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The dos and don'ts of dating as a parent

Alyson Schafer shares her tips on the Dos and Don’ts of dating as a parent.
 
There are developmental differences to consider, so let’s break it down by age group:
 
Children Under Five
Their ability to understand what is happening around them is far less than older children, with a need for stability, consistency and feelings of security.  Young child bond easily and quickly, so it’s hard on them when people leave their life. 

  • Don’t introduce new people all the time.  Wait until you know you have a relationship that is serious before introducing them to your child.  
  • Don’t ignore your child when you fall in love.  They still need you as their primary caregiver.   It’s easy to get swept off your feet and spend the night texting love notes when you should be reading stories and playing snakes and ladders. 
  • Do explain to the people you are dating that you have children and that if you get serious – they need to understand you would make a family together.  Are they up for that? How do they see themselves with your children?
  • Do slowly escalate contact as the relationship progresses.  Start with a hello by the door, then a brief hangout before/after a date, then a fun activity together, etc.

 
Children Aged Six to Twelve
During this phase of life, children understand more but they also make the mistake of personalizing everything.  They will think the cause of any divorce or people leaving there life is their own fault.  They will be able to detect if you are lying to them so you need to be open and honest about your activities. 

  • Do test out how they would feel about you going on a date sometime in the future.  They may say no, but this allows them to get their mindset ready for the inevitability.  It opens the door to discussion about what fears they have about that and allows you to correct any misunderstandings.  Remind them you love them fully – and dating doesn’t change the amount of love you have for them.   Let them know you won’t let dating interfere with your special times either. 
  • Do go on dates but your child doesn’t need to meet them or hear about the date details. You can just be going out with a friend you meet.
  • Do eventually if the relationship is serious introduce them by doing something fun that is interactive and not too conversational; ie – go bowling together, to the zoo or tobogganing where you are sure to laugh and have things to do.  Keep your physical affection on the low down initially.  Just seeing your parent with a date is enough. Seeing them hold hands and kiss can be added gradually. 
  • Do train your child to sleep in their own bed if they are not already doing so (many single people keep up bed sharing longer than married couples) so that when you do start having your boyfriend sleep over, you are not kicking the kid out of their usual space to do so.  
  • Don’t include your date on special family rituals that their other parent used to do with you initially. If you always rented a cottage – then they will remember mom making breakfast and it may be upsetting the new girlfriend is now doing that.  Again – think of this as grief and that the child is trying to be loyal to the other parent or the memory of the other parent. With time and acceptance it’s of course okay. Keep checking in. Keep building up the relationship between your partner and your children.

Teens
Teens may never accept or like you dating.  If you were married for a long time – the teen has a long history of family life as it was.  They may also not care so long as you don’t bug them – they want autonomy at this phase of life. They know how love feels and they may want you to not be lonely and they may encourage your dating.  It’s hard to know. They will decide for themselves how they feel about the situation, but we can’t force them to have a relationship with anyone.  

 

  • Do accept that they may never like your new partner – but they sure do have to show respect, just as they do to any other human. 
  • Do keep lines of communication open at all times.  Teens have a lot of social stress in their lives – fitting in, peer relationships, academic pressures etc…  Be sure your dating doesn’t add more stress. 
  • Don’t allow your date to discipline or correct your teen’s behaviour – that is your job. 
  • Teens worry that they will have someone else giving them orders and someone else in authority in their life.