Relationships & Love
When Parents Resume Dating - and What Their Children Have to Say
When our children were young, it seems like everything that we parents did was “right” – at least in their eyes. We were the omnipotent heroes, the sageS, the wisest among the wise. We had all of the answers before the questions were even asked. We fixed the impossible and solved the improbable.
It was a lovely season of life.
Lovely though it was, reality inevitably invades (usually around the time that a driver’s license enters this halcyon picture). With that reality comes our children’s startling realization that parents are also actually – gasp — human beings. Although an amusing statement on its face, this can also be a difficult realization, particularly if and when a parent chooses to resume dating after a divorce or spousal loss. Many (if not most) children tend to see their parents as… well…parents. That’s fine of course, but what they may occasionally lose sight of is that parents are people too.
So how does a parent date, enjoy companionship and even fall in love again, all while enduring the scrutiny (and opinions) of their growing and/or grown children?
Before we bring in the kids, let’s first talk about you. Whether you are just thinking about the resumption of dating, or you have already reentered the World of Dating, you may feel overwhelmingly guilty; almost as though you’re “cheating” on your previous spouse/partner. These “cheating twinges” are a form of emotional self-punishment; to which none of us are immune. Let us first get one thing very clear. Regardless of how your previous marriage/relationship ended, the resumption of dating is absolutely, 100% perfectly normal. You are not cheating. You are not casting aspersions upon a previous life with a previous person or dishonoring any memories. You are simply moving forward into a new life (since after spousal loss of any kind, the life with which we are presented is indeed new).
I also want to remind you that loving another does not in any way diminish the love that you have for a late spouse or disparage the life that you led with an ex-spouse. It is important to recognize that the heart has an infinite capacity to love. There are no “love quotas” or limits on love and you are entitled to a life that includes companionship, love, laughter, and happiness. Just as you are learning this very important lesson, you must in turn be prepared to share this lesson with your children as well.
Now, let’s invite the children in.
I seriously doubt that my late husband had a bigger fan on the planet than our daughter Kendall. Whether he was driving a police car, sitting on top of a horse or confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak (the results of his battle with ALS), Daddy was her idol. No one stood taller in her eyes and to this very day (and in her own words), he remains her hero…and he always will.
About two years after Mike died, I felt ready to consider dating once again. Rather than suddenly greet my then-thirteen year old with something akin to, “Guess what I’m doing on Saturday night”, I instead took her out to dinner and explained that I felt ready to open my mind to dating – long before I had met anyone or been asked out anywhere. I took great care to let her know that while I loved her daddy very much and that I always will, I also felt ready to welcome new people into my life. I made it very clear that no matter with whom I chose to spend time or even possibly fall in love, no one could or would ever replace her daddy in my heart. She understood that dating and/or the possibility of falling in love with another man bore no reflection on my love for her dad and that companionship is a normal and natural part of life’s continuum. When took this sensitive approach, Kendall readily understood that not only was it OK for me to date, it was a healthy thing to do.
If you are ready to date once again, this is a conversation that you must have with your children. By nature of the fact that you are here, if you so choose, you have a right to a life that includes companionship and you need to assert that right calmly. Help your children understand that just as your heart has the capacity to love again, they too can open their hearts to new possibilities…without feeling any kind of betrayal or disloyalty to the other parent. Simply put, this does not have to be an emotional “either/or, choose-one-or-the-other” proposition.
After making a Declaration of Dating Intent to your children, what happens if you are met with consternation, doubt, trepidation or outright hostility rather than enthusiasm and encouragement? Do not jump on the defensive…not just yet. Dig a little deeper. What specifically is causing the negative response? Are they objecting to a specific person or to dating in general? Are they concerned about the opinions of others? Is it perceived betrayal? Be willing to listen to their rationale, as there may be merit in their objections (i.e., they suspect that a prospective date is a “bad guy/gal” who may have ulterior motives or they believe that you may be in some kind of physical, emotional or financial peril).
However, if their response is along the lines of, “It’s just weird”; “What about Mom/Dad? [referring to the absent parent]”; “I just don’t want you to date” (without an attendant and solid reason) and so forth – those are not reasons enough. The reality is that if your children do not approve of you dating once again, it is a problem for them…not for you. We do not require the approval of anyone to lead our lives in positive, constructive ways and that includes our children. While children are certainly factors in our lives, they either already have or are about to go on to lead independent lives – which is exactly what we raise them to do. As such, you do not dictate how your grown children lead their lives and conversely, they do not get to dictate how you choose to live yours. In other words, and as my late daddy would say in his very Oklahoman way, “The tail does not wag the dog.”
Next and inevitably, the question of introducing the children to dates comes up and usually that question is prefaced with the words, “how” and “when”. Remember the days of introducing love interests to your parents? It is about one hundred times more difficult to bring people home to your children. Talk about going before a jury! The first and best piece of advice that I give concerning dating and children is that regardless of their age(s), do not introduce every single person with whom you spend time to them. Until or unless the relationship becomes serious (or at the very least, exclusive), no child needs to meet every single person that you date.
Of course, it is perfectly acceptable to date more than one person at a time and I strongly advocate letting your children know that you are dating. In fact, I always enjoyed sharing my dating experiences with my daughter (mostly because so many of those dates were first date/last date combos and cautionary tales). That said, children do not need to witness a rotating dating roster. It can create confusion and a sense of uncertainty if, in your children’s eyes, the front door becomes a “revolving door”. They won’t know where or with whom to put their emotions. I did a significant amount of dating in the years after my husband’s passing and with all of the dating that I did in those ensuring years, in point of fact, my daughter (who is now an adult) met only two men — the ex-boyfriend with whom I broke up over a decade ago and the man to whom I am now married. So, no matter how tempting, no matter how nice the person, even if they ask to meet the children, I strongly recommend that until or unless you have established that yours is an exclusive relationship, you should wait before any introductions are made.
Another consideration is that again, regardless of the age of your children and no matter how little or how much time has passed, they may initially have a challenging time assimilating the thought of you with another love interest, let alone actually seeing you laughing with, enjoying time with, and being affectionate with another person. Tread carefully and sensitively here. This is not the time to “spring” surprises (i.e., bringing someone home unannounced, before your children have had adequate time or notice to prepare emotionally). Prior to introducing anyone to your children or making any “statement” (verbal or otherwise) about a new relationship status, sit down with them, turn off the television, put all electronics on “ignore” and discuss taking this step in your life.
It is absolutely possible to have a successful dating life after divorce or loss and it is absolutely possible to reconcile that dating life with your life as a divorced or widowed parent. Treat your children with respect and sensitivity as you outline your dating plan, expect the same in return, and all of you may well reap the rewards of a new life filled with new love, new possibilities, and new memories to be created and treasured.
Carole Brody Fleet is the award-winning author of the #1 ranked new release in its genre, “When Bad Things Happen to Good Women…” (Viva Editions). She is also the author of “Happily EVEN After… “(Viva Editions); winner of the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award, one of the top national awards in publishing; as well as the critically praised, national bestseller, “Widows Wear Stilettos…” (New Horizon Press). A two-time contributor to the iconic Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, Ms. Fleet regularly appears as a media expert on numerous television and radio programs nationally and internationally; as well as in national and international print media. To learn more, please visit www.carolefleetspeaker.com and www.widowswearstilettos.com