The last thing you might want to say to your soon-to be-ex is: “So what’s going to happen when we start dating?”
But for couples with children this conversation is imperative. How you let a new partner into your children’s lives will have a big effect on them.
Many couples in our mediation sessions come up with at least the basics: They often agree: We won’t introduce a boyfriend or girlfriend to our children unless we’ve been dating exclusively.
That’s a good start; but, let’s fine tune:
1. “Who’s Your Daddy?” Young children have a very hard time understanding divorce, and an even harder time understanding the role of a parent’s new significant other. Though you would never say to your five-year-old, “This is your new daddy,” your young child might be confused, believing you’re replacing his or her father.
So if you have younger children, you want to be especially careful introducing someone new. And you don’t want them to form attachments to a person who might be gone after a few months.
With younger children, the rules on dating are therefore often more strict; Perhaps you’ll both agree not to introduce a new partner unless you’ve been seeing someone for six months—eight months—or even unless they are becoming a permanent part of your life.
2. “Mom (or dad) is going on a sleepover tonight” Let’s face it, an adolescent child knows full well what’s happening when mom or dad walks out the door on a Saturday night. But what Ray Ban outlet about the “adult sleepover.” We’ve had several couples fight because mom or dad stayed out all night. An older child who wakes up without mom or dad at home can feel abandoned—a feeling that they’re already coping with because of the divorce.
Is it ever all right to stay out all night? Couples argue about this in mediation. And like everything it depends. If your child comes home from college, boyfriend in tow, maybe it’s okay. But if your sixteen-year-old wakes up to an empty house on Saturday morning, waiting for the smell of your extra yummy French toast—not so great.
3. “I’ve got a secret” When one parent has a new partner, often the child knows but the other parent doesn’t. Maybe your ex is the type of person who can’t tolerate knowing about your dates and deliberately shuts out this information. A sensitive child will know this and keep your dating secret even if you don’t ask. Don’t put your child in this position unless you’re sure he or she is mature enough to handle knowing something they don’t want to tell their other parent.
4.“Yours, Mine, But Are They Ours?” A blended family is not always the Brady bunch. But it doesn’t mean that it can’t work. You might find help making your new blended family work in an unexpected place—with your ex. Encourage your ex to talk frankly with your children about how they like living in a blended home. Your children might open up more to the parent who isn’t in the new living situation. They might be more candid about things that are upsetting them.
The goal of discussing dating in mediation is to make sure that your children– at worst—are not hurt by you dating. And at best, when you add new partners in a thoughtful way to your children’s world, you can enrich their lives.