Telling your children you’re dating can be a scary, nervous, guilty, surreal affair. The hope is to avoid any and all of these feelings of course; but at the end of the day we’re human too, even if we are the parents. And you know what? It’s okay to feel a little bit of all these. But what is important is to limit how they affect both your life and your children’s lives. So, speaking from personal life experience, here’s what helped me tell my children I was dating.
Disclaimer: Every situation is unique, just as every family bond and relationship is unique. So obviously my experiences won’t be an exact match to yours. Hopefully, however, you’ll be able to learn from mine and apply that in a way that makes sense to your own situation. If nothing else, hopefully you can relate and get a sense of comfort from hearing about my experience.
My family had a very open and dynamic relationship. My ex-wife and I weren’t exactly friends, but we were back on speaking terms—don’t get me wrong, we weren’t calling each other up and talking. But seeing each other when exchanging our girls we’d share a little of our lives. Things were getting normalish.
It had been a little more than two years after the divorce, and I was beginning to feel ready to date. But I still had one major obstacle to overcome: broaching the subject with my three girls. They were 10, 8, and 6. So, I felt they were old enough for me to be honest with, but young enough to potentially be afraid or hurt by my admission. So, I was feeling nervous, a little guilty, and having a mild out of body experience every time I considered telling them.
Here’s what I was afraid of:
• They would be crushed by the realization that their mother and I would truly never be getting back together.
It had been over two years, but I’m sure they still secretly were hoping we would work it out. My ex-wife and I, on the other hand, had clearly moved on.
• They would see my dating as a threat to our current relationship.
The divorce was hard on them, and obviously upset their world order. The last thing I wanted to do was put them through anything like that again. I was afraid they’d see this as another threat to our finally rebuilt family.
• Their mother would use it as leverage against me
We’re all prone to paranoid—or maybe not so paranoid—thoughts after divorce. My ex and I parted relatively amicably, but still. I worried she would use it as ammo to gain more time with our children, and poison me in their eyes.
Here’s what ended up happening, and how I handled these fears.
• I made sure I called their mother and had an honest chat before introducing my daughters to the subject.
Telling my ex-wife I was considering dating again wasn’t the most fun chat I’ve ever had. Quite the opposite in fact. But it was a conversation I need to have, before talking to my girls. So, I made sure she understood, and explained I wasn’t planning on introducing anyone into the girls’ lives, and that it wouldn’t impact the time I spent with them.
The conversation went surprisingly well. After the initial awkwardness—and there was plenty of it—I think she was relieved. She was definitely appreciative that I was straightforward with her. I think she was afraid I was already dating and was going to hear it from one of the girls.
• I was very open and honest with my girls about my need to date and for general companionship
After a particularly nice dinner, I let my girls know there was something I needed to talk with them about. I was very open and honest about how I needed to spend time with other adults, and how I was considering making some special friends.
When the inevitable happened and their mother came into the conversation, I explained to them that while their mother and I would always share a special place in each other’s hearts, we no longer felt the same way about each other.
My eldest daughter asked me if I was talking about dating, and I said yes. I then asked them how they felt about this, and we had a very honest conversation that honestly helped all of us. That’s not to say I was asking their permission, but I wanted to be sure they understood how important they were to me and that it wouldn’t be affecting our relationship or our family’s new life.
• I immediately let them know that this wouldn’t affect our time together at all.
I would limit this new time to when they were with their mother, and our lives would continue as they had unaffected.
I know there are many who say that dating should be kept quiet until the relationship is serious, even to the point of remarriage. However, the divorce came as a surprise to my girls (somewhat to me as well, to be honest), and I didn’t want them blindsided like that ever again.
In the end, I found honesty to be the best policy. Having an open and honest conversation with everyone involved was the best path forward. That’s not to say I really asked permission of anyone; that would be an unfair burden to place on my little girls. I’m the adult and parent, and asking them to make any of the decisions would ultimately be a misplaced burden.
I was lucky to have a solid relationship with both my daughters and my ex-wife. It certainly made the whole process of telling my children I was dating easier. Hopefully you can take away something of value from my experience, and have an easier time letting your children know when you’re planning on dating. Best of luck.
Alan Brady is a passionate blogger who loves to share his personal experiences concerning divorce, his daughters, and being a single parent. He is a freelance writer for the divorce lawyer locator, attorneys.com.