Dating After Divorce: How To Tell The Kids

By Jennifer Mattern

"So ... did you KISS him?"

My inquisitor is my 7-year-old daughter. The Spanish Inquisition could have used her. This one, she's persistent.

"What do you think?" I ask, stalling for time.

"YES. I think YES," she says confidently.

My 9-year-old pipes up. "But was it on the cheek or on the lips?"

Details, details. I squirm. "Ummm ..."


"I KNEW it," smirks Miss 9.

"Can we just please go inside the restaurant now?" I say, blushing furiously.

I thought it was my job to embarrass my children, not the other way around.

I've always tried to be forthright with my kids about the fact that, yes, Mommy is dating post-divorce. We're three years out from my split with their father, and we're all in a much better place.

One popular line of conventional wisdom on dating post-divorce is the "Don't Tell, Don't Let Them Ask" thinking that holds divorced parents should say zip, nada, zero, squat to the kids about their dating lives until they are on the verge of remarrying.

This has never felt like the right strategy for our little estrogen posse. I want my daughters to know their mama is not just a mama. I want them to know I am a woman, as well, and that I am open to the possibility of finding someone special and lovely and true, someone who may stay in our lives. I want my daughters to know I keep my eyes wide open and that I'm careful with my affections, because anyone I choose must be worthy of all three of us.

So, we talk. We talk in a simple, straightforward way they can understand. We talk about the old goodness between their father and me, and how he and I agree they will forever be the best collaboration of our lives. We talk about the value that lies in remembering the good that came before. We mourn the loss of who we once were as a family, but we talk about the possibility that, someday, our family will be bigger, full of more love than we could have imagined.

Our frank talks demystify "dating," make it less precious, defuse it. I've never introduced casual dates to the girls. But when there's been a serious relationship, I let them know.

They don't get details -- they don't need details -- but they get the basics. Communication stays open, not compartmentalized. It's been a good tactic for us. Talking about Mommy dating has offered opportunities for discussions about self-worth, boundaries, goals, values, what compatibility is and why sharing our hearts and lives with others is not the same thing as giving our hearts away.

Someone mighty special has come along. I couldn't hide the grin on my face if I wanted to. I don't want to. This one, they will be meeting.

Miss 9 has prepared a list of questions for him. "Tell him we can go out for hot chocolate and I'm going to check him out for you. Don't worry, I'll be polite. He sounds like he has potential."

Miss 7 wants to tell him about princess dresses and tiaras and her favorite game, Apples to Apples. She says she wants to see how he smiles.

I love how he smiles. I hope so much they do, too.

It is as nerve-wracking as meeting the parents used to be, if not more.

I'd choose to go without a partner rather than bring someone into our lives who is not right. Life is good now, peaceful. We speak of this.

"I'd like to have a partner, but I don't need one, if that makes sense," I said, over dinner the other week. "Our life is solid. It would have to be the very, very rightest person for us all."

"Yeah. It's kind of like we're a puzzle that's already finished," Miss 9 observed.

"True. It's not like there's a hole we need to patch," I replied.

"But it's OK to want to have somebody special," said Miss 9. "Even grownups get lonely sometimes."

"It's more like our puzzle is good, but you can get an extra pack to build onto the puzzle, make it bigger with more colors," said Miss 7, excitedly.

"Yes," I said, marveling again at how much more they teach me than I can ever teach them. "It's kind of like that."

Jennifer Mattern is the creator and author of the award-winning blog Breed 'Em and Weep. She writes the weekly column Single Mom at Work at Work It, Mom. A Pushcart Prize nominee for her work at Brain, Child Magazine, Mattern is a freelance writer, playwright and single mama of two daughters.