After the divorce, how soon should you start dating?
Most middle-years children need some time to adjust to their parents' separation before their mother or father begins having new romantic interests. In general, a good guideline is about a six-month wait from the time you separate from your spouse to the time you start to date, although dating will often occur sooner. You should talk with your child about your new adult friends. Allow your youngster to express her feelings and opinions.
Here are some other suggestions to keep in mind:
- You don't need to introduce your child to all your dates—only to those with whom you are developing a serious relationship. Although your middle-years youngster may be curious about a man you are going out with, she might form an attachment to him before it is appropriate to do so. She may want you to marry this man immediately in hopes of creating a new, more traditional family unit. Be sure to explain to your child the differences between dating, developing a relationship, becoming engaged, and getting married; she should understand that not all dating and friendships end in marriage. Also, discuss with your partner the best time for him to meet your youngster. Do not put pressure on your boyfriend to meet your child before she feels ready to do so.
- Prepare both your boyfriend and your child for their first meeting with each other. Tell your youngster about this man, and explain why you like him. (Is he smart? Is he fun to be with? Does he have a good job?) Then say some thing like "I was thinking that you might like to meet John. Would you like him to come over for dinner, or would you like the three of us to go out to dinner together?" Show her that you would like her to participate in arranging this first meeting. Also, tell your boyfriend about your child. Describe what the youngster likes to do, what sports she enjoys, her hobbies, what she likes in school, and other information you think might help your boyfriend approach her.
- Don't expect miracles during that first encounter. There may be some anxiety during the first meeting between your boyfriend and your child. But the goal of that get-together should be only to say hello—not for the two of them necessarily to like each other. Don't rush things. They will need to develop their own relationship over time. Discourage your boyfriend from trying to impress your child, or from attempting to get too close too quickly.
- Help your child deal with any negative feelings she has. Sometimes children may see their mother's new love interest as a threat to their fantasy that she and her ex-spouse will someday reunite. When this man becomes a serious enough part of your life that you are introducing him to your child, you also need to deal with any unrealistic ideas your child has ("Daddy and I are divorced, and we really are not going to get back together again").
- Your youngster may still prefer her father to your new boyfriend. But with time, she might come to see this new man as a nice fellow with whom she can be friends and have fun. Any jealousy she feels over your dates with another man will probably be resolved after an initial period of adjustment
- Also, let your child's father know that you will be introducing the youngster to your boyfriend. Your child should not feel that this is a secret she has to keep, or that she will have to be the one to disclose this information to your ex-spouse, which she might find painful to do. Children should not be keepers of secrets.
- Show some discretion about intimate relationships with your boyfriend. Children learn about the adult world through example—particularly from parents. As you develop a relationship with a boyfriend, keep in mind that your child is learning about intimacy at the same time. Open age-appropriate communication during the development of a sexual relationship with a close friend will allow your child to experience a new level of awareness about grown-up behavior. But direct exposure to frankly sexual conduct is not a good idea.
- When school-age children are exposed to these new relationships, they need a clear statement from you about your feelings toward your new friend and your wish to be close to him, and also about the differences between adult relationships and those between children or adolescents. When you have a discussion with your child about a new intimate relationship, encourage her to express her feelings, good and bad, and help her feel comfortable with asking you questions about your new friend and the ways in which you relate.