Dating after divorce: How to talk to your kids about a new love interest

Dating after divorce can be a challenge, but it doesn't have to be kept from your kids. (Photo: Getty)
Dating after divorce can be a challenge, but it doesn't have to be kept from your kids. (Photo: Getty)

“Don’t you ever date?” “Why haven’t you gotten remarried yet?”

My friends and family often ask these questions while they generously share all of the reasons they believe I’m a marketable, single woman. Whereas it’s nice to hear, of course, I have absolutely zero interest in finding a husband or live-in partner — at least not while my kids are under my roof.

This isn’t a bad thing to me. It is a choice I made years ago after I introduced the wrong man to my children at the worst possible time. I was newly divorced and newly sober, and my poor kids had so much on their young plates.

Bringing a guy, whom they referred to as a “stranger,” into our fragile family unit put a huge strain on my relationship with my children and on my relationship with this man. When that relationship failed and hindsight offered me clarity, I made a conscious decision: My kids will come first until the day they flee the nest. There was no room for a man in my life. We were healing. I was learning to love myself. Dating was on hold indefinitely, and when it came time to resume it, dating would be a part of my world, not my children’s. In other words, I would go from no dating to private dating.

It's 10 years later and yes, I have dated, and no, I haven’t told my kids. They have never again met a significant other or been privy to any details of my dating life. As it turns out, I am not the only one who has chosen this approach. Jen D., a mom of four from Texas, had a similar experience of introducing the wrong man to her kids three years after her divorce. According to Jen, it was after that experience that she began private dating.

“[I] decided not to introduce my children [to significant others] or even tell them I date or go out," she shares.

While she isn’t looking for a serious relationship, Jen does go on an occasional date and when she does, her “kids, her friends and [even] her family have no clue.” Private dating for her has its benefits — "it’s nice to have dinner, a cocktail and some laughs and conversation every once in a while" — but she doesn’t want, need or desire anything more serious. “I’m so happy alone," she says. "I can’t even imagine a man coming into my space.”

Jen and I could be in the minority when it comes to single parents and dating, but I’ve always felt that my way was the right way for me — until it stopped feeling entirely right. At some point recently, my feelings around dating had become confusing. I turned to registered psychologist Glenda Lux for advice that I've found clarifying.

Lux tells newly single parents to take it slowly: “Let your kids get their bearings and feel secure within this new, changed family system and schedule," she says. "Introducing a new love interest too soon can be another source of destabilization for kids after separation,” which is something you want to avoid.

Then, once you are back out there in the dating world, vet anyone your children meets and be sure the relationship has a future. Interestingly, Lux also advises parents to be careful about keeping our romantic lives a secret. “At what point does the decision to protect your children while everyone is healing and adjusting shift into avoiding an unpleasantry?” she notes.

I have always thought that I was putting my kids first, but Lux challenges this belief. “If a parent values openness and transparency, they would likely inform their children that they are dating (ideally after everyone has reasonably adjusted)," she says. My method of private dating, she suggests, is operating under the assumption “that putting kids first involves not telling them that [I] am dating.”

Lux, however, emphasizes the importance of honesty between parent and child. And she reminds us that kids are smart; they pick up on lies, which can pose a huge threat to the relationship. Says Lux, “There is perhaps a level of unintentional gaslighting that goes on when [information is withheld]. It can erode trust in the parent-child relationship. Kids can handle more than parents give them credit for.”

These wise gems pull at my heartstrings. I do value honesty! I preach about it. I tell my kids often that honesty is never optional. Yet, I have lied to them to cover my dating life and that doesn’t feel right at all. So now what? Date and lie? Date and be honest? Or maybe if I can’t date the honest way, I don’t date at all. Being a parent who dates is complicated and uncomfortable, for me anyway.

Jen D., on the other hand, seems to have more clarity than I do. “I’m simply more happy,” she says. “I’m not lonely [nor do I] get the feeling of jealously seeing people with their significant others.”

If I am being truly transparent, I would say that I want the best of both worlds — to be alone as a mother, but coupled in my time off. And I don’t want to lie about it. Once again, Lux offers some words of wisdom: “Dating after separation is not a crime,” she says. "Wanting to be in a loving relationship is normal and natural and can be done without putting the kids’ needs second. Parents can date on their ‘off-duty’ time. That does not mean they need to keep dating a secret.”

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