It’s not easy to start dating again after a marriage ends … especially with children. Transitioning takes time. Here are some helpful tips to make it easy and even enjoyable.
After her divorce, the last thing on Susan’s* mind was dating again. As a now single mother, her priority was her two daughters who were 9 and 14 at the time of the divorce.
Eventually, though, like many divorced mothers, Susan ventured back into the dating world again. This time, she was not only selecting someone to date but also someone she could potentially introduce to her children.
Dating after divorce is by no means an exact science for single parents. Depending on the conditions of the divorce, the age of the children, custody arrangements and a variety of other factors, it can be complicated and frustrating. Mothers, who are often the custodial parent, have unique concerns. There are some ways to smooth the road back to a relationship that can make dating after divorce less stressful and successful.
Give it Time
Although it’s now been more than a decade since her divorce, Susan can recall the pain she felt when her marriage ended. As a result, getting involved in another long-term relationship was the last thing on the Nashville mom’s mind.
I didn’t want to be in anything long-term at that time. In fact, I don’t know what it was about me, but I tended to attract people who were also recently divorced, and they didn’t want something long-term either, she says. You’re still so wounded. Put together two wounded people No way.
Giving yourself time to cope with a divorce is the first step to making sure your next relationship is a healthy one, says Zachary Tureau, Ph.D., a Nashville psychologist who has counseled adults and kids. While each individual’s situation is different, Tureau advises that a slow re-entry into the dating world after a divorce is a good idea.
“It’s a grief process, and it takes a while to deal with your emotions, says Tureau. Even for someone who is relieved by the divorce, it takes a year to cycle the feelings through. For example, renegotiating holidays, how birthdays work, etc.
While the prospect of a new relationship can be a welcome distraction after a divorce, Tureau says that spending time building or supplementing a support system can be more beneficial.
You need a good network of support. Pull people in to fill the void left by your former spouse, he says.
That’s exactly what Franklin mom Dione did after her divorce. Her marriage ended shortly after the birth of her son six years ago, and her family and others stepped in to help her out. They continue to provide much-needed support.
There are a lot of things that make up our family, she says. My parents in particular have been very involved in our lives. I know what it means to be part of a big family, and my son understands that through me and my family.
What About the Kids?
When divorced parents with children do decide to try dating again, they are faced with communicating what’s going on to their kids.
Being honest with her son is important to Dione, and that includes being open with him about her dating.
“We’re very open, but not too open. I’ll talk to him about what I’m looking for and tell him I want someone who will be a father to him who is like his grandfather, she says. I’ll tell him when I’m going out on a date, and he’ll say, OK.” Still, he knows that he is the priority.”
That reassurance is something Tureau says is important to kids especially younger ones.
Children are resilient, but they need to feel connected, he says. Reassuring them by saying, I’m still your parent is important.
Tureau says younger kids don’t understand all the repercussions of what is involved in dating and that giving them a little information is generally sufficient. He recommends opening the conversation with their questions.
Older children know what dating means and may have different questions or concerns. You can answer their questions but don’t involve them in your decision to date, says Tureau. That’s not their business, and they shouldn’t help you decide.
Tureau says that actively listening to questions being asked by your children can provide information about what they’re really thinking than the questions themselves. If you read between the lines, they may be wondering about how relationships change over time and how people fall in love or out of love, he says. See if they are really asking about their own security and if so, take the opportunity to turn the conversation around. Engage them in their feelings and find out what their fears are.
To Introduce or Not to Introduce? And When?
So should you introduce someone you’re dating to the children and if so, when The answer depends on you. Many experts recommend waiting until the new relationship is serious. This can help prevent situations where a child might form an attachment to someone new and then have that person disappear if the relationship sours.
Keeping the new relationship casual in front of the children can also help them cope with your dating. Many parents introduce a casual date to their kids as a “friend” rather than a boyfriend, for example, to keep things simple and uncomplicated.
Don’t Settle. Select.
While it’s always important to choose a potential partner based on desired qualities such as shared values, the divorced parent has additional considerations.
Busy, single mothers have limited time to pursue new relationships and less privacy because of living arrangements with their children, says Tureau. Women often have more hands-on responsibilities with children and feel they have less time to cultivate a relationship, he says.
Susan says that not rushing was important to her when she started dating post-divorce and advises other moms to proceed with caution. You can’t put your life on hold, but when you’re ready, go ahead and take that step out there, she says. I don’t think it’s wise to jump into another heavy relationship too soon. Take it slowly.
Taking stock of your reasons for dating can be helpful. There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. You really have to dig in and ask yourself, Why am I entering this relationship and getting involved with this other person, Susan says. Even if you’re economically compromised, you know I took another job and that helped me not feel that pressure.
Dione agrees. Don’t look to another person to complete what you have. It’s OK to be on your own and instill values and raise your child on your own. Don’t settle, she says. I desperately want what my parents had a partnership. But until I find that, I can feel good about myself through my work and my family.
Liz Cerami Taylor is a local mother and freelance writer.
*Name has been changed for anonymity.
DivorceCare is a national organization that offers support at area churches for individuals going through a separation or divorce. Participants gain access to resources to help deal with the pain of the past and look forward to the future. For more information or to find a local group, visit divorcecare.com.
DivorceCare for Kids (DC4K) is a special group to help children heal from the pain caused by a separation or divorce. DC4K provides children with a safe and neutral place to recognize and learn to share their feelings. For more information or to find a local DC4K group, visit dc4k.org.