How I Told My Kid I Was Dating

Wondering how to bring up this potentially touchy topic? Here’s advice from single parents who’ve been there, done that…

By Chelsea Kaplan

f you’re a divorced parent, choosing the best way to break the news to your kids that you’re going to begin dating can be a tough task. Some parents go with a full-disclosure, honesty-is-the-best-policy approach. Others opt for a more subtle explanation in hopes of protecting their kids and minimizing a negative reaction. If you worry about telling your kids that you’re diving back into the dating pool, heed the advice of these parents who’ve successfully broached the topic. Let their approaches serve as your guide to insuring your kids will respond positively so you can make a smooth return to romance.

Tip #1: Take them to a (G-rated) singles outing
“When I started dating, my daughters were 7 and 10. My local supermarket had this event called ‘Single Tuesdays’ where adult singles with kids wore name tags brought their kids
“I never called her my ‘girlfriend’—too confusing for a kid his age!”
agrocery shopping. Basically, you’d kill two birds with one stone—get what you needed for dinner and at the same time meet other singles in your situation. This way, my daughters were eased into seeing me mingling with women while taking part in something they were already used to my doing. I think that made it less emotionally-charged.”
—Harry, 42, Cherry Hill, NJ

Tip #2: Make a “must-have” list together
“When I told my 6- and 8-year-old sons that I was going to begin dating again, I let them know that one day I’d like to remarry, but that the woman would have to be a very special person with certain qualities. Together, we discussed the kinds of qualities we thought that woman should have. I said I’d like to find someone intelligent, funny, kind and giving, and they listed that she should be able to make good chocolate-chip cookies and like to go to the amusement park. Once I started dating, I’d tell them I was going to look for a woman with all of the attributes we’d discussed, and that I’d report back to them on whether or not she met his requirements. I think by making that list together, they felt less alienated—like I was interested in their opinions and not making a move without them in mind.”
—Paul, 43, Boulder, CO

Tip #3: Reinforce that your new mate won’t try to replace anyone
“Before I began dating after my wife and I split, I sat down with my kids — who were 10 and 8 at the time — and told them that I was going to begin doing things like having dinner and seeing movies with some men, as a way of getting to know them and see if they were people that I might enjoy spending time with. I told them that one day, I might like to meet someone who I would want to be with every day, like I used to be with their Dad, but that no matter who it was, no one would ever replace their Dad or keep them from spending time with their Dad. I’m not sure if it was because of that talk, but they never once expressed hostility toward my dates!”
—Maralynn, 43, Redondo Beach, CA

Tip #4: When your kids are young, keep the explanation simple
“When I first began dating a woman after my divorce, my son was only 4. I introduced him to the idea — and to her — by telling him that I had a friend I wanted him to meet. She also had a son his age, and I told him that my friend had a son his age, and we were all
I chose to tell my kids the truth when I began dating.
going to get together and take a trip to the park. I never called her my ‘girlfriend’; I felt like explaining the love interest part of our relationship was too confusing for him to comprehend at such a young age. As he got older, I’d elaborate more so on the nature of my relationships with women, but when he was that young, I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
—Tom, 39, Miami, FL

Tip #5: If they’re older, be straightforward
“I chose to tell my kids the truth when I began dating, but it was fairly easy to do so because they were 13 and 16 when I did. I told them that it was my hope that one day I’d fall in love again, and I was going to begin seeing if that was possible by getting back on the dating horse. I think delivering in that way helped them receive it well; my oldest daughter goes, ‘Mom, I want you to find love again too, so go out and look!’ After hearing that, I felt like I could do so, free of any sort of guilt.”
—Carole, 48, Chapel Hill, NC

Tip #6: Let your experiences prepare them for the dating scene
“Before I started dating, I told my 12 year-old daughter that I was going to try dating again, because I couldn’t just give up on the possibility of falling in love the second time around. I told her that I’d probably meet some great guys along the way, and perhaps some that weren’t so great, citing the old ’you have to meet a lot of frogs before you find your handsome prince’ cliché. My feeling was that I wanted her to see her Mom as a real person who goes through all the ups and downs of dating life that one day she will probably go through. I wanted to set the stage so that when she goes through tough times, she can turn to me for understanding and support because she will have known that I went through similar experiences too.”
—Johanna, 44, Portland, OR

Caitlin Ascolese is a freelance writer in New York City.
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