* Is living in a Blended Family or a Stepfamily “more than you bargained for?”
* Does step parenting feel like the most challenging and thankless job of all?
* Is the tension and conflict taking its toll on your relationships
* Are you becoming worried about your children and their well-being?
* Are you constantly arguing with your partner about the kids, discipline and parenting in general?
• Is your ex or your partner's ex causing real problems in your blended family and in your relationship
• Are you at the end of your rope and need some answers NOW
* Are you considering entering into a Blended Family or Stepfamily and want to be prepared?
Dating for most people is a unique combination of excitement, fun and promise coupled with anxiety and stress. It's a process we go through to get to know a new partner in the hopes that over time, a long term, sustainable relationship will develop that rounds us out as a person and enhances our family life. For single parents raising kids, it's all that plus integrating and balancing the responsibilities of parenthood and taking into consideration the attitudes and perceptions of the kids themselves.
Kids may not be ready for a parent to date for any number of reasons: they may harbor fantasies of parents reuniting and therefore see dating as an end to that dream, they may have become over attached, used to being the primary focus of a parent and so are jealous of a new important person in the parent's life, or they may have suffered multiple losses from the divorce ( home, school, friends, and family members) and feel displaced, abandoned or threatened once again, with a new love interest.
Dating creates new roles for everyone and it's important to be aware of how this affects the kids as they adjust to a new social and emotional landscape. Kids play an important role in the success of dating after divorce so it's important to be attentive to their reactions as a new partner is introduced to the family system. This is not to say they should be in control of a parent's dating life, nor empowered to dictate their needs over a parent's social life. However, attention and consideration of their maturity level, their emotional issues from the divorce and sensitivity to boundary setting can make the difference between an unhappy experience for everyone concerned and a successful dating life that is enjoyable and satisfying for the adults and manageable for the kids.
Important guidelines for dating with kids in the mix:
1. Kids don't understand the nuances of dating so be mindful of involving them in adult relationships that they have little emotional maturity to process. Not every relationship will end up as long term or serious, so spare kids unnecessary exposure to multiple dates who may be in your life temporarily. Kids who become attached quickly and intensely to new dating friends feel a deep loss when they leave, even if you consider them superficial relationships. Constant break ups are confusing and upsetting for any kid, so be sure the new person in your life is there for the long haul before introducing your kids.
2. When you feel a relationship is solid and it's time to involve the kids, make the introduction casual, friendly and informal, preferably somewhere fun for the kids, such as a pizza place or a park. Lower expectations about the acceptance level of the kids and be prepared for resistance and even hostility, understanding that just because you love a new partner, your child may need more time to adjust. The only stipulation at the first meeting is for the child to show basic good manners and friendliness. Liking and even loving may come over time.
3. Depending on the age and maturity of the child, encourage kids to be open, ask questions and talk about feelings. Resist seeking their approval of your new partner because this can encourage manipulation and ultimately gives kids an unhealthy sense of responsibility for the relationship. Emphasize your continued unconditional love and commitment to them and always follow through on promises about “alone” time and other family and social obligations.
4. Once kids have been introduced to the new love interest, limit time you and your partner spend with them as a group. Gradually increase time together as your partner and kids get to know each other and feel more comfortable around each other. If your new partner has kids they will also appreciate a slow transition towards togetherness. Resist plunging into a busy instant family mode where everyone is always together and the kids are forced to spend time with each other.
5. Be sure to spend regular “alone” time with your kids, without your new partner, to affirm to the kids that they are still very important to you. Time spent exclusively focused on them reduces their anxiety around being displaced as well as jealousy around another important person taking time and attention. Kids need to be reminded that even though you are dating they are a top priority. Alone time creates an opportunity for you to TALK and to LISTEN.
6. Set boundaries around physical displays of affection (PDA) in front of kids. PDA should be limited, especially around teenagers, who are often embarrassed with the reality of their parent's sexuality. Overnights with dates should be confined to nights when the kids at the other parent's house; remember you are a role model for the kids so be mindful of your sexual behavior
Single parent dating is a delicate balance of romance, consciously developing a strong relationship and focusing on parental responsibility. It's a complex situation that requires sensitivity, awareness, and consideration but, by following the guidelines, dating can be successful and fun for dating single parents and their kids.