Dating a divorced person can be like getting one fabulous love (the paramour) and then getting a free bonus — the kid(s) the date brings along to the relationship.
But before you make that fateful introduction between your children and your new girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s important to put in the right amount of thoughtful preparation. With this in mind and some input from terrific psychoanalyst Morrie Shechtman, coauthor (with his wife, Arleah) of the book Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage, here are some helpful tips to make sure you plan ahead and ensure that you do so in a wise and loving fashion:
1. Wait until you’re exclusive and committed to make that initial introduction. You don’t want to be constantly bombarding your child with a string of suitors. (I love the word “suitor” but I know it really only applies to men… substitute whatever word works for you to include ladies in this equation!)
2. Tell your child you want him or her to meet someone you personally feel is very special — but don’t tell your child how to feel or relate to your date. No saying things like, “You’re gonna love this person, too.” Talk about pressure!
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3. Give your child some notice; let him or her know about a week before the actual meeting is scheduled to occur. This way there is plenty of time for everyone to process the situation and plan for it. Don’t just spring someone new on the kid without any warning, ever.
4. Recognize that, depending on his or her age, your child might view your new love as a threat to spending personal time alone with you. Your child might think of any date as being someone who is breaking and entering into your own Special Little Club. Even if your child doesn’t say it aloud, know that he or she may wonder things like: “Will this new person take away all of my parent’s attention? Will my parent be so busy with his or her date that there won’t be time for me anymore?” Take the lead. Reassure your child that you will continue be there in all the usual ways.
5. It’s even more important to start a conversation if your child seems angry or worried before the initial get-together. Don’t ignore this behavior. Ask your child how many of the following five main emotions he or she feels — the Big Five that Morrie Shechtman writes about: glad, sad, mad, hurt and afraid — and why. Get a dialogue going so you can understand exactly how your child is processing this new experience and offer your support.
6. Keep the first meeting or outing with everyone short. Really, just an hour or two is fine.
7. Don’t rely on nothing but conversation to fill the time during that first encounter. Plan a fun activity to do together that both your date and child will enjoy.
8. You and your love interest should both go easy on being affectionate toward eaach other. Avoid your usual kissing, touching and general lovey-dovey ways.
9. After this initial first meeting, check in separately with your child and your sweetie to see how everyone is feeling. Proceed slowly when planning and scheduling the next meet-up together.
10. If your child is particularly mad, sad, hurt and/or afraid, explain how adults need time with other adults, just as children need time with other children. If you want, say something like: “You are the most important person in my life, but like you, I sometimes need to spend time with people my own age.” If your child is old enough to express concern about your dating life, you can open the conversation up further with a statement like, “I know some kids don’t like it when their parents date. How do you feel about this?” With an open and honest attitude, patience and flexibility, you, your child and your new love should be able to find your way as you build a loving relationship.