Many children will never fully get used to the idea of their parents dating. Some desperately believe that they'll wake up with "Parent Trap"-abilities to happily reunite their mom and dad. Other kids may feel as though you had your shot at marriage, it didn't work out, and now it's best that you stay away from the notion of partnership forever. Maybe your children are like my daughters, who never found that any man I dated measured up to their standards until I met "the one." Or perhaps you are the one who feels guilty about bringing a new man into the picture. We are all mothers; we love our children and we want them to be happy, but it is equally important that mom be fulfilled and happy too.
As a single mom and author of "It Takes All 5," I've written some guidelines below that I recommend women follow. These suggestions will allow your children to feel at ease with this new phase of your life and will enable you to have the social life you deserve.
1. Encourage your kids to let go of the fairy tale. No matter how young or old, children often wish that the world around them would remain status quo. Even when they make a change, such as moving on to college or into a relationship, they want their parents on solid grounding. So when mom and dad split up, the "Parent Trap" storyline looms large in their brains. While some couples do in fact reunite, the vast majority do not. It is important to be clear with your kids that their fantasy may never be a reality, but just because mom and dad fell out of love, it does not mean that they love the kids any less. You will each continue to love them fully and unconditionally -- the love will just be dished out in separate households.
2. Make it clear that you're not rushing to remarry. Explain to your children that your desire to start dating again does not mean you're rushing to remarry. It's best to go on dates when your children are with your ex, but that may not always be possible. So if your children are home when you're going out and become uneasy, try to understand where they are coming from and allay their fears. Tell them that you know mom going on a date is a new experience, but that it doesn't mean you have plans to replace their dad. You are dating because you want to make new friends. Reassure them that you plan to get to know somebody very well before deciding that he is someone they should meet.
3. Understand that the kids' loyalty may be divided. After divorce, your children will experience a mixed bag of emotions about you dating again, particularly if they have a solid relationship with their father. Don't expect them to jump in and be supportive of your dating or a new guy that you might want to bring around. At the same time, you can't date based on your children's choices either. If your kids are mature enough, have an honest conversation with them. If they don't want you to date anyone, let them know that they are entitled to their opinions. Stress to them that it's important for mom to have adult interactions, and not just with grandma or girlfriends. Reassure them that you will respect their wishes and not expose them to whomever you are dating until, and if, it becomes more serious.
4. Don't date based on your children's preferences. Widows or women dealing with an absentee dad often are faced with children who yearn for a male connection in the household. As much as your child wants a dad, it is not wise to search for a companion with that focus. You have to date with your wants, needs, beliefs and values at top of you mind. You need to decide whether his penchant for smacking his gum will drive you crazy. The two of you should explore if you have similar long-term life goals. Before you know it, your children will be grown and moving on with their own lives and you will be left with each other. A man's potential as a stepdad should not to be diminished, just don't let that focus blur what's important to you in a mate.
5. Don't feel guilty for having a social life. Your children may feel that your social life has an expiration date, but that doesn't mean it's true. Just as you allow them to have play dates, you too are entitled to a social life. It is not good to be a helicopter parent with no interests outside your children's activities. It sends the wrong message and it's not the best role modeling. Not to say that you shouldn't take their needs and activities into consideration, but it is important for them to see that you are involved with your own friends and activities. It is also takes the pressure off of them to feel responsible for your happiness. When mom can engage and spend time with her friends, kids can happily do the same.
Ultimately, if your children continue to feel uncomfortable with your dating life, you may want to seek the help of a professional counselor. Oftentimes it's easier for them to speak to a neutral party than try and communicate their feelings in a way that won't hurt yours.