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How To Tell The Kids You’re Dating Again


Smart advice on how to share the news you're seeing someone.

By Randy B. Hecht

t seemed like a good idea at the time... You started dating again, and — since you haven’t told the kids — you’ll just sneak your new sweetie in for a drink late one night, while the little ones are asleep. They’ll never know, right? Wrong. Because this will be exactly when one of your children is going to wake up to go to the bathroom.

Ellie Slott Fisher has heard variations on this real-life story from many single parents. It’s just one of the scenarios she tackles in her Mom, There’s a Man in the Kitchen and He’s Wearing Your Robe: The Single Mother’s Guide to Dating Well Without
Don’t feel as if you need to hurry up and get a “replacement.”
Parenting Poorly. Fisher interviewed many single parents in preparation for writing the book, but she also speaks from personal experience: She’s a mother of two who was widowed after 15 years of marriage, married a second time and divorced, and now is single and dating again. Here, her top tips for previously-married folk whose romantic lives are reawakening:

1. Let your “love schedule” unfold
First, operate on your own timetable and no one else’s. “People should date when they’re ready and not when other people tell them they should be,” Fisher says. Don’t feel as if you need to hurry up and get a “replacement” significant other into your child’s life.

2. Reveal just the right amount
Once you’ve taken the plunge, you have to communicate with your children about what’s going on—because they’re going to figure it out anyway, she says. At the same time, she warns against communicating more than they want to know. They don’t need every graphic detail. “Can you imagine wanting to know the details about your own parents? We can’t even imagine our own parents, much less one parent and a boyfriend or girlfriend. Why would we want to know something in that situation? We really wouldn’t.” And neither do your children. What they do want, according to Fisher, is reassurance that no one will ever replace them in your heart. “Say that explicitly,” she says. “They need to hear it.”

3. Don’t spring things on them
You may only want to talk about your dates when you know you’re head-over-heels, but kids need to hear something about your relationship before you’ve decided it’s love. Your instinct may be to protect them by not saying much until you have a sense of where the relationship is going, but don’t conceal too much too far into the relationship. “We need to give them time. We need to be patient in this whole
It’s not the act of doing it that’s wrong.
process, which is easier said than done. But we need to give children time to process our dating.” Waiting until you’re all but engaged will only shock your child and have them feeling left out and slighted.

One note: You may be tempted to introduce your new sweetie as a “friend” or “special friend” and then gradually reveal the romance. While this tactic may work with very young kids, once a child is beyond preschool-age, they are likely to catch on that this person is a romantic interest of yours, so there’s no need to bother with the subterfuge.

4. Let them weigh in
Finally, they want to have some say in the matter of when they’ll meet the new person in your life. Ask them if they’d like to have that first encounter, or invite them to meet your date—don’t inform them that he or she will be joining the family for dinner next Sunday. And don’t schedule those first meetings to take place in your children’s territory, such as at one of their sports events.

5. Be cautious about overnight dates
What about orchestrating those overnight visits? Fisher urges caution, and not just because of your children’s uncanny instinct for appearing at precisely the worst moment. It’s one thing if you’re in a serious relationship that’s moving toward marriage or living together, she says. But if you’ve been dating someone only briefly, the sex is basically recreational—and your kids could be aware of that fact. “You could be asking for a teenage child to throw that back in your face. It’s not the act of doing it that’s wrong. It’s doing it in an environment where your kids might be privy to it.”

6. When the going gets hard, remember the goal: happiness
Finally, she says, remember that your children want to see you happy. They know what you’ve been through, because they went through it with you. And they want you to be happy next time.


Randy B. Hecht is a New York-based writer and editor.
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