When asked what she wishes her mom would do differently while dating, Rachel, a smart young graduate student, replied, “I wish she would recognize her own impulsivity and emotional rollercoaster.She does and says things without recognizing that to some extent our whole family is dating this guy.This year I came home four times from college and he was in town every single time.
The choice to be with the dating partner or children generally means the other is left waiting … Even before dating, single parents begin a series of conversations with their children that ask, “What if I began dating? ” Periodically, they engage the conversation again and again: “What if Sara and I began dating regularly?and wondering how their relationship with you is being influenced by your relationship with the other. ” “What if John’s kids came over every Friday through the summer? ” Each dialogue is both assessment (How are my kids feeling about these possibilities and realities?In addition, children commonly feel some insecurity by mom or dad’s relationship with another person. ) and intervention as it prepares them for what might happen.Wise singles recognize this important dynamic and don’t assume that becoming a couple necessarily means that they can become a family. Parents who begin dating quickly after the end of a relationship (whether by death or divorce) or who reach a quick decision to marry after a brief dating period often find their children more resistant to the marriage. Smart singles take a good long look in the mirror before dating. Smart single parents don’t let their children’s emotions dictate their dating progress, but they do listen and give serious consideration to how the children are feeling (becoming a couple is up to you; whether you become a family is up to them). Teens and adult children need to move toward your dating partner at their own pace.They attend to both and take time assessing how the potential stepfamily relationships are developing. This sabotages the ability of a stepparent and stepchild to get off on the right foot with one another and puts the family at risk. They examine their motivations for dating, fears (e.g., their children not having a father), loneliness, and unresolved hurt (e.g., after divorce). Engage in these conversations throughout your dating experience, especially in anticipation of each stage of a developing relationship. If you make it your agenda to get them to accept your partner and relationship, you may be shooting yourself in the foot. Early on your kids may meet your date, but the first few dates should primarily be about the two of you.Instead, make opportunities for them to get to know each other, but don’t force it. At first reference your date as “a friend” or if your kids are prepared, call them your “date.” Casual introductions are fine when you start dating someone, but don’t proactively put your kids and the person together until you are pretty sure there are real possibilities for the relationship.Soft invitations such as, “Roger will be having dinner with me on Saturday. Children of all ages, young to old, benefit when a parent says, “I can see that the idea of my dating scares you. and probably don’t want any more changes to our family. I appreciate your being honest with me.” Use phrases like “this scares you,” “you’re afraid that our family won’t be the same,” or “you don’t want to have to change schools or leave your friends.” This type of response validates the child’s fears. If you fall in love don’t abandon your kids by spending all of your free time with your newfound love. This is especially true for children under the age of five, who can bond to someone you are dating more quickly than you can.You are welcome to join us if you’d like.” Show respect and allow relationships to develop at their own pace. It also shows them their feelings are important to you, keeps the communication door open, and helps children put labels on their own emotions (which is very important for young children especially). It’s tempting, but doing so taps your child’s fears that they are losing you and gives the false impression to your dating partner that you are totally available to them. As your interest in the person grows, gradually become more intentional about finding time for your significant other and your kids to get together.Tread lightly at first and continue to monitor and process everyone’s fears or concerns. Since you can’t judge lasting love by physical accoutrements or initial biochemical attractions, you need an objective measure of the qualities, attributes, and character of the person you are looking for.If the other person has children as well, it might be wise to orchestrate early get-togethers with just one set of children. But you also need—and here’s where single parents fall short—a silhouette of the type of family you are hoping to create.You might, for example, engage in an activity with your friend and their children one weekend and then have your friend join you and your kids the next. If the person you are dating isn’t good parent material (with your kids or theirs), for example, you ought to move on. Nearly 20 years of counseling, coaching, and training blended families has revealed to me this secret of successful blended family couples: They work harder at getting smarter about stepfamily living.