Dating After Divorce: Kids Have Instincts, Too

What is it like, dating after divorce, when you have kids?

Well, there are good guys, bad guys, those you can’t quite categorize. And naturally, our kids react to all of it.

All of it we let them in on, that is. And I’m not a proponent of letting them in on much – until a relationship is stable.

Then again, it was one of my sons, age 12 at the time, who was anxious for me to get back out there and meet men.

On the other hand, I will point out that his younger brother wanted me home and available only to the two of them, though I doubt he would admit as much.

And that in itself reflects how differently our children will react to our forays into dating life.

How Kids React to Parents Dating

Some children may be comfortable with our online dating, our going out, our parade of coffee or drink encounters, or fix-ups for those who still engage in the personal introduction.

Other kids? They’re threatened, they’re jealous, they’re conflicted.

Which way things will go depends. And not only on the openness of our children and the relationship we have with them, but how old they are, how often they see the other parent, and the nature of that relationship.

Even then, we won’t necessarily know what they think or feel – unless we ask and observe.

As a veteran of the post-divorce dating wars adventure, I believe our job as parents includes paying close attention to our children’s responses. Sometimes, they can be more on target when it comes to judging who we’re dating than we are.

Dating After Divorce

In my first few years of horror at the thought of dating after divorce, I found the exercise an amusement and an irritation: could I get my “groove” back, could I feel confident as a single woman again, could I schmooze, could I listen, could I flirt – just enough, without going too far.

Could I really be going through all of this again?

Did I have to?

Most of the women I know ran the gauntlet gamut of disasters experiences in their post-divorce dating years – everything from the Bad Boys, and the No-Strings-Attached Fun Fests, to the transitional First Love After Divorce.

As to that last, I will mention that some get stuck here, remarry without fully healing, and are later sorry.

Over time, there were other explorations: the genuinely Nice Guy, trying out a different physical type, a different emotional type, or a different age range. Yes, younger.

It’s a bit like living through adolescence again, with all the disappointment and heartbreak that entails, but happily – without zit cream and braces.

Life After Divorce: Time, Time, Time

Life after divorce is a good time for discovery – as long as you don’t ignore what your children are going through, and how your exploration might mess with their heads – or their hearts.

Some children will resent anyone you might date, while others will attach too quickly to someone who may not be in your life more than a few weeks or months.

Do you know which tendency your child is likely to experience? What if one keeps his distance and the other attaches?

All the more reason to keep your sex personal life personal, and not bring a new partner into your world – or theirs – inappropriately, unsafely, or too fast.

Bad Boys, Good Guys, Your Dating GPS

I can’t say my judgment was the best in the first few years I was dating after divorce. I suppose I had to crawl before I walked, and walk before I could run.

I was 40-something, unsure of myself, and had plenty of worries – including responsibility for my kids 95% of the time.

I was occasionally bold, frequently convinced I sucked at dating, and withdrawal into a shell “fallow” periods were an utter necessity. During those times, I took a hiatus from all of it.

When we’re starting over, don’t we need time to heal and retool? Shouldn’t we get to know ourselves in a new status, and reset expectations? Doesn’t it make sense that our dating GPS is rusty?

How We Tell Kids We’re Dating

So how do we tell our kids we’re dating? Once we do, how much do we share? What else do we have to figure out?

  • Do we let them see someone pick us up at the door? 
  • Make out in the car as they giggle and peek through the living room curtains?
  • How do we answer potentially embarrassing questions?
  • Do we allow them to determine who we see or don’t?
  • How will we manage sleep-overs – if we reach that point in a relationship?
  • Weekends away together? Blending with the kids of someone we date?

How much store do we put in their reactions when we bring a new adult into their lives?

Dating Fights Isolation

Since my son encouraged me to date, that took care of that. Frankly, he was more attuned to my needs than I was.

When I would stop dating for six months or a year, eventually he would tell me to start again. He noted my crankiness, my growing stress, and told me I needed to date.

He was right, every time.

And if he hadn’t encouraged me to socialize, how would I have approached the subject of dating?

I imagine I would’ve provided reassurances that he and his brother were my priority, but adults need company their own age – just like kids.

Kids Have Good Instincts

I am reassured by what my children have told me over the years. They were clear about who they liked (and who they didn’t), and I tried to pay attention to their non-verbal responses as well. But some years back there was a gentleman who pursued every avenue to sweep me off my feet. My kids seemed to like him (I know now they were being polite); he seemed to like them (my kids are likeable); he had children, too – everything seemed fine.

When he ended our relationship abruptly after pushing it to a serious point, I was hurt and confused. It was months later that I found out he was stringing along several women at the same time. One of my sons then told me he never quite trusted him. Clearly, my teenager’s dispassionate assessment was on target, and my own was off. I should have paid more attention to my son’s excellent instincts.

Slow and Easy Dating

Flash forward several years – to breaking bad patterns and lucking out with a very Good Guy. Of course, my kids are older now and that eases dating logistics. But I like to think I’ve done a better job of looking as well as not looking, and likewise, a better job of pacing myself when I find I like someone.

I’ve also observed and listened to my sons’ reactions to the amazing, fabulous, funny, patient man I’m seeing.

They seem to like him. They liked him immediately. They also used their own friends and connections to “check him out” – as they had a means to do so. And then they gave me the green light.

I’m amused – and grateful – for my boys’ reactions. While I’m more comfortable trusting my gut these days, I also trust my kids’ instincts. As long as they were living under my roof, they had a huge stake in my choices of romantic partner. And they still do – because they’re my children, and they’re invested in my happiness, as I am in theirs.

  • Do you pay attention to your children’s instincts when it comes to people in general?
  • If you’re a single parent and dating – how much influence do your children exercise in your dating patterns?
  • What do you share with them – and how soon?



© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. My kids, except for my youngest, were not at home when I was single. I’ve since remarried and it was important to me that they like and trust my new husband. I also knew they each had to come around to the new relationship on their own time. I didn’t push the connection. For the most part, they see that I am happy, and that’s enough for them. I trust my instincts, but I’d have to say I trust my parent’s instincts and would heed their hesitation more than my kids, I think because they’ve lived through enough cads and charlatans, nice guys and salt-of-the-earth types to pick up on the difference. As my dad says, “I knew that guy’s name before he introduced himself.” It would have been different, I’m sure, if my kids had been younger and still at home when I was single.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      It sounds like you have a solid foundation in that daughter-parent relationship, Barb. (Love your Dad’s saying!)

      Yes, it is a little different when kids are young. It also changes the complexion of what the other person is willing to bring to the relationship, since “family time” will be a big part of the picture.

      I love to hear stories of good remarriage. (I know they exist, but it’s the squeaky wheel we hear about.)

  2. Your article made alot of great points, I truly believe being open with our kids during dating is important. Children do have great instincts too!!

  3. My kids were high school and college, and dating actively, so they were comfortable and happy with my dating. Overall, they seemed relieved that the marriage was over and everyone had survived and that their life continued normal and essentially as before. They were comfortable that I now had a sex life. Initially I briefly dated one or two high-profile women – the very successful German chemist (in sales) who responded to my “Quaker pacifist revolutionary socialist” ad, and the very slender and attractive vegan who sold real estate in Manhattan and the Hamptons. I think that served to reset their clock a bit. But soon you get more discriminating for matches that are appropriate and not simply interesting (think I served that “interesting” purpose for some others, too). We learned from one another, but eventually you learn enough to grow up and be the one others can learn from. When I spent more than two years with the mother of a good friend of my children (but clearly not a match), they got the picture of how things can just be what they are (“meaningful but not serious”). When I eventually met the right lady, the quiet daughter said “I think she’s perfect for you.” Of course, I already knew that.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      “… matches that are appropriate and not simply interesting.”

      That’s a wonderful observation, Paul. I think some of us are more aware, over time, of the distinctions involved in those interesting encounters (that are fun, that teach us, that restore our confidence) versus those that are “good” for us – people with whom we can thrive at a different stage, and enjoy life in a way that may be very different from what came before.

      I wonder if it is easier for older kids / young adults in some ways. They have an awareness that life (and relationships) aren’t black and white, and that if their parents didn’t work as a couple, the reasons aren’t necessarily black and white.

      (I love how on target your daughter was with her remark.)

  4. Excellent subject. Dating after divorce can be a real minefield especially if one or both parents are behaving badly. In my opinion, you don’t expose your child(ren) to your dating life until they are ready and only if you’re serious about the person you’re dating. They are processing all kinds of emotions and changes and god knows what all. In my case, my pre-teen son was dealing with one very angry father that had turned a fairly amicable situation into something very ugly. Complicating matters, I felt that I had finally met “the one.” Two years later, still with “the one” and still keeping most of it at arms length where my son is concerned. We live at opposite ends of the state and keep most of our personal time together private. And that is OK. Getting a divorce was like saving my life, but it was undoubtedly the worst thing that had ever happened to my son. Post-divorce, we should move forward with caution and extra care where our kids are concerned.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      “Minefield.” Good word for it, Judi.

      And I’m so glad you pointed out that while divorce may be the right answer from one (or both) parents’ point of view, that’s certainly not necessarily the child(ren)’s viewpoint. Being respectful of that – and the time they need to work through emotions – is critical. I agree completely… when kids are involved, we should move forward with caution and extra care, as you say.

  5. I just wrote about dating again. Sheesh. So complicated when you have kids. I have my kids 85% of the time. I also don’t want to introduce them to everyone I meet. With first guy I dated I waited 9 months to introduce him to our lives. The second even longer and even then he was only around my kids 5 times in 20 months (he was my bad boy, sigh).

    I love that you wrote about experiencing more than one relationship, because I am feeling a little guilty about that. I don’t have many single mama role models and sometimes I feel like to be a mother I should either be single or just choose one already.

    My kids are both still young (5 and 9) I’m learning what is appropriate and not for them. When I first started dating they were so young I just didn’t talk about it. I really like how important your kids’ opinions are to you. I like that you consider them, but don’t go over the line into creepy mama.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thanks, Sassy Queenpin – for a lot of reasons – including pointing out that it isn’t a bad thing to have multiple relationships after divorce. If anything, I think it’s sane. Why would we expect to roll from one committed relationship straight into another? How can we possibly heal, or experiment, or learn anything from that? Isn’t that part of the high remarriage failure rate?

      I personally believe a lot of women are still uncomfortable owning up to “non-serious” relationships, whereas men think nothing of it.

      I also believe (and have observed) – and this is a generalization – that men are more comfortable with incorporating “casual dating” into their post-divorce lives, including around their kids.

      So – if possible – stop feeling guilty. There’s no reason for it (except lingering societal sexism?). I say have fun, be safe (including emotionally) – and respect the safety and feelings of your children as well, which it sounds like you’re doing.

  6. Being in the dating world after 19 years of marriage with 2 kids at home is a challenge. My first post divorce relationship went way to fast and the kids were a part of “our lives” way too soon.. .they saw the wheels fall off of that relationship as his true colors were revealed. Since then, I have dated others and none have met my kids. I have a married girlfriend who said if single she would not introduce her kids for a year. At first I thought that was crazy… now I think she is probably right.

  7. I’m in a single moms group where several divorcees are in new relationships. They all vowed they wouldn’t introduce their kids until it had been six months/nine months/a year etc., and they’ve all broken their own rules. As an observer, I see how challenging this has been for the kids, because not all of these relationships (there’s got to be at least one rebound man in there!) are destined to last, and the kids, who are recovering from the divorce, now have to deal with the possibility of losing this new relationship, too.

    I can’t say what I will do; I know how hard these things are. But my intention is to keep my daughter out of it for a long, long time.

    And my daughter has very, very good instincts. The kid that I encouraged her to play with that she resisted? Turns out my daughter was right, that child had “issues”. I’ve learned to trust her now, and when it’s time for her to meet a man of mine, her opinion will be very important to me.

  8. Thanks for sharing great insights and thoughts on the never-easy reality of dating after divorce, when you have kids. There are so many variables that come into play in these types of situations, and so long as the care, safety and emotional well being of your children come first, you’ll find many of the other decisions fall into place.

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