Your marriage did not work and you’re dating again. Your kids are young, still very close to the other parent and you live in the same town. You begin dating someone with the same background, kids and involved other parent.
Seems just perfect right? Yes, it can be, but awareness of some of the most common issues should be considered while selecting the perfect second love of your life.
Not a Parent Substitute
It is very important that your kids like the person you are dating; however, your girlfriend or boyfriend is NOT a parent substitute. Encouraging children to call the girlfriend/boyfriend “mom” or “dad” or telling them this is your “new” or “other” mommy or daddy is confusing and is not in child’s best interest. The developing relationship is your own relationship, not theirs. In time, they will develop a relationship, but what it is, and how it looks is very individual and cannot be orchestrated by you. Sometimes children do want to call the other person mommy or daddy, but many do not. See what comes naturally to them and freely discuss this issue with their biological parent. This may seem a “strange” topic to discuss but open communication between parents and promotion of similar rules in both households has been consistently shown to help children adapt to new people in their lives.
Establish boundaries on intimacy and what the children see. It’s normal to gradually grow close physically with someone you date and perhaps even to be intimate with that person, but it is not something children should know or be aware of. If at all possible, be sure the children are with their other parent when you anticipate intimacy in your dating relationship.
Introducing your children to overnight guests when you are in an intimate relationship is even more taboo, according to social science. Most final orders and divorce decrees contain what’s called a “morality clause” or injunction forbidding a boyfriend or girlfriend from sleeping over if the children are present in the home. Once again, this new budding romance is yours, not your children’s. Seeing your girlfriend/ boyfriend walk out of your bedroom while they are watching cartoons and having cereal is awkward and causes confusion.
A Right and Wrong way to Date
Over half of the marriages in the US end in divorce, so many children are forced to deal with dating and remarriage of their parent(s). Although this is sad for kids, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach the children with your second love. For example, a “revolving door” of new people is confusing. Some experts even encourage parents not to introduce your girlfriend/boyfriend to the children unless the relationship has been ongoing for a long period of time. The fewer “contenders” they meet as mommy or daddy’s new partner, the better. In some orders and decrees, divorcing parents negotiate a dating time, such as six months or one year, before the order authorizes introduction of a new person into the child’s life.
It is normal for parents to be excited to introduce the children to their new love, you are excited and expect them to be excited as well. It is not uncommon for children to shut down and have a difficult time adapting to the new relationship. Depending on the age of the child, therapy may help with the transition. If you choose to place your child in therapy, it is important to match the skillset of the counselor with the age and developmental maturity of the child. Do your research and select a therapist familiar with family dynamics and children.
Valentines is the celebration of love between partners and should be cherished – just make sure your decisions on the path to finding the second love of your life don’t negatively impact your children. Happy Valentine’s Day!