Women's Issues - Men's Issues - Dating
DATING CONSIDERATIONS FOR NEWLY - SINGLE PARENTS
All newly divorced people must consider how soon they want to
begin dating and what they are looking for in a new mate. For a
parent, a profoundly important aspect of a dating partner’s
qualities is how he or she relates to children.
Qualities that will likely be important include the dating partner’s:
- Willingness to defer his or her own needs when the
children’s needs should come first. The decision
to have children is primary in a parent’s life, and once
that decision is made, the responsibility for raising those
children exceeds all others. While the decision to establish
a new intimate relationship is important to a parent, and perhaps
ultimately even to the children, the needs of that relationship
and of the individual adults are often secondary to children’s
needs. A dating partner must be able to respect the decision
the parent made when he or she chose to have children, and
the responsibilities and sacrifice that derive from that decision.
- Willingness to be introduced into the children’s
lives slowly. As difficult as a divorce may be, the
parents are losing only a partner, which, in the end, can always
be replaced. The children are losing the only primary family
they will ever have. Substitute parents may enter their lives,
but that collection of family that nurtured them during their
most vulnerable formative years can never be replaced. Because
it destroys what children perceive as their primary source
of love and safety, divorce may leave them fearful or even
cynical about adults, marriage and family. As a result, if
one or both of their parents begin a series of short, unimportant
relationships, and the children are aware of these relationships,
what little faith the children have left in loving family relationships
may be all but destroyed. Because of their divorce, therefore,
the parents have an increased responsibility to nurture the
children’s ability to believe in and form their own loving
relationships when they become adults. Dating partners must
recognize their own responsibility to the children in this
regard. If the children are to view marriage as positive and
loving, they will learn it from their parents’ post-divorce
relationships. Because of this importance, therefore, introducing
such a relationship to the children must be done very carefully
and slowly, and in a manner that lets the children know that
the parent takes the relationship and the importance of the
relationship to the children seriously.
- Ability to relate to children generally. Adults have
varying abilities to relate to children. It can be
seen in whether they can talk to children in an age-appropriate
manner, about age-appropriate topics, respectfully without
being patronizing, in how they interact with children in activities,
and how they use their power in adult/child relationships.
Positive use of this power is seen in an adult’s complimenting
a child on his or her behaviors and abilities. Misuse may be
seen if an adult belittles or denigrates a child.
- Willingness to accept the children as they are. The
dating partner should not expect the children to adopt the dating
partner’s likes and dislikes, but rather, be willing to
explore the children’s interests. Shared activities between
the children and the newcomer can be an important bonding experience.
- Patience with the children’s resistance to a
new parental relationship. A child’s willingness
to accept a parent’s choice for a dating partner will
likely be affected by that child’s relationship with
the parent of the potential dating partner’s gender.
From the child’s point of view, the dating partner may
be contributing to the disaster that is the divorce for that
child. If the child has a strong relationship with the parent
of the dating partner’s gender, integrating the dating
partner into that child’s life may be difficult. The
child may resort to being rude or interfering with the parent
and dating partner’s relationship. At such a point, the
dating partner must accept his or her role as an adult, and
be patient with the child’s regressed behavior. While
such behavior need not be accepted, any disciplinary response
should come from the parent, and not the dating partner. The
dating partner’s response should likely be limited to
letting the child know how the child’s behavior makes
the dating partner feel, and why he or she feels that way.
- Comfort in leaving the disciplining of the children
to the biological parent. Children are more likely
to understand the need for rules, limits and consequences when
enforced within a long-term relationship, and not from a “newcomer.” To
ensure stability, the parent needs to continue using past rules
and ways of enforcing them.
- Willingness to accept limits to the affection the
parent is comfortable expressing in the children’s presence. Physical
affection is an important indicator of the nature of a relationship.
While adults may be comfortable with physical affection soon
after divorce, their children may not. The adults must be sensitive
to the children’s needs for time to heal from the divorce.
At the same time, it is important that once a new relationship
has been established with which the children are comfortable,
the dating partner is also comfortable expressing affection
around the children, who will benefit from seeing their parent
treated well by another adult.
- Willingness to let the parent determine how to relate
to the other parent regarding their children. Raising
children is difficult and is made even more difficult by divorce.
Relating to a former spouse may also be difficult. If children
are to learn that their parents still love and care for them
despite the divorce, the most important task their parents
have is to finish raising their children as cooperatively as
possible. Interjecting useful opinions about the raising of
other people’s children is far beyond the skill of most
people. Considering the emotional baggage of having a post-divorce
relationship with one of the parents, a dating partner is even
less likely to be accepted by either parent as having an appropriate
role in affecting how the parents relate in raising their children.
A dating partner must recognize the effect this might have
on the children and refrain from making the process more difficult.
- Supports the parent’s parenting style. Differing
parenting styles often contributes to divorce. In
selecting a dating partner, a parent should observe carefully
how well his or her parenting style integrates with the manner
in which the dating partner relates to the children.
- Flexible to the vagaries of raising children. Parenting
requires a recognition that events will not always go as planned.
A dating partner should be able to tolerate the frustrations
that arise from not being able to rely on rigid schedules and
- Understands the sadness of being separated from one’s
children. Because of split parenting schedules, divorce
means the parents will likely be spending less time with their
children than before the divorce. A dating partner needs to
understand the parent’s sadness that results from this,
and the fact that the dating partner, and his or her relationship
with the parent, cannot make up for it.
- Willingness to accept children’s differences. If
the dating partner has his or her own children, there may be
a great temptation to compare the children of the two families.
To avoid friction between the dating parents, either the children
will need to be very much alike, which is unlikely, or the parents
must be willing to accept each other’s children’s
- Willingness to participate in family established rituals. Birthdays,
holidays, and contact with extended family are important opportunities
to reassure children that, despite the divorce, they still have
sources of love and safety, and that there can still is a family
to support them. A dating partner should be able to integrate
into these activities. If the dating partner also has children,
it is essential that both sets of children maintain their rituals.
While this can be tricky, it might mean being creative or spending
some rituals apart for the first years.
- Ability to model appropriate adult behavior. Children
will learn a great deal from a dating partner. Every aspect of
this person’s personality, his or her ability to express
love, show kindness, admit mistakes, express anger, ask forgiveness,
and avoid inappropriate behaviors, will influence the children.
Any doubts the parent has in his or her own relationship with
the dating partner will have a parallel with the children’s
relationship with this person. Choosing a mate for oneself is
difficult enough, choosing a new parent for one’s children
is even more so.
While dating and ultimately recommitting to a new relationship
can help a divorced parent regain energy and self-esteem, it may
have pitfalls that can exacerbate the pain of the divorce for the
children. It is important to keep the children’s needs and
emotions foremost. If the potential new mate understands these
dangers and is able to help the divorced parent through these difficulties,
the relationship can be one that eases the pain of the divorce
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