Single Parent Dating Advice

Finding love at midlife, after divorce



Finding yourself suddenly single at midlife can be daunting. Not only is it intimidating to enter the dating world again, but now you have a child, or two, or four and the whole thing can be downright frightening!

We recently spoke to Dr. Christine Lawlor of Lawlor Psychotherapy to get some insight as to how single parents can make a graceful transition into this new world without upsetting or disrupting the lives of their children.

Lawlor explained that the dating process can also be a grieving process for children. For many, it’s the confirmation that both parents are moving on, and that their lives together as a single family unit really are over. It takes about a year for many children to really come to grips with this, and to be able to accept their new fate. For the sake of the children it’s important to move slowly. The idea of a parent dating is foreign, unsettling and scary for most children. Many go through a denial phase and don’t want to acknowledge the fact that either parent is dating. Older children may lash out verbally while younger ones may lash out physically, with bad behavior, as they miss the absent parent terribly. Many children, both old and young, are fearful that they will be replaced and become hurt and jealous.

Communication during this phase is of the utmost importance. Children should feel allowed to express themselves, their fears and their concerns. Both parents should take the time to talk to and really listen to what their children have to say, and should never discount their children’s feelings. Most importantly, these feelings should always be validated. Before parents even start the dating process, they should talk to their children about dating and explain how they hope not to be alone for a long time. Younger children may not grasp the concept, but older ones should. 

When a parent is ready to move on with his or her life — some are ready long before others are — it’s important to keep personal lives separate from the children. After several months, if not longer, if you feel that the time is right to start making introductions do so carefully. Choose your place and timing carefully. Introducing a new love during a holiday or at a large family event would not be wise! Before you make any introductions you may want to start out slowly, gently tell the children that you’re dating someone special and that one day, when the time is right you would like everyone to meet. Some children will be readier and more accepting of this than others. Everyone moves through this process at a different pace. Don’t try to force anything or speed it up, and just allow it to all fall into place organically. It’s imperative that you keep your dating to your off nights and weekends so that schedules remain intact and so routines are not interrupted.

Lawlor believes that parents need to model their behavior; this means basically, that children can learn by watching how their parents act and react. Parents should model Respect, Love, Resilience, Humility, Consistency, and Communication.

She explains further: By modeling Love, parents show what unconditional love is, but showing them that love and understanding are there no matter what and perhaps most importantly to show that “I’m still here and not going anywhere.” By modeling Respect, she says that “it’s important to try not to invalidate their feelings or needs.” Humility, she explains, “is to acknowledge that you’re not perfect and you will make mistakes and acknowledge your faults and apologize when necessary. An evolution is in progress and it requires time and patience.” Consistency, Lawlor advises “not to buy into guilt. Parenting should be consistent with routines, guidelines and boundaries.” When modeling Resiliency “you are showing that you’re not blaming and you’re not crying and that you can move through this with power and patience and grace.” And finally there’s Communication. It’s important to be “open, clear and not at all vague. Explain what you want to explain and listen. Most important is to be open to suggestions.” When children watch as you lead by example they will follow.

Another issue that sometimes presents itself is the breakup of a relationship after divorce. Handling a post divorce breakup can sometimes be as traumatic as the dissolution of the marriage. How children react often depends on how they felt about the other adult in the first place. There could be a tremendous sense of loss, or a tremendous sense of relief. When children do feel the loss, they may wonder why another adult has left their life. It’s important, as the parent, to explain that sometimes two people are not meant to be together. In the case where another family is involved, children may more acutely sense the loss of the other children than the other adult, and it’s important that they understand that blending families can be a very complicated thing and sometimes two different types of families do not work well together.

How you handle these experiences ultimately teaches your children how to handle their own relationships and losses when they grow up. They learn by seeing. If a parent treats his or her other partner as something that is disposable (a new girl friend every month, for example) children will come to think that this is the norm and okay. This is why it’s terribly important not to parade dates in and out of the home while children are there. Only introduce the children when there is someone in your life who is going to stick around.

There are several important Dos and Don’ts regarding dating post marriage:

  • DO understand your feelings and your children’s feelings and know that feelings can be fleeting.
  • DO evaluate yourself and your own marriage. Try to understand why things didn’t work out and what you can do to prevent the same mistakes from being made.
  • DO be patient. Allow time for grieving and take things slowly.
  • DO seek a therapist if you need to talk to someone on neutral ground to help you understand and validate your thoughts.
  • DO be supportive with teenagers and give them the space they need. Be a good listener and love them unconditionally.
  • DO look for signs of anxiety and depression.
  • DON’T back talk.
  • DON’T expect your child to fill the void of a partner.
  • DON’T try to change your children’s minds or tell them how they should feel.
  • DON’T introduce a new partner too soon.

Christine Lawlor’s practice, Lawlor Psychotherapy, is located in Darien. She can be reached at 203-424-0018 or through her website lawlorpsychotherapy.com

 

 

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