Telling your children that you are beginning to date or introducing them to a new man in your life be stressful -- for both you and the kids! When we wrote Love For Grown-ups, a relationship guide for women who married or re-married after the age of thirty-five, we conducted interviews with women all over the country, many of whom had stories about what it was like dating when you have kids. They shared with us what worked and in some cases, what didn't work. We're passing on some of their ideas here, from how they handled casual dating to introducing their children to the man who would become their stepfather.
Consider your children's ages and comfort levels. If your kids are young, how do they react to your going out without them? Are they comfortable if you and a couple of girlfriends go to a movie or out for a drink together? Is there a steady babysitter you use if the kids are too young to stay home alone? Make sure the children don't have anxiety being without their mom for an evening.
Put your children's feelings first. Be sensitive to how they are going to react to this news and remember that children deep down would like their parents to get together again, no matter their ages. Though you may be excited that you've met someone special, your children may not be ready for that step. Try to understand how they feel and most importantly, let them know in words and actions that they will always be your number one priority.
Take it slow. Particularly if your children are young, you may want to keep this part of your life separate until you are in a committed relationship. You can arrange to meet your date wherever you plan on spending the evening: a restaurant, the movies, etc.
He knows you have kids and should understand that you need to keep the social part of your life separate.
Plan ahead when introducing him to the kids. If you've been seeing someone awhile and you feel it's OK to introduce him to your children, make sure they know a bit about him ("He has an eight-year old son too"! "He and mommy both like Thai food".) Have him pick you up at home, but make sure the baby-sitter has come a half hour before he's due to arrive. Tell your child that it's "introductions only;" your child shouldn't feel he has to answer a lot of questions or entertain your beau if you're not quite ready! The next day, give your child the opportunity to ask questions: "Where did you go?" "Does he have children? Have you met his children?" etc. Your child will be curious and may feel he can't say anything.
Including the children. If you've met someone who is becoming a major part of your life, you'll want the child to feel comfortable having him around. The three of you should do something your child will enjoy. Go to a movie and have a burger afterwards.
Go bowling, play miniature golf. Pick something that has a time limit. You want your child to have fun and want to do it again, not be over-tired. One of the women we interviewed had older children and her boyfriend did too. They arranged to all meet for dinner with the couple that had fixed them up. That way all the kids knew the outside couple and it helped break the ice.
Remember that adult sleepovers are just for adults. Until a relationship is very serious, spend the night with each other only when your child is with their other parent. One woman we interviewed called this her "pocket of privacy."
Consider your children's opinions. Again, the age of your children is a factor here. If your children are away in college or adults, they will have very little daily interaction with him. If you have young children, that's another matter entirely. Many women felt very strongly that their new relationship wouldn't have gone far if it didn't work for their children. Give everyone some time to adjust to the idea and if it's still not working, then he may not be the one for you in the long run.
Know that timing truly is everything. Tailor your decisions to the needs of your children. Only you can make decisions about what is in their best interests. Ideally, you want them to accept you dating as a normal part of life. Look for cues about your child's readiness.
How do you think your kids will react when they learn you are dating?
Ann Blumenthal Jacobs, Patricia Ryan Lampl and Tish Rabe are the authors of "Love for Grown-ups: The Garter Brides' Guide to Marrying for Life When You've Already Got a Life", a relationship guide based on interviews with women who married over the age of 35. The book tells you how to find Mr. Right, marry and find life-long happiness. The Garter Brides are a sisterhood of women who all got married later in life. They offer tried and true advice on how to have the love and life you want.