Ok, you’re finally divorced. You’ve signed the papers and made peace with your decision. You’re done listening to divorce advice and ready to start living again. At long last, you are free to do what you want, go where you want, and be with whom you want.
Or are you?
It’s not so simple if you have children.
I claim no formula or easy divorce advice
But I suppose this is as good advice as any: First, have the Newbie, or if you prefer, your New Beau or New Belle, pick you up for dates with a brief introduction to the kids. (And no, he* should not bring presents!)
If this new relationship goes on for two or more months and you are speaking to or seeing him on a regular basis, then the next step is to have the “talk” with him. The “talk” centers on how he has to be sensitive to the kids and their love for their dad, and how, in general, he can’t move too fast.
Your New Beau can begin to establish a relationship with the kids (perhaps he might offer to take them to the park, bowling, or bicycling), but activities should be neutral—things that will neither excite them too much nor dismay them. Keep it simple.
Staying over will have to wait. Children understand that sex is a whole other step towards something that might be permanent. If your children are pretty secure and your New Beau has handled this right, you can explain in your way that you are now “going steady” with your new partner and he might be staying over once in a while. If that plays badly, postpone the overnights for a few months.
No matter how many times one tells the children the divorce was not their fault, many kids still think it is. Many also fantasize about their parents reconciling. Never, ever agree that this is a possibility! Do not let them hold out hope, but rather remind them that Daddy has a new life and is probably dating some nice people. Remind them you have a new life, too, and that you and Daddy are much happier now.
It may not be easy
Your kids may weep or get angry. Comfort them, but hold your ground. It is certainly possible that other symptoms will emerge: bed-wetting, depression, sadness, and meltdowns are often typical for children of those recently divorced.
If these symptoms or behaviors continue, I recommend you talk to a professional who specializes in divorce advice and perhaps secure professional help for your children as well. This may include family counseling. Do not let it fester. Unusual symptoms are literally a cry for help. If you cannot afford private counseling, call one of the many agencies, religious or secular, who might help you find a low cost or volunteer professional.
This said, some children may very well welcome a new person, someone who can help them with homework, throw a ball around, or talk movies or hobbies. Here, too, be cautious. Unless you are certain this person is indeed your next partner, you do not want your children to become too attached to him and risk yet another disappointment. It is, for sure, a delicate balance.
If it works out, you’ve dodged a bullet and can look forward to a happy new future. But what if it doesn’t?
What if your New Beau has his own version of the “talk” with you?
The “I can’t commit” talk, or you just sense he is cooling off? Don’t try to convince yourself otherwise if you sense he is distancing himself because he probably is. This is why—like everything in life—timing is so important. You do not want your children newly invested in a relationship that will upend their world again. For if they are, you will have to start all over with your kids; explaining that you are sorry that he was not the right person for the family, but it was something between the two of you, and the demise of your romance did not hinge on them, the children, whom he thought were great.
Never let the kids think it had anything to do with them. And even while you are dealing with your own loss, and perhaps comforting your children, you must show them by word and deed that life goes on. There are movies, games, and adventures that await—all kinds of exciting and marvelous family activities that will distract both you and the kids.
Remember to learn from this relationship, too. Gauge for yourself if you brought him into the family too soon and do not make that particular mistake again. As a divorcée and mother, you must go smartly into your new life. Maybe, just maybe, there really isn’t going to be a time in your life when you should ignore good divorce advice. You are free in many ways, but most importantly, you are free and wiser as a result of your life decisions.
Although SAS periodically features links to and writing by other professionals on the SAS website, SAS for Women™ is not responsible for the accuracy or content of that information. As for what is best for you and your future, SAS always recommends you speak to a professional to discuss the particulars of your situation.
*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.