To Date or Not to Date? For Divorced Parents, the Struggle Is Real

Some parents are relieved to sign the divorce papers and feel like they can finally move on with life. But their children face a different reality. Legal finalization is often the beginning of the difficult family transitions they must handle.
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At a family dinner the other night, my cousin recounted a joke she played on me. Grace tried to embarrass me while I was pumping gas last week. I chatted with a woman on a different pump as she wiped the overflow of gasoline that spilled on her car. Grace lowered her window and called out "Honey! Are you almost finished? We don't want to be late, sweetheart!"

My family is well aware of my history of pranking Grace. So, her story was well-received and had everyone laughing. That is, everyone except for my 11-year-old daughter, Gianna. Instead, Gianna jumped up, gave Grace a high-five and thanked her for ending my conversation. She continued to ask Grace to describe the woman I talked with and then thanked her again. I was surprised by Gianna's response because her mother and I have been divorced for over four years. I guess she's still not comfortable with the thought of her dad dating again. That's understandable; adjusting to the fact that your parents are dating is difficult for most children. And it can be very intimidating for divorced parents as well.

In addition to the usual challenges that dating presents, divorced parents face three important questions:

1. Are you ready to begin dating?
2. Are your children ready for you to begin dating?
3. Are you ready to introduce your children to a new partner?

This article addresses these questions and offers tips to help you (and your children) transition through a difficult time. I expect some people will find it difficult to agree with my suggestions. After all, "Take things slowly with Mr. or Miss. Wonderful" is not advice that is easy to hear. That said, here are my general suggestions for dating after divorce.

Are You Ready to Begin Dating?

A divorce is probably one of the most painful and difficult experiences you will ever have. It can turn your life upside-down. Divorce involves separating your identity from your "other half" and starting life over again as a single person. And when you have children together, the difficulty is compounded by helping your children cope with their new reality. Healing takes time and a conscious effort.

I'm often asked to how long it takes to recover emotionally. While every situation is different, most people start to enjoy life again within six to 12 months after the divorce is final. Of course, that depends on the length of their marriage. Add one month to those numbers for every year of marriage after the first.

For many newly divorced parents, dating again is the last thing on their mind. Others believe that dating can help take the focus off their ex-partner and provide a needed boost in self-esteem. Either way, professionals suggest that divorced parents with school age children wait at least a year before they begin dating again. While dating again can be exciting and offer temporary distraction from your grief, beginning too soon may set you (and your children) up for more disappointment. What's important is that you recognize when it's too early to think about someone new. For a discussion on determining if you are ready to begin dating again, check out this article.

Are Your Children Ready?

Some parents are relieved to sign the divorce papers and feel like they can finally move on with life. But their children face a different reality. Legal finalization is often the beginning of the difficult family transitions they must handle. As parents move out of the marriage home and into separate residences, children face changes in daily routines as well as changes in supervision. Some will have to move from their primary home into a new neighborhood with different schools and peer groups. As a parent, you might experience relief and newfound freedom, but your children are just beginning to feel overwhelmed.

When you've decided that you're emotionally ready to begin dating again, you'll need to consider how difficult it will be for your children. If they're having difficulty adjusting to their new life, adding another change will certainly complicate things.

Children find parental dating stressful for several reasons. Many will worry about having to share you with someone else. Others may be threatened and fear that if you fall in love, you'll have less love for them. And for some children, the realization that their parents are dating again shatters any remaining hopes for their parents to reunite.

Your children are probably going to be anxious when you begin dating. That's why it's important to begin talking with your children and exploring their feelings before you sign up for your favorite online dating site. Invite them to talk about their fears, empathize with them, and validate their feelings. Reassurance that your love and care for them will not change goes a long way. So give them concrete examples of important family experiences that will always stay the same.

Should You Introduce Your New Partner to Your Children?

Most professionals recommend waiting until a relationship is serious before introducing your children. In my opinion, serious means you've been exclusively dating for at least six months and both see a future together. If you cannot see yourself with this person long term, it's best skip that introduction.

When you're ready, talk with your children about introducing them to your new partner. Plan a casual, but fun activity that your children will enjoy, tell them what to expect, and explain what you expect from them. Don't be surprised if your children don't take an immediate liking to your new friend. Take it slow and give your children the time they need to adjust. If you push the relationship on them too quickly, your plan will likely backfire and cause more problems.

The good news is your children want you to be happy. So, address their fears and give them some time. They will be happy about your new relationship too!

Have I missed any important considerations divorced parents face? Leave a comment and let's start a discussion.