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The Parent Trap: Dating After Divorce

kid in the middleWith the news about how traumatic divorce is on children, as a divorcee you may be afraid to ever pay attention to anything else in life than your children. But after your wounds from the divorce heal, and after your children settle into this new phase of life, you may feel the calling to the dating realm again.

If you are lucky enough to find a person you feel a connection with, best of luck to you and this new relationship. However, luck isn’t really the component to rely on right now, especially if there are children on either side of the relationship.

Monkeys in the Middle

Divorce is difficult for everyone it even remotely touches, and that is the truth for quite some time after the divorce is finalized. Children can be affected by divorce is strange and various ways, but it doesn’t have to guide their future. Most psychologists and researchers find that the way in which the divorce is handled defines the children’s adjustment and future.

Dating does throw divorced families for a bit of a loop, but there are ways to come out of it intact and stronger than ever. The key is the continue to cultivate your children’s confidence and trust in you and the family (even if the structure is not a stereotypical one). Children of various ages tend to react differently to mothers and fathers dating, so it’s important to know what your child is feeling and how to speak to those feelings.

Timing is Everything

The dating realm is an uncertain place, of this we are all sure. So it should be no surprise that one of the post-divorce dating credos is to wait to introduce the children to your new “friend” until you’re out of the dating realm and safely in the relationship realm. In the relationship realm you are exclusively seeing each other, you introduce each other to friends as the boyfriend or girlfriend, and you foresee this person being in your life for quite sometime (if not indefinitely).

This point in the relationship is when you want to start introducing the children to your significant other. If you introduce your new partner sooner, when the relationship is just a fledgling of an idea, the chances are higher that your children will accept this person only to have them person disappear. The uncertainty of people coming and going in their life is a child’s worst fear, because in their mind, what’s to stop you from coming and going too?

Who is This?

After a few group meetings, where your children and partner have the opportunity to meet and interact in low-stress environments, things begin to get serious in the new dynamic. If your children like this new person, they might be inducted into the family. But what is their role? They aren’t stepparent, they aren’t family (yet), but they have some relation to your children.

Before uncomfortable boundaries are crossed, it’s smart to discuss with your children and your partner separately who they are to each other. This is probably the most difficult part if you have young children, because the young children are prone to attaching familial titles with unclassified newcomers. If need be, have the “you only have one mommy and one daddy” talk with your children.

The Next Phase

If things with your new significant other have progressed (over time!) to a more committed, long term relationship, then a new talk needs to take place. This talk must include the range of parental duties your partner will have over your children; to what extent is discipline allowed? Is there a limit to their parental duties? Will there be shared monetary parental duties?

So many questions and new experiences, so little time. Just remember, it’s smart to plan ahead as best you can to avoid as many bumps in the road as possible.

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