Dating After Divorce: Talking to My Children

I teach sexuality, intimacy and love for a living – in workshops, in private coaching sessions, online with my blog and podcast, and at various trainings and events.  And, I am a divorced, dating Dad.  Getting back into the dating world after a relationship breakup seemed overwhelming at first.  Trying to meet people, having the confidence to ask for and accept dates, getting comfortable with boundaries – my own and other people’s, took a lot of skills I either needed to learn, or, perhaps, relearn.

As a divorced parent, it’s really hard to know when to introduce someone I’m dating to my kids.   There’s no rule, though plenty of people invent rules about this.  As a parent, I want to behave as a good role model for my kids.   And, as my kids get older, the more hypocrisy they see in me, the less they will allow me to influence their decisions.

Maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is to not over-worry that I’m going to permanently damage my children if I make mistakes.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Every parent has things that their children dislike or disrespect.  The best we can do is, it turns out, is the best we can do.

For me, the dating rules I live by include:

  • I tell my kids the truth, but do not treat them as my friends or peers.  They need to know I’m dating, before that dating is getting “serious”, and they need to hear periodic progress reports.  Surprises in this area are not good: “Hi kids, I’d like you to meet Sweet-ums.  We’ve decided Sweet-ums is moving in.” Bad idea!
  • I never ask my children to keep secrets from my ex.  If I want it secret, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it.  On the other hand, I believe I have a right to my privacy, which leads to:
  • My kids do not need to know the private details of my love life.  One kid of my acquaintance once asked his Step-Dad if his Mom was good in bed.  It created a wonderful opportunity to talk about privacy, and not gossiping.  It was none of the kid’s business, and it was a great teaching moment.
  • I don’t want my kids to “bond” with someone who is just passing through.  On the other hand, I risked my children seeing that sometimes my relationships end, and people they have come to know sometimes go away.
  • All relationships take time investment.  I do not expect my kids to instantly be in relationship with an adult they hardly know.  I plan group activities that have enough “activity” in them to fill in the awkward lapses in conversation.  Then  I do it again.  And again.
  • I ask my kids what they think of people I am “serious” with.  If a date can’t get tolerance from my kids, it is usually a relationship killer.
  • I ask my dates about how they feel about my kids. If a date doesn’t like my kids, it is a relationship killer.
  • I do not expect, nor want, to replace my ex.  There is not a new “Mommy”, nor can there be.
  • I believe everyone one in my family deserves to have their voice heard on all decisions that affect them.  I make a distinction between a “voice” and a “vote”.  As the adult, I am responsible for making the adult decisions.  And I make better decisions when I really listen to my kids, and take their point of view, concerns, and ideas into the decision making process.
  • Finally, I remind myself not to underestimate the power of my good intent.  I believe it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said: “Even the stupidest dog knows the difference between being tripped over and being kicked.”
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