your children to your new partner, do so under the best possible circumstances. A short meeting is always best and it should not include the other person’s children if they have any. Plan to do something that your children will enjoy. You can even make suggestions for conversation to your partner in advance in order to help things run smoothly.
- Give your children space to get used to the new person
Many parents feel anxious for their children to like their new significant other and try very hard to make this happen. But be patient; no one likes to be forced to like someone else. By giving your children space to develop a relationship at their own pace, the end result will be greater acceptance.
- Other Dating Tips
It is important to explain to your new significant other that your child’s best interests are always going to come first. It is important that your significant other agrees with this and knows to expect this. Be careful about calling your significant other a “friend” in front of your children. It may make them feel you are being dishonest with them. It also may send them mixed messages about what friends are. Get to know your significant other’s friends and family.
Helping Your Partner Adjust
Be aware that if your significant other does not have children, his or her tolerance will not be the same as yours. He or she will need time to adjust to children. As a parent, you know that a child drastically changes homelife, daily activities and general behavior in many cases.
People who are not used to being around children will often have less patience and may be more easily aggravated, especially if a child is acting out in response to your dating. Prepare your date if you know your child is upset, scared or concerned about the relationship.
The sad truth is that many children are abused—verbally, physically or sexually—by adults in their life other than parents. Often, it is the boyfriend or girlfriend of the parent who is the abuser. Remember that it’s your job to protect your children from anyone who might hurt them, regardless of the role they play in your life. Your child’s safety should always come first.
Remember that your commitment to your child is lifelong, and everything that you do—including what you do with other adults in your life—affects your child. Make sure that when dating, you always put your child’s interests first. Take time to listen to your child’s feelings about your new relationship without being defensive or giving explanations. Give your child adequate space and time to adjust to this transition.
And remember, all aspects of parenting can be tough, but finding help doesn’t have to be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!