Dating after Divorce with Kids
Dating after divorce with kids is one of the most common issues for divorced parents as they move forward with their lives. Surprisingly, there is little research into this important facet of post-divorce functioning. Consequently, what we are left with is typically lay interpretation about what is best for the child after divorce. Nevertheless, what we know about child functioning after divorce, as well as dating behavior gathered from research, can help give us some ideas about what might be best for children when one resumes dating.
Some of the most common questions about dating after divorce include:
How long should I wait before dating after divorce?
When should I introduce my dating partner to my child?
How much should I consider my child’s desires with regard to dating?
In considering this first question there is no solid data to suggest a specific timeframe for dating after divorce. However, one should consider their own ability to healthfully enter into a relationship (e.g., emotional readiness for a relationship), as well as stability of the household. If one is not in a place where he or she can emotionally contribute to a relationship, or if one has a history of extreme discomfort when outside of a relationship, it may be best to wait before moving forward. Still, if we look at data on individuals who are divorced, we see that almost 2/3 of children in divorced families will witness their parents dating within one year of their parents filing for divorce.
Parents tend to take three different approaches in how they deal with the issue of exposure of their child to dating partners. The first approach, a transparent approach, is one where children are aware of the parents dating status from the very start. Researchers have found that approximately 40% of parents who are dating immediately after divorce use this approach. Almost half of all parents dating after divorce use a graded approach. This approach involves gradually increasing a child’s exposure to the parent’s partner as the relationship increases in seriousness. A much smaller minority of parents appear to use an “encapsulated” approach. This approach conceals the partner from the child until much later in the dating process.
Although research examining the issue of exposure of a parent’s partner to a child has not yet been fully explored, experts generally consider a graded exposure approach to be the most beneficial to child well-being. This allows the child to adjust to any household role changes, as well as allowing for acclimation to a new person in the child’s life. Compared with a transparent approach, a graded level of exposure may also prevent a parent’s partner from entering into a disciplinary role prior to when it would be advisable. When a parent’s significant other hastily enters into a disciplinary role, the consequences can be very damaging for the relationship between the child and partner.
With regard to the last question, a new partner can be seen as threatening to children after divorce. It is typical for children to take on larger roles within the household, and to see those roles as threatened by a new relationship with their parent, as well as threatening to a way of life to which they have grown accustomed. Consequently, it may be useful to provide your child with reassurance that your relationship with him or her won’t significantly change. It is certainly important to make strong efforts to follow through with this reassurance given that it can be difficult for a parent to allot as much time to the parent-child relationship with the presence of a dating relationship. Specifically asking your child about his or her fears surrounding involvement with another person maybe useful, as well as emphasizing the importance for your child to communicate with you regarding any concerns or fears he or she may have as a relationship progresses.