Dating after divorce as a dad is different than simply preparing your heart for a new relationship. The problem is knowing how to balance your care and concern for your children with your emotional needs to be in a relationship with another adult. You have to heal from the legacy of wearing the Scarlet D.™ It’s not just about dating and it’s not just about being a dad. As an adult, you want intimacy, whereas most kids, don’t want to share their father with another person, period. There are times when getting on the bench is useful - especially at the beginning of your separation and divorce. While, at other times, when the family has regrouped and the bonds between you and your kids are stronger, you may find that you’re all be ready for you to date. Ready or not, introducing your kids to a new partner is tricky and has its own etiquette of dating after divorce!
As a parent, the shame and stigma around divorce is what you must heal in order to wisely bring a new partner into your life and into your heart. If you don’t, the legacy goes with you into your new relationship. It colors how you can love, how you can trust. It will permeate how you interact with your kids’ mother and how you will introduce your kids to someone you finally can intimately love - when you do. Your family is worthy of a happy, emotionally healthy father. You’re worthy of sharing your life with another emotionally healthy adult who you can have in your children’s lives.
It goes without saying though that dating after divorce with a child is more complicated than dating as a bachelor. When you are ready to date, you may try to keep your dating (and having sex) on the level of previous bachelorhood behavior (sneaking around during the day, in between work appointments or late at night) or when the kids are with their other parent. But at a certain point, that person you’re having sex with is going to begin asking for more and wanting to enmesh themselves in your life. You won’t be able to simply have casual sex without the demand and need for commitment. Commitment as a parent means, introducing your children to your lover. This is when things get more difficult.
How you introduce your children to your lover as a divorced dad takes quite a bit of finessing. You’re going to want to be thoughtful, strategic, and committed. When it comes to introducing your kids to a new partner after divorce, it will not serve you or them to have your children meet a casual lover or simply a friend with benefits.
The last thing your children need to do is to get to know your friend with benefits.
When you work on your own healing, you give your children an enormous gift because if you don’t do your work, if you bring someone new into their lives because you need any woman or man to help you feel whole, you’re setting yourself up to have that person leave (even years down the road). As a result, your children will be left with even more work to do on themselves. Statically speaking, they too will suffer divorce working through the issues that you refused to do when you could. No amount of sex or the comfort of another adult in your life can take the place of the kind of healing your heart and mind must go through after divorce. This is a big mistake most people make. Instead of doing their own work, parents leave their kids the legacy and scars of their divorce to clean up for themselves.
Your children are already dealing with their first divorce. They too are grieving the loss of their family. They’re worried about trusting others. They’re nervous about their new schedules and maybe withdrawing from you even during your appointed parenting time. It’s not going to help your children to meet someone you’re sleeping with only to have them lose this person too. When a divorced dad introduces his children to his most recent lover only to break up with them at some point, his kids will most certainly develop abandonment issues and other insecurities.
So when should you start seriously dating after your divorce? When you’ve done your work and properly healed your heart and mind. When you can be around your kids’ mother without getting into a fight. When you’re able to see her with another. When you can honestly talk about your life and your feelings with your children without blame and resentments. When your family has adjusted to the new arrangement. This doesn’t happen in year one or two… (News Flash: sometimes it doesn’t happen until year six or seven even… just sayin’). Wearing the Scarlet D™ is real and you’ll want to do your healing around it.
Some people feel they can introduce their teenagers to their dates without too many repercussions. Others feel divorced parents should wait to date until their children are at least eighteen. My experience is this: when that lover can show up for you and your family - putting themselves second to being a co-parent to your children - then, and only then, do you introduce them to your kids.
You see, your lover will want to “play house” with you. They’ll want to help you with holiday shopping and gift giving at birthdays. They’ll want to be at your kids’ recitals and baseball games. They’ll want to enmesh themselves in your parenting woes and try to help you figure out how to handle your kids’ mom.
Unfortunately, this is not your lover’s role until they’re properly invited into your family structure. The invitation isn’t simply extended because the two of you have been intimate. Most divorced dads don’t get this and then find themselves with a lover who’s ingratiated themselves into their kids’ lives but who shouldn’t be there. Dads who willingly give away their responsibility to the newest lover in their bed aren’t helping themselves or their family.
Your kids will know this better than anyone. They’ll let you know they don’t feel comfortable. They won’t want to have your lover spending time with them. They’ll begin to play games and you’ll be put in the middle negotiating terms between your partner and your kids which isn’t fair to you either. This is the cost of forcing or allowing a lover to enmesh themselves without being properly invited into the family. And your children, will break you up. Or make your lives pretty miserable replicating the fighting and drama you just left. So be careful, wise, timely and certain before you bring your lover into the role of step-mom.
Which is why so many people will advise you to wait to date or to bring a partner into your kids’ lives. I know this is difficult. It’s not about a date or an age, it’s about getting your healing work done. The legacy of divorce is real - your children will be left with the scars - the pain and stigma and shame of your divorce if you don’t do your work. So do your work. Find good help. Reach out. You deserve a healthy, happy home. And you’ll get there if you allow yourself a chance to learn how.
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach. Laura's a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain and stigma of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and laurabonarrigo.com.