Dating after divorce is complicated, especially for parents whose children still live at home. And since every situation is different, there's no "one size fits all" timeline to follow. What was right for a friend of yours may not be the same approach that's right for you. But there are some steps you can take to prepare yourself — and your kids — for the transition.
How to Decide Whether You're Ready for Dating After Divorce
Getting to the point where you know that you're ready is different for each individual. However, there are some common evidence indicators you should look for before you even consider dating after divorce. These include:
- Your divorce is final. Don't start dating during your separation. Not only is this harder on your kids, who are still getting used to the idea that you're really getting divorced, but it could also potentially be used against you in court.
- Your anger has dissipated. It's not realistic to expect that your anger should be gone completely before you start dating again. But you should put dating after divorce on hold until after you've experienced the range of negative emotions associated with grief. These include denial, guilt, anger, loneliness, depression, numbness, and disorganization. If you're still so angry that you can't even grieve the relationship or remember anything good about your ex, you're probably not ready to date again.
- You have a sense of direction about the new life you're building. Recovering from divorce is an opportunity to recreate your life. It may not be an opportunity you'd have chosen for yourself, but it's a reality that you need to adjust to. And dating, at some point, may be part of that new life. But dating shouldn't be the first step you take. Instead, give yourself some time to rediscover who you are and what you want in life and, potentially, from a future dating relationship. Jumping from one relationship to another — even when the previous relationship was unhealthy — may cause you to fall back into the same old patterns you'd like to escape from.
- You've spoken with your kids about your desire to date. I can't stress strongly enough how important this is. Your kids need to hear from you that you're thinking about dating again. And they need to be able to express their thoughts — including any grief and disappointment — openly. This doesn't mean that you need their permission to date, though. As an adult, you get to make that decision for yourself. But your kids deserve the consideration of a conversation on the issue.
How to Prepare Your Kids for Dating After Divorce
Once you determine that you're ready to date again, you should communicate with your children about your decision. You don't want them to be blindsided by the decision or hear about it from someone else. Keep in mind, too, that you don't have to be specific. It doesn't have to be a conversation about dating someone in particular. You can simply open it up by asking whether they've thought about the idea of you dating again someday, and how they think that might make them feel. It's possible that they'll become upset, but if that's the case, then having the conversation with them is even more important than it would have been if they'd been 100% supportive. So don't let fear stop you from initiating the conversation with your kids.
Decide Whether to Introduce Your Kids to the People You Date
I encourage you to make this decision before you start dating again. Some divorced parents introduce their kids to all of their friends, without going into detail about the relationship. This approach allows you to introduce your kids to anyone, and even bring them along on social outings, regardless of how serious the relationship is. However, if you choose this approach, be sure to share your decision with your date. Since your demeanor may change in front of your children, or you may wish to be less affectionate, you'll want to prepare your date for the shift so that it's not misinterpreted.
Another approach is to wait until you're in a serious relationship before allowing your significant other to meet your kids. This approach may decrease the number of people your kids meet, but it can also feel to your kids as though you're hiding something from them. It can also be hard to shift from having lots of one-on-one time with someone you're dating to suddenly having to divide your attention between your kids and your significant other.
Regardless of which approach you take, be sure to communicate with your kids about the idea of your dating again, so that the introductions — whenever they happen — don't surprise them.