Divorced and Dating

Since I’m divorced and have 2 kids, a lot of people ask me for tips about introducing their kids to someone new in their life.

I am hesitant to offer advice on this bc I think it is very situational.

My kids are 3 and 7, so that scenario can be very different from someone who has teenagers.

Since my divorce 3 years ago I’ve only introduced one person to my boys, and he was introduced as my friend. No PDA, pet names, or affection in front of the kids. Just a great guy who hangs out and has fun with us.

I would suggest to wait until you feel like you could have a future with your potential mate and are considering taking your relationship to the next level. I waited a year.

In my case, I felt that it was important for any man who loved me to see me “as a mom”.

It’s one thing to see “fun Nora” on a dinner date or private time, but there is a whole nother side to my life.

Since I’m a stay at home mom, being Mommy is a huge part of who I am and a major aspect of my personality. My kids are a very active part of my world.

Whatever you decide, take it slow. Being divorced isn’t a life sentence, it’s a new beginning. It is ok to have a personal life, but your kids should always come first.

Nina Malkin wrote a great article, 8 Rules For Dating My Parent.

It has 8 suggestions for dating parents from a child’s perspective. Here is what the kids have to say:

1. “Don’t be a goober!” So says Mark, 12, who defines gooberosity as acting goofy, laughing too much in a fake way, and basically showing off. “If you’re trying so hard to be liked, you’ll come across as an idiot,” says Moira, 17. “Kids know when you’re being someone you’re not. Relax and be yourself.” Interestingly, Moira says she finds it more important to respect rather than like the person her parent is dating.

2. “Don’t kiss and do stuff in front of me.” This direct quote from Cameron, 15, is resoundingly confirmed by all the kids who wrote these rules. Any parent-plus-date PDA beyond a quick peck is both inappropriate and kind of gross, they say. “When they do more than that it’s weird for me,” says Alex, 10. “They can do it on their own time — I don’t want to see it on my couch,” says Beth, 18. Treat your date more like a friend around the kids, and you will be fine.

3. “Give me my space.” These words from 15-year-old Steve are echoed by many children of divorce. “The kids are still trying to get through a challenging time, and they don’t need pressure from the new guy or woman,” Steve explains. “Make an effort, but leave it to the kid to determine how deep the relationship [between the child and parent’s new love interest] goes.” As Steve sagely points out, children may be wary of liking you too much, because if you and their parent break up, you will vanish from their lives. “Develop the relationship with the kid only after you know the relationship with the parent is going somewhere,” Steve says.

4. “Don’t be indifferent,” says Mark. Ultimately, Alex would prefer “a person that doesn’t just like my mom and turns to kids and says ‘yuck.’” Yes, it’s a challenge considering some of the abovementioned rules, but aim for a balance between crowding kids and pretending they’re not in the picture. Find a way to interact and communicate with them; Alex says that a little gaming goes a long way. “Most kids want you to know how to play video games — that’s the key to getting into a kid. You don’t want [the date] coming over and just watching TV.”

5. “Know that you’re not the parent,” says Moira, expressing a particularly popular sentiment with teens who are looking for more independence. “My mom’s boyfriend will try to parent me, like, ‘Why aren’t you helping your mom?’” says 17-year-old Zach. “Show the love but don’t try to replace the real parents.” Perhaps you’re a parent yourself, but the rules of your household may not apply to those of the person you’re dating. If you’re privy to discussions about such issues as curfew or clothing choices, stay silent. If the person you’re dating tries to pull you in, be neutral. As the relationship develops, you may choose to be diplomatically involved, but don’t lay down the law in place of the parent. “You can make suggestions, but don’t tell us what we have to do,” Cameron says.

6. “Share.” A beautiful word, share — and by using it, Mark means that you should be open about your life, your experiences, your background, and your feelings. That way, “I can learn more about who he is and where he’s coming from, to connect with him,” Mark says. The more you share (without coming off like a blowhard), the more secure the child may feel. “It’s like doing research, so I don’t feel like he’s some guy right off the street,” Mark says. The main caveat? Don’t complain — these are kids, not life coaches. “We shouldn’t have to deal with their adult problems,” says Moira.

7. “Be respectful,” says Mark, though employing courtesy and kindness ought to be a no-brainer for adults. “Treat me the way you want to be treated.” Listen when the kids speak. Don’t tease. Offer encouragement and sincere praise, not false flattery. You’ve got to love how Cameron puts it: “Act like we’re the host, [and you are] an exchange student.” Kids are keenly sensitive to matters of respect, and when they feel they’re being disrespected, you’ll know it. “When they put me down or get in my face,” says Mark, “I retaliate by avoiding them or being difficult.”

8. “Give it time,” says Moira, who asks that potential dates see the situation for what it is: “Acknowledge that kids really don’t want to see their parents with someone else. The more you force it, the more they’re going to run away.” Kids can feel serious pressure from a parent to like a new person; avoid intensifying that with a less-is-more approach. “Gradually get to know the family and then go out and do things together as group,” suggests Zach. It makes sense; after all, it’s never wise to rush any relationship. Out of the mouths of babes, huh?

*Children’s names have been changed to protect privacy.

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