It took me three years after my separation (two, post-divorce) to feel comfortable and complete enough in my own skin and start dating seriously.
It didn't take that long for me to date, obviously, but I hadn't been pursuing dating with the idea of finding another long-term partner. It's normal to feel free and giddy and ready for the love and affection we need, after a rough-and-tumble divorce. Marital breaks don't occur overnight, chances are you've gone through quite a long time not getting your needs met far before your divorce occurred. I know many people who started dating around before their divorce was even final, but typically not with wedding bells in mind.
When you're at a point where you are looking seriously for a long-term partner (or if you've happened to fall into that situation without even trying), there are a few guidelines that may make the transition easier for you and your kids.
Get to know each other, alone, first.
Often, alone time isn't easy to come by for a single parent. However, it's crucial that you spend the first few weeks (or, better, months) dating privately before introducing your new significant other to your children. Get to know each other one-on-one, make sure you're a good fit for each other and this relationship has a future before involving your kids' emotions. Be careful to not mistake the initial attraction and puppy love for real, long-term compatibility.
Take your time.
Take into account the seriousness of your children meeting your significant other. Your children may feel hesitant. They may be jealous that someone else is taking your time away from them. They may be worried about 'betraying' their other parent by liking your new beau. They may feel it's risky to invest their feelings when they're not sure if this is a long-term arrangement. They may be worried that your new partner won't like them, or that they won't like your partner. Take your time and ease into this major transition with your children, keeping all lines of communication open.
Make the initial meeting as low-stress as possible.
Do something fun and low-stress together. Go to a playground, catch a baseball game, hit up Chuck E. Cheese. Take the kids somewhere they'll have fun, and let them ease into meeting the new person in your life. Children tend to learn and adapt best through play - incorporate that throughout the first few meetings with your new significant other and the transition will ease into place more naturally.
Don't force it.
Let your children help dictate the speed that you all get to know each other. The last thing you want to do is strain your relationship with your kids, so take it slowly and be mindful of how everyone seems to be adapting. Keep the lines of communication open both with and without your significant other involved. At first your children may not feel comfortable opening up while someone new is present, but that doesn't mean they'll always feel that way. While your children should not be allowed to dictate your dating life, their opinions and input should be considered and respected. Don't force them into a new relationship with your partner. Be patient with them while they adapt.
If you break up, give your children a safe place to feel sad.
A break-up is a situation that your kids don't have any control over. While it's not a good idea to stay in a bad relationship because of your children, it's important to understand they will feel a sense of longing and loss for your partner, just as you may.
Talk to your kids and make sure they feel safe confiding their feelings about the situation to you. Don't draw it out, and don't talk to them until you're absolutely sure things are final. There's nothing worse than telling your kids it's over and then having to say it's not. If the break is final, be gentle with your children about it, and allow them to be sad. Feel comfortable sharing your own sadness with them as well; it's okay for your children to see you're human and dealing with the same sense of loss they feel.
Introducing someone new (or potentially a few new people if your partner has children) into your family unit doesn't have to be a mess. If you're both willing to take things slowly and keep communication open, you'll have better luck with the transition in the long run.
What strategies have worked for you? Leave a comment below!
Kasey Ferris is a freelance writer and mother-of-five. She eats too many Oreos and thinks life is much better when you're laughing. Find her at facebook.com/KaseyFerrisWrites.