It can be difficult, and scary, to re-enter the world of dating after a divorce—and it gets even more complicated when you have kids. Single moms often worry about how to introduce a new boyfriend to the family, or how to assure kids that the new guy isn’t a threat. These tips, given by single moms who have successfully navigated the dating world, can help you balance your kids’ needs while still satisfying your very normal desire to meet new people and even find romance.
1. Assure your kids that you will always be their mom.
Your kids have been through quite a lot of scary changes, and are naturally apprehensive of any new development. They’re concerned about how this ‘dating thing’ will affect the family structure. What if Mom gets married—what will happen to them? They’re also not used to seeing you as anything except Mom. This new side of you, all dressed up and meeting other people, seems alien to them.
So talk to them and assure them that you love them very much, and no one will ever take their place. Walk the talk and make sure you get lots of quality time together, proving that your family always comes first. Also tell them that no matter who your boyfriend is, he’s not going to ‘replace’ their father. ‘I will always be your Mom and he will always be your Dad.’
2. Don’t introduce someone unless it’s serious.
It can be confusing to kids to meet a lot of different people, who come in and out of your life (and theirs). Worse, they may become attached to a guy and wonder if they did something wrong to drive him away just because the relationship didn’t work out.
That’s why it’s important to choose who you bring home to meet the kids. Wait until the relationship looks stable, and it seems like the guy will stick around for a lot longer than a few casual dates. And, even if your kids meet him, you may want to wait until they officially ‘bond.’ Yes, he’s someone special in your life, but so is your best friend from college—and you don’t invite her to family vacations! Start with a few casual lunches together at a restaurant, a football game, or any light activity that’s fun but doesn’t necessarily scream ‘He’ll be around forever.’
3. Don’t force kids to like somebody.
Your kids may act defensive or distant when they meet your boyfriend. Relax. Don’t force them to like the guy—you’ll just make them even more defiant and resentful. The bond will occur naturally, over time, and if the guy really cares about you and your family he will be patient and continue reaching out even when they don’t respond.
4. Don’t force your boyfriend into being a ‘family guy.’
Yes, it’s important for your boyfriend to accept your kids. It’s part of the package, right? However, it’s not fair to force him into a parenting role, either. It’s not his job to pick up the kids, or get involved in discipline—in fact, your kids will probably get suspicious if he tries to act like a ‘new, perfect Dad.’ It’s enough that they get along when they’re together, and occasionally enjoy doing fun things like bowling or watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Right now, he’s ‘Mom’s special friend’ who gets to be their friend, too. Everything else happens naturally, when the trust and the rapport have been built.
5. Don’t succumb to emotional manipulation.
Your kids may resent the fact that you’re dating, and will make you feel it. They’ll sulk, cry, find ways to force you to stay at home and cancel your dates. You may feel compelled to stop dating altogether, but that’s the worst thing you can do—for yourself, and for them. You need to move on with your life, and so do they. This is a life lesson and a learning experience on adjusting to uncomfortable experiences and embracing change. As harsh as it may sound, they just have to deal with it. Welcome to Life 101.
However, you can give them emotional support. Encourage them to open up, show them that you care, but firmly say that this is something that matters to you. Moms needs friends, just like they do. You love them, but if they love you, they also want you to be happy.
6. Build a stable home environment.
One of the reasons kids react to dating is that they feel that their family is under threat. Young kids, especially, rely so much on parents to feel secure and safe. That’s why they behave like wild animals defending their territory—lashing out at potential ‘enemies’ and expecting you, as pack leader, to stay with them and defend the home turf.
You can’t blame them. The divorce has already caused a great deal of upheaval in family rituals and dynamics. However, you can rebuild a sense of constancy and safety. Establish routines, like a specific time when all of you are together, or a weekly family date. There are many ways for even busy moms to bond with kids. And ask friends and relatives (like a grandmother or uncle) to become more involved in your children’s life, so they have a solid support system.
7. Keep a calm, positive attitude.
It’s best to show your kids that you’re still in control. If you have problems with a boyfriend, or are worried about a date, vent about it to a trusted friend—not your kids. They shouldn’t see Mom act like a teenager, even if we all know that grown-ups can be insecure too. Remember, to them, you are a respected authority figure and the foundation of their home and family life. They need to know you’re okay, no matter what happens—so they believe you when you reassure their own fears.