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Children, Divorce, and Dating

by Shannon Rios Paulsen
April 2014 Shannon Rios Paulsen

The question about dating arises in every session of “Co-parenting Through Your Divorce” that I facilitate.  This article addresses this question for parents of divorce and for those who are dating others who are divorced with children. 

In my role as a counselor for children of divorce, my focus is the children.  Parents made a decision to divorce and they also made a decision to have children.  It is my view that they must do all things possible to mitigate the effects of the divorce on their children. 

I worked with one child whose Mom had said that she was not introducing her boyfriend to her children as a boyfriend, only as a friend.  Guess what Mom and Dad?  You have raised really intelligent children.  Kids know. They know intuitively if something is going on between two adults that is more than friendship.  Meeting this “friend”, who was introduced to this boy by his mom in a very casual environment one day, created this reaction from the 7 year-old I was working with:

“What if my mom marries this guy? What if they get a divorce and we have to go through this again? What about my Dad? He will be alone.”  

This child was only aware of his parent’s final decision to divorce for 4-5 months--but these are the fears that kids actually have. 

When considering dating, there are some very important aspects for each parent to evaluate.  Each situation is always different and there are some important aspects to consider for yourself before you begin dating.

When should I begin dating and when should I introduce a dating partner to my child/children?

Responses:

  • Take Time For You First: Children’s adjustment to the divorce situation is directly related to parent’s adjustment.  Be sure to do your “adjusting work” which may mean counseling and/or coaching to look for yourself at what actually happened in your divorce situation.  Healthy parents create healthy children.  For myself, after a long-time relationship break-up, initially I blamed the other person.  When I really took some time with myself alone, I was able to acknowledge and see my role in the relationship not working.  The statistics tell us that the failure of the second marriage is at a higher rate than the first marriage.  If we do not assess our role in the past break-up, we are very likely to choose another partner that will not honor our needs and this marriage may also end in divorce.  As you can imagine, it can be devastating for children to have to go through this loss process twice.
  • Take Time With Your Children:  It is common that parents want to introduce a new dating partner to children.  However, especially if you are sharing custody with their other parent, they need good quality time with you.  Quality time with you one on one is most important for that first year while children are adjusting to the divorce.  When you invite someone that you are dating to spend time with you and your children, it is not honoring their time with you.  They need your full attention during this transition in their lives.  Your attention will undoubtedly be distracted and your children will notice.  It also increases the level of anxiety for children to introduce another person to them, as in the example of the 7 year-old above.   
  • Ensure This Is a Relationship That Will Last:  There are things you can actually do to ensure this relationship is one you consider solid for the future.  First ask yourself if this person is someone you can see yourself creating a future with?  Can you see this person with your children long-term?  Does this person adequately fulfil your needs, wants and desires in a relationship?  Is this person stable enough to bring your family into their life and maintain balance?  Is this person stable enough to effectively deal with the sometimes added stress of a stepfamily?  Ask your new partner if they want the relationship to continue into the future. 
  • What is This Potential Partners Location or Future Location?  It is vital for children to grow up near both parents if possible.  This is the best way to ensure that both parents spend adequate time with their children.  Consider where this potential partner lives or where they want to live in the future?  Will this be near your children’s other parent?  Depending on your custody situation, you will need to ask yourself different questions.  If your relationship with your ex-spouse is not healthy, will this person support staying in the same area, even if it may be easier to move away from them?
  • Ensure This is a Healthy Person for Your Children:  First consider, is this person completely healthy for you?  Do you feel calm with them, do they compliment you or do you spend a lot of time arguing and being upset with them?  Have you seen this person with other children?  Does this person express a true interest in children?  Have you asked them how they feel about being a possible step-parent for your children?  Will this person be respectful of your former spouse in front of your children? These questions should all be answered before introducing a new person to your children.  If you can’t answer them, then it is not time yet to introduce them to your children.  Your children deserve the best and the best is that you are clear on all of these issues prior to introducing them to someone else. 

In summary, children are our future, let’s all agree to treat them with the love, respect and caring that they deserve, especially during the divorce process.  This includes taking care of yourself, making sure that you spend quality one on one time with your children, and ensuring that all potential dating partners will be good role models for your children.

Questions to Ask Prior to Introducing Your Children to Your Dating Partner

  • Does this person like children?
  • Have I seen this person interacting positively with children?
  • Do I believe this person would be a positive role model for my child?
  • Would I want this person to be a potential influence in my child’s life?
  • Have I dated this person for three to six months or feel fully committed to this person and them to me?
  • Is this a person I could see myself committing to long-term?
  • Have I had a discussion with this person about our possible future together?
  • Do I know that this person would agree to be a part of my family with my children?
  • Does this dating partner approve of and understand my current relationship/situation with my child’s other parent?
  • Does my dating partner know and understand that I am always a parent first?
  • If I live in the same city of my child’s other parent, does the person I am dating want to stay in the same location or live in another location?
  • Have I been divorced for at least one year, or have I been spending time officially separated from my child’s other parent (and my children have known about the divorce) for at least one year?
  • Do I truly believe in my heart that my child/children are emotionally ready to be introduced to someone else?

If you answered no to any of the above questions, you are not yet ready to introduce your child to the person you are dating.  Take your time; it is important to proceed with confidence in your choices.  Always remember that you are a parent first. Your children thank you for putting them first. 

Biography


Shannon R Rios Paulsen MS LMFT is a Life Coach and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  She coaches individuals and parents as a life coach through her life coaching business www.inlovewithme.com so that parents can move forward and create healthy lives and relationships with themselves, their children and others.  She is also the founder of www.healthychildrenofdivorce.com.  She has worked with 1000s of families of divorce and conflict over the past 12 years as a child family investigator, parenting coordinator/decision-maker, children’s therapist and divorce and parenting educator for the state of MN and CO.



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