By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
Dating after divorce can be exciting, but when you have children it’s a risky proposition. Over and over again, I see single mom and single dad clients leap headlong into a new relationship — even move in with someone — only to face a disastrous breakup a short while afterward.
While it’s normal to seek solace, companionship and a sexual relationship after a breakup, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether this relationship is casual or might be permanent. Ask yourself, “Is my new love interest a good fit for my family?” After all, you might have great chemistry with someone, but they might not be best suited to become part of your family.
Here are 10 questions every single parent must ask a new partner before diving in head-first.
- How long was your longest committed relationship and how many times have you been married?
- Why did your marriage (or last committed relationship) end?
- Are you close to your family members, including any children you have?
- What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Don’t assume that your partner has good anger-management skills. Do they tend to stonewall or withdraw from conflict or see it as an opportunity for growth?
- How do you feel about making a commitment to someone with children?
- How do you feel about having children? How many children do you consider the best number if you want them?
- Do you believe that couples should share chores and child-care responsibilities? If so, what do you believe is a fair distribution of chores?
- What is your view of divorce? What would you consider a good solution to a period when your marriage is rocky?
- What are your values and beliefs about infidelity?
- What is your vision for your life in five, 10, and 20 years?
Next, if you feel satisfied that your new love interest is a good fit for your family, it’s critical to determine the best time to introduce them to your children. This is the number one question parents ask me. My response is: What’s the hurry? Even if you are madly in love and seem to have a lot in common with your new love interest, breakups are common and kids get caught in the crossfire.
When you find a person that you are becoming seriously involved with, be sure to prepare your children in advance for the first visit. Keep in mind that the setting and timing of an introduction is vital to your success. Rather than planning a long visit, it’s best to have a brief, casual meeting with few expectations.
Divorce expert Rosalind Sedacca recommends these tips: “Ask the kids for their feedback. Discuss their feelings. Watch how your partner behaves with them. Make sure the kids never feel threatened by the thought that they are losing their Mom or Dad to a stranger. How you approach adding a new partner into your life will affect their long-term relationship with the children.”
A crucial factor to keep in mind when introducing a new partner to your children is their age. In fact, younger children (under age 10) may feel confused, angry, or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Renowned researcher Constance Ahrons, who conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce, concluded that most children find their parent’s courtship behaviors confusing and strange.
On the other hand, adolescents may appear more accepting of your new partner than younger children, but they may still perceive that person as a threat to your relationship. Ahrons found that teenagers may find open affection between their parent and a partner troubling, so go easy on physical contact in front of them. Do you want your teenager to model their behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships thoughtfully.
I’ve witnessed many new relationships go south when a partner is introduced to children too quickly. It can cause anguish for everyone, especially children who are probably holding on to the idea that their parents will eventually get back together. It may take them time to accept a new person in their life.
Just because you are smitten with your new love, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interests, especially the first few years after the divorce. Children need time to adjust to their parents’ split, and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions.
Consider that you are a role model for your kids and exposing them to casual partners may not set an example for responsible dating. Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships. Do you want them to feel pessimistic about lasting love?
The key to successful parenting post-divorce is healing, and introducing a new love interest too soon might complicate, delay or damage this process. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm.
Using the questions every single parent must ask a new partner will pay off for everyone. Consider the amount of time since your divorce, the age of your children and the level of commitment with your new partner. Don’t introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually because they may not know how to interpret this relationship and could feel let down if you breakup.
You can inform your kids that you are going out with friends and that’s enough information. Talking to a relationship coach or therapist may help you to make a smooth transition into this next phase of your life.
Terry would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments here. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship.
This post appeared previously on YourTango.com