Parental dating is a difficult topic for families after a divorce or death of a loved one. It takes time for both the parent and child to cope with the feelings associated with these transitions, and there often comes a time when a parent wants to start dating again. It is important to consider how new relationships will affect your child and what you can do to make it easier for them. Here are some tips for talking to your child about dating:
-Introduce the idea earlier rather than later. Ask your child questions about their views. Ask your child about their thoughts about what they want for the family in the future. Ask your child about the qualities that are important for a person who may become part of the family.
-Take it slow. This is new for you and new for your child. After you begin conversations with your child about dating and the future, let your child know when you start dating. Only introduce a potential partner to your child when the relationship is serious. It is confusing for your child when multiple potential partners are introduced and when they are introduced too quickly.
-Ask for your child’s views, but do not ask for your child’s approval of the person you date. It is not their responsibility to decide whether or not someone will be your future partner or become part of the family. In addition, do not give your child an ultimatum to accept or enjoy spending time with a potential new partner.
-Remind your child of their importance in your life, and verbalize how special they are to you. Tell your child they will always be important in your life. When there is a new partner, reassure your child that you are not abandoning them. Tell them that your heart is big enough for both the new partner and the child. The potential parter can not and will not take their place.
-Be as forthright as possible. This does not mean divulging all the details and actions of your dating life. Being forthright means letting your child know that you are dating. It means that you are not holding secrets from them and that they can trust that you will let them know when important decisions (that affect them) are made. It is also important to consider the age of the child when revealing information about dating or a potential life partner.
-If this person is going to become a part of your family, let your child know that you are not trying to replace their other parent. Make sure that you are sending signals to your child, both verbally and nonverbally, that it is a good thing for the child to spend time with both parents/families.
-Talk to your child about what they would like to call your potential partner. Allow them to refer to the partner in a way that is comfortable for them. They might call your partner by his or her first name, a nickname, or (if the time comes) “step-mom/dad”. It is important that names feel positive and appropriate for all concerned, including the child’s biological parent.
-If it feels too stressful to broach the conversations alone with your child, the guidance of a counselor can help you and your child through the transition.
Although parental dating can be difficult for a family, by following these guidelines, you will help make your family’s transition happier and more successful.
Posted by Kirsten Jimerson, LGMFT