Dr. Amy Stark
Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls and Boys
Food For Thought
Post Divorce Dating
Sooner or later you will want to start dating again. You will discover that dating after a divorce is a lot different than when you dated in your single days. Now there are babysitting issues and sleepover issues that simply did not exist before. Since you are a parent, you know that it is important to convey the right message about relationships and sexuality and because of that it is important to think things through, remembering that your behavior is sending a message to your children and that they will eventually model your behavior in their relationships.
Some issues come up pretty consistently about dating in my work with divorced families, these issues are:
1. When to date. Heal yourself and your family first–then date. There are no real hard and fast timetables, but give yourself time to heal from the last relationship. Give your children time to heal as well. When they are reeling from the divorce and its newness, don't spring someone new on them.
2. Don't rush headlong into a new committed relationship. Sometimes people are so afraid of being along that they do what I could call, "reactionary dating". This is when they date someone with the opposite traits of the last person they were with. If you are unable to see that some of the traits and qualities in your last significant other were actually good, then chances are you are not ready to date. You still have work to do on yourself so that when you do date, you will seek a healthy relationship instead of a fatal attraction.
3. Don't take your children along on a date. Get a babysitter. With children along you will have no opportunity to establish a relationship of the two of you as a couple. It is so harmful when parents take their child along on date, or worse still, when both parties combine their children too soon. In fact, don't tell your kids you are dating at first. You can date when they are not with you. When you have met someone special you can initially break the ice by telling the kids you are dating and that this is someone you would like them to meet.
4. Do not introduce your children to your new significant other until you are sure you love them and want them to be a part of your life. When parents introduce new partners too soon and things don't work out it makes it hard for your child to attach to the next partner. In fact, I have worked with teens who have actually said to their parent, "How long before this one leaves?". When you hear this you are doing something wrong.
5. Be discrete. You are not a single person with no responsibilities. Even if you are enamored with your new partner, remember that your child is observing everything you do. When you have sleepovers, what kind of message are you sending? Its important to think about this, because trust me, your child will hit their teen years and remind you of your dating behavior... because they observed it first hand. Don't make out or have sex around your child. Since chances are you have a joint custodial relationship, have sleepovers when your children are not in your care. When you are sure that this new partner is the one, then gradually introduce your child into the mix -- but be careful about public displays of affection and that they don't get out of control.
6. Don't have the new partner babysit or do the disciplining. You are the parent and the responsibility is yours and yours alone. Let the kids get to know them as a friend at first, not a parental figure.
7. Do not tell the kids that this partner is their new mom or dad. Have them call your partner by their first name or a special nickname. Don't make the adjustment harder than it will be for your child.
8. If your new partner has children as well, do not mix them all up the first time everyone meets. Let your children establish a relationship with the new partner before you bring their children into it. Take your time. You want this to work and forcing things too fast can have disastrous consequences.
9. Finally, if you find that your children are having a hard time with all the changes, seek counseling for them. Please make sure that you discuss this with your ex first and that you have their permission and involvement in the therapeutic process. Therapy should never be done without mutual parental consent or a court order.
Dr. Stark's Web site is not intended to take the place of a court-ordered advice or the advice of another professional. Although you may use the input found here to your best advantage, we recommend that you do so in conjunction with the work that you are doing with your individual therapist. Remember: this Web site is not therapy; it's knowledge and support.
Psychologist License PSY7828, California213 E City Place Drive
Santa Ana, CA 92705