Advice for Dating Parents: Breaking It to Them Gently

By: Marie Williams

A friend recently told me about a bestseller, authored by a popular male comedian, giving women dating advice. Curious, I skimmed it while visiting her and read his tips for single mothers:

“Introduce boyfriends to your kids right away,” he said. “Even from the very first date.” His reasoning was that it was better for all concerned to find out sooner, rather than later whether they could all get along; and that it gave the potential mate a realistic view of what your life is like outside of the candlelit dinners and pleasant country drives.

On the face of it, that sounds like good advice if your priority is to make sure the boyfriend is comfortable with your children rather than the other way around. When I think about how to approach the subject of dating with my daughter, one of the last things likely to be on my mind is how to take care of the other adult in the scenario. If you agree, read on.

First things first; you are not alone in trying to figure this out. As of the last census, there were 13.6 million single parents raising 21.2 million children in the U.S.

Second, realize that wanting to have a life outside of your children is no cause for guilt. In fact, if you have a healthy, happy dating life, you can teach your kids more about relationships than all the self-help books ever written can.

If your your child is under the age of 2:
At this stage, children are exposed to a very limited number of people, and for good reason. Your first priority is keeping them safe and making sure they feel secure. One of the ways to do this is to feel completely secure yourself, so don’t introduce your child to anyone you’re dating or invite them into your home until you are assured that they are trustworthy and accustomed to small children.

If your child is between the ages of 3 and 5:
Children at this stage can be clingy or proprietary about their parents. They use simple cues, like kissing, hugging and holding hands, to distinguish among different kinds of relationships. It may work best to introduce a date as Mommy’s or Daddy’s “friend” and limit open displays of affection. The rule of thumb at this stage is not to show or tell your kid more than she needs to know or can understand; and if you choose to organize an activity with a date that includes your three to five-year old, make it child-centered. Even though your child may have no problems playing independently, he or she might demand your attention or grow testy if you’re preoccupied with someone else.

If your child is between the ages of 6-9:
At this stage, kids make comparisons and draw conclusions. They may wonder why they have only one parent at home, or why their friends have a father/mother while they do not. And if you introduce your child to a partner, he can make assumptions about the role that person may play in his or her future. Serial introductions to casual dates could be confusing and even unsettling, so limit their exposure to your dating life to those people with whom you want them to form a longer-term relationship.

If your child is between the ages of 10-14:
Kids in this age group fully understand different relationships, including the idea that Mom or Dad may have a partner, or occasionally go on dates. Your child might be curious about whom you’re dating and may want to meet them and form his or her own opinions about the person you’re seeing. A brief casual introduction should suffice until you want to incorporate a partner into your child’s life. If your child has another involved parent in his life, he may feel a sense of loyalty to that parent and act that out by rejecting your partner. If possible, involve your child’s other parent in the process of introducing them to the idea that you are dating or have a partner in your life.

If your child is between the ages of 15-18:
The concept of dating will be no mystery to your kids at this stage. They understand that you may date someone for a short time or even just once, and that these dates may never become a part of their life. In fact, your attempts to discuss your dating life may be rebuffed until your teen learns to become comfortable with the idea of Mom or Dad as a social or even sexual being. But be aware that even if they aren’t talking, they are watching your behavior and picking up your cues about how to manage and conduct personal relationships.

And finally, remember that your kids – no matter their age – may not be ready to confront the issue of your dating life when you are. In that case, move at their pace and remain approachable. And should a date grow into a partner, be on the lookout for opportunities for them to develop a relationship of trust, comfort and mutual respect with your kids, independent of you.

Tell Us: —->If you’re a single parent who is dating, we would love to hear your stories about how you handled it with your kids!

1. Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 ).

2. Image via kelsey_lovefusionphoto on Flick’r.

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