Needless to say, that date ended right then and there. “He had no interest in competing for my affections. Not that he ever could. Seeing her reaction made me consider giving up dating altogether.”
It’s quite natural for children to react negatively when their divorced parents begin dating again, says Shannon Myers
, Marriage and Family therapist, of San Rafael, Calif. “Already they are upset and confused as to their own feelings in regard to their parents’ new situation, not to mention their roles in it. Seeing their parent with a new partner terminates any hope they may have that their parents will eventually get back together.”
San Francisco psychologist Amy Bandera
agrees. “Sometimes divorced parents will rush the process of commitment. They strive to recreate the life they once had, and are seeking comfort and the need to have someone in their lives again. Unfortunately, that desire may obscure their ability to see clearly.
And younger children don't always understand the concept of dating. “Remember that the child has experienced a loss, too,” says Bandera. “Lessening any anxieties — both theirs and yours — is going to be important to you.”
All the more reason to think through how you present this new life situation, says Bandera. In fact, she suggests to her divorced clients that they hold off at least three months before introducing their children to the new love
of their lives.
Once the introduction is made, Myers suggests that you give your children as much leeway as possible to be themselves. “Don’t expect them to be on their best behavior 100 percent of the time. Remember, they are going to be wary of this new person in your life, for a reason: their family life has already gone through some drastic changes, and they are wary about more changes to come.”
Your children’s age — and maturity — will be an important factor in how they react to this new situation. Younger children may be more vocal or show their anxiety by acting out, whereas ’tweens and teens may pretend not to care, or perhaps grow silent and turn inward.
“Boys are less communicative than girls,” warns Myers. “While teen girls may talk, what they say may be hurtful. They may use words as well as actions as a way to rebel about the situation. Your job is to do a lot of listening, and to ask them questions. How do your children feel about the transition? Are they confused, angry or hurt? Where are their fears?”
At all times, be very clear and direct in your communication with your children as to this new relationship, says Myers. “There are already too many secrets in the divorce process. Your message to your child should be ‘This person makes me happy. If and when you’re ready to meet this person, they would like to meet you, too.’”
Bandera agrees. “With children, it is always important what you say, and how you present the situation. First allow the children to get a feel for this new person. Demonstrations of affection in front of the children may upset or confuse the child, so hold off doing so in the first couple of meetings. And remember: it is just as important to listen--to how they are taking it in and what you say. I always counsel parents to watch how their children respond to what is being said to them.”