Dating can be a rough enough game, but jumping into it as a single father is even more precarious for a variety of reasons. Normally when you date, you have to worry about the feelings and reactions of two people: you and your date. As a single father, you know have to worry about the feelings of your children, and how your new girl feels about your children, and how you feel about all of them together. You are also in a situation where your ex will never truly be left in the past. When you share children, you will always share a piece of each others’ lives. And finally, you have to worry about getting into the game again, potentially, after years of having been sitting on the sidelines.
Dating can be a gauntlet as it is, but when you are juggling so many variables, it can seem like a lot of trouble, and a bit of a risk for what may be a damaged ego due to the loss of your marriage or spouse. Communicating responsibly with all parties involved is the key to maintaining your relationship with your kids while building a potential new relationship with a new woman.
No matter how long you have been divorced, chances are very high that your kids will not be happy when you decide to start dating again. Children of divorced parents secretly believe and hope for years that their parents will resolve their differences and reunite. One or both of the parents re-entering the dating world pushes that dream further and further away for a child, causing them to react emotionally, and often irrationally. Their rejection is not of the person you are dating, but rather a rejection of letting go of that dream of having their family together again.
If you are in the tragic situation of having lost your spouse to illness or accident, then the child’s rejection of a new flame could stem from a fear that you are trying to forget or replace the child’s mother. It could also just be anger, which is a natural stage of the grieving process. Consider that it is perhaps too early for your child, and seek family counselling together to help your child move through the grieving process.
Another fear that your child may harbour is that they will have to compete with this new flame for your attention. If you are in a shared custody situation, then your children probably feel as though they barely get enough time with you as it is. Having a stranger come in to divide your time and attention further could be seen as a threat to their relationship with you, and build resentment. Since the children love you and don’t want to resent you, they will direct that resentment squarely at your new flame.
In a situation where you and your children have both lost your wife, the children’s fears may rest in the loss of security they are experiencing from having lost a parent. They will cling to you for that security, fearing that you too could be lost. Having to then feel as though they are competing for your time may feel like a threat: they have already lost one parent and now this new person is threatening the bond between the child and their remaining parent.
Here are some strategies you can try to allay your child’s various insecurities and fears:
- If you are in a joint custody situation, go on dates when you don’t have the kids. If the kids live with you, do not have any sleepovers (at your house or hers) while your kids are at home.
- Take care to spend quality alone time with your kids. If you have more than one child, give each of them time alone with you every day, even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes before bed, to talk about their day to let them know that their place in your life isn’t threatened.
- Before you introduce a new girlfriend to your kids, make sure that you talk to your kids about her in a manner that is appropriate to their age. Ask them how them how they feel and allow them to express themselves without getting angry or defensive.
- Don’t introduce your new girlfriend to your children until you know that it is serious and long-term. They don’t need to be a part of a dating world where relationships appear transient or non-meaningful. Their belief in emotional commitment might already be shaken, so you don’t want to model that further.
- Don’t let your new girlfriend discipline your children. Until you are re-married and creating a blended family, it is not her place to interfere in your parenting.
Getting Out There
Once you have sorted things out with your existing family, you still face the daunting task of getting back into a dating game that you thought you’d left forever. Don’t jump back into dating too soon. If you are still angry, bitter or hurt about your divorce, ask yourself if you are really going to be able to be open to a new relationship. Be honest with yourself about your feelings about your ex so that you can resolve those feelings and move on. The number one dating turn-off is going out with someone who is trapped in feelings of hurt and bitterness over their past. If you are trapped in the past, then your date will see no future with you.
Another thing to avoid is projecting your marriage experience onto a new potential romance. No one is baggage-free. We all carry the lessons and wounds of our past into our futures, but try to remember that new women you are dating are not your ex. Don’ t assume they will treat you the same way.
One aspect of dating that you are going to have to get used to is the built-in rejection factor. Dating as a single father is not going to be the same experience as dating before you were married. You are older, and the partners you pick not only have to be a match with you, but also have to be a match with your family. You will be dating more mature women who have their own dating baggage and their own idea of what they are looking for. Just because you don’t mesh with a woman does not mean you are not worthy of dating her or that the next woman may not be a better match.
Coming out of a marriage is difficult: you may feel rejected, your ego may have taken a beating, and you may be afraid of what the dating world holds. Know that you will not meet your match right away, that you (and the women you date) are going to be trying each other on. If you aren’t someone’s style, it’s not personal, and it’s not a universal rejection of you as a man. You just didn’t fit as a pair.
It is difficult, after the pain of a divorce, to trust in relationships again. If you are truly ready to find a relationship, look for a woman that is a match for both you and your kids, and keep talking to all parties to make sure that no one’s feelings are getting hurt in the process. Raising kids is tough, and having a partner in crime to support you again is a goal that you can strive toward once the wounds of the past have healed.