Heart & Mind:  Parenting

DATING, SEX, AND THE SINGLE PARENT

By Vicki Lansky

As most divorced adults eventually resume a social life, dating enters the picture.  It is probably one of the more difficult things a child must become accustomed to. 

It's not easy on you, either! A child's usual reaction to Mom or Dad's first date is a negative one. Some divorced parents who've weathered the storms say. "Make sure the first date you bring home is a throwaway rather than a significant one."

Rushing into dating threatens a child's world. Your children may view your dates as competition for your love and attention and as a rejection of their other, now-absent parent. Their fantasies of reconciliation will be damaged; and the loss of your attention reawaken fears of abandonment. 

Beware of letting yourself think that finding a new spouse will make your family "whole" again. Remarriage based on that agenda often has more "holes" than "wholes." Be aware, too, that children are usually more accepting of Dad's dating than of Mom's dating. It's hard to say whether it's a sexist reaction or just that Mom, more often than not, is the caretaking parent and is expected to maintain the status quo.

Socializing with your kids along is one good way to approach the social scene 

Parents Without Partners is a large, national organization that allows you this option. Or start your own family-to-family social group. It's really not hard. Invite all your single-with-children friends over for some shared event, such as a brunch. Socializing with your kids takes the pressure off of meeting "someone" because you can always enjoy being there with your child(ren). If you think you don't know enough folks in the category, simply let friends invite friends or acquaintances they may have heard about. Your network just needs a little nudge.

For most, dating and sex the second time around is scary and stressful. Just because you've been married doesn't mean you're confident or are even experienced in this area. 

Becoming socially active again is important because it helps free a parent from becoming obsessive about his or her parenting role. Letting your adult life revolve around your child's is actually very hard on your child. 

To help out, here are some dating do's and don'ts:

  • Meet your dates away from home in the beginning of a new relationship.

  • Introduce dates as friends if your child resents your dating, explaining that parents needs adult friend, too. Add a tag such as "so-and-so is my tennis partner," or "a co-worker from the office."

  • Try not to have a slew of different dates running through your home and your child's life. This lifestyle might be fun for you, but it's confusing for and hard on the children

  • Enjoy the benefits of shared physical custody, if you have it. You can perhaps confine your dating to the times the children are not with you. If you only have access to your children on weekends, there will come a point when they have to share in your dating life. Just remember that the longer this takes, the easier it will be for your children.

  • Begin locking a bedroom door for privacy before you have someone spending the night so that option is available to you.

  • Choose with care those significant others whom you let get close to your family. Children get attached to people you date over a long period of time, and these breakups are often harder on them than on the adults involved.

  • Letting your ex know your whereabouts when going out of town is a responsible act, but is not always done. If your ex will not give you a phone number, suggest that he or she let you know who does know how to reach him should an emergency arise. (This is not the same as keeping tabs on your former spouse's social life -- consciously or unconsciously.)

Be prepared when your children attempt to sabotage your dates through a variety of rude comments, obnoxious behavior, and "forgetting" to pass on phone messages. 

You can let a child know that you understand what he or she is feeling, but make it clear that this type of behavior is unacceptable. As for your sex life, do recognize that despite their knowledge and savvy, children are usually uncomfortable with their parents' sexuality. 

It's not necessary to reveal the sexual component of any relationship, at least until some commitment seems to be in the offing. You can avoid forcing your child to deal with this by taking an overnight trip, going to a hotel, or waiting until you have some privacy in your own home.

Time is your best ally 

Don't be in a hurry to have your children participate in your relationships. If you find yourself feeling uneasy about having your "friend" stay overnight while your kids are around, don't issue the invitation.

Many parents go to elaborate lengths to keep their love life private, even when their children are in the house with them. 

There are as many solutions to finding private times as there are single parents. Be prepared, also, for surprising questions about your marital and premarital love life. Your kids may want to know whether you and Mom (Dad) slept together before you were married, whether you were monogamous in marriage, or how many partners you may have had. Be as honest as you feel is appropriate. 

Teens, especially, may be looking for reasons to say no to peer pressure, so make your answers constructive for them.

If your love life isn't so hot, it can be agonizing to see your ex dating or in love. One underlying reason for your pain, as we all feel when uncoupled, is fear that WE'LL never be loved again. It's not true.

Love comes when you least expect it. It often comes after your heart has healed or when finding a partner is no longer a consuming objective.


This Article Dating, Sex, And The Single Parent was written by Vicki Lansky