Dating After Divorce: When Your Kids Say NO
When it’s finally over, when you now check off a new box for “marital status,” what becomes of love? You are officially divorced, but will you ever experience love again? Do you even have the energy for it? The only way to find out, of course, is to educate—and risk—your heart. And that means dating. Dating after divorce when your kids say no, however, you’ll quickly realize that the pursuit of love comes with a whole new set of rules.
Dating after divorce can make you pine for your early days of romance. If you and your ex started dating in college, you probably did so in a bubble you didn’t realize you were in. You had your studies, maybe a job, and—of course—a carefree social life. But, beyond that, you had yourselves… and your whole lives ahead of you.
But now there are children… and water under the bridge… and toothpaste that can’t be squeezed back into the tube.
It’s complicated now. What was once a natural, easy “finding yourself in love” is now all grown up with history, baggage, and a ton of responsibility.
It’s intentional now—strangely scripted with a resumé of past-relationship and divorce disclosure in every conversation. Sometimes it would seem easier to write a scarlet “D” on your forehead and have your relationship interview answers printed on a T-shirt.
And the confounding part of it all? Your feelings, wants, and needs are no longer the only ones that matter when it comes to finding love.
The Challenges of Dating After Divorce When Kids Are Involved
You now have to think about your children, both in the present and in their futures.
This period of their lives is critical and determinative in an exponential way. They learn osmotically by what they observe and live.
And the decisions that parents make about their own love lives have a profound influence on their children’s future romantic relationships. They learn either that relationships are a safe place in which to love and grow… or that they aren’t worth the risk.
So what you do and how you do it matters—from your divorce to your dating after divorce.
When your kids say “no” to you or your ex dating, they’re really consolidating a nurtured fantasy that their parents will reunite.
The impossibility of that may be so carved in stone for you that your children’s inability to grasp it may be surprising.
But you have to remember your roles as “parent” and “child.” A child’s sense of self is directly attached to his or her parents. When they split up, it’s as if the child’s identity also shatters. Who am I? Where do I come from? Where do I belong? What can I count on? Who will take care of me? Will they stop loving me, too? Did I cause this to happen?
Your conscientiousness in your new dating life will help to determine how those questions are answered.
Keep in mind that your children are living in a new reality that they didn’t choose. Depending on the communication and amiability between you and your ex, your children may try to control their circumstances. They are, after all, seeking a “normal” that they can count on.
Here are some helpful tips to guide your dating after divorce when your kids say “no.”
1.) Don’t start dating right away.
Take time after your divorce to let your kids and yourself settle into your new reality. Use this period to reflect, grieve, adjust, learn, and heal.
Work on yourself—your accountability for the marriage you just lost, your role as a parent, your professional life, your hobbies.
This is an important courtesy to your kids, too, as their reality will be completely uprooted. And they won’t be clearing their father out of their lives the way you will be clearing your ex out of yours.
So take your time. Avoid the trap of rebound relationships and the impulse to seek out relationships to avoid being alone. Six months is a general recommendation for waiting to date again.
2.) Talk openly with your kids.
Obviously, you have to take into account the age of your children and their emotional maturity. But your openness and honesty with them are essential to rebuilding or maintaining their trust in you and grounding them in their new reality.
They don’t need to know all the details. But they do need and deserve to know that you will be starting to have a social life with other adults. “Just like you need to be with friends your own age, Mommy needs to have friends her age, too.”
Make sure they know that they are still the most important people in your life. And gently reinforce for them the fact that you and their father really are divorced now and will not be getting back together.
The more openly you support their relationship with their father in a healthy way, the more secure they will feel.
3.) Give your kids a voice but not a choice.
Remember that children derive their sense of identity and belonging from their parents. Healthy attachment has lifelong effects, and divorce can have a negative impact on that.
It’s understandable, then, that a child may become fearful that you are planning to “replace” the other parent.
They can, in an honest attempt to shape their own worlds, try to manipulate your world.
You can reassure them that you won’t be bringing anyone into their lives until you know that he will be a good fit for your family. This is an important boundary to maintain in dating after divorce when kids are involved.
While encouraging them to share their feelings and concerns, avoid giving them voting power.
Check out our recommended divorce parenting books and children’s books you can read aloud to your kids.
4.) Keep your dating life separate from your family life.
Watching their parents date other people can be very confusing for children. They still filter everything through a “What does this mean for me?” sieve.
If you co-parent your kids, consider using the time they are with their father as time for you to date. If that’s not an option, at least don’t bring anyone to the house or introduce a new person to your kids.
5.) Make introductions only after a relationship has developed.
Plan to introduce a new romantic interest to your children only after you start dating exclusively. You don’t have to be heading for commitment, but you should be confident that he will be a good fit with your family.
When you do plan to introduce everyone, make arrangements to do so in a setting that puts everyone at ease. A sporting event, hike, or outdoor activity will be more comfortable for everyone than, say, a formal dinner at a restaurant.
6.) Be open with your ex about your entry into dating and any serious relationship.
You don’t owe your ex a play-by-play of your dating after divorce. When your kids say “no,” however, they may be motivated, in part, by a desire to protect their father.
Interestingly, kids also tend to accept their fathers’ dating more so than their mothers’.
In order to prevent your children from feeling that they have to keep secrets, let your ex know you are dating again.
This isn’t about owing your ex an explanation of your activities. It’s about establishing a comfort and safety zone for your kids by exhibiting healthy communication with your ex.
One of the most difficult remnants of divorce is the fear that you will never know love again. But that doesn’t have to be, even if you are a single mom and your kids don’t want you to date.
It’s up to you to establish healthy boundaries so that your children are protected and you are free to be open to love.
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