06/11/2013 01:39 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Divorce, Dating and Your Child

Divorced parents with children find the idea of re-entering the dating scene disconcerting and confusing. As an adult you need to have 'adult-only' time with friends and with dating partners. "Well-meaning" relatives may 'suggest' that single mothers shouldn't date but don't listen to them. The happier you are, the more beneficial to your child. It's important to remember that your private life is exactly that, private.

But the question still remains: How in the world can you make the polar opposites of parenting and dating gel? Becoming a parent has brought major changes to your life. You are a different person now than you were pre-child and dating is no longer a spontaneous activity. It is a well-planned, seriously thought out action. Before deciding on what you're going to wear, you have to think about getting a babysitter, the chance of date cancellation if your child gets sick and your child's emotional reaction to the idea of you going out on a date.

If you are the single mom of a young child the idea of dating can become a major issue for both of you. You feel, and rightly so, that your first responsibility is to your child; that goes without saying. It is your child's reaction to "mommy dating" that needs to be addressed before anything else. "Where are you going Mommy?" is a question your child wants, and needs, answered.

While the wonders of parenthood are great, you still have a need to meet, and spend time with, an adult and have a dating life. Your life needs the healthy balance of being the "parent you" and being the "adult you." It can become complicated and you owe it to your child as well as yourself to make both parts of your life work. Children, as the saying goes, know a lot more about what is going on than we think they do. Their senses pick up our moods and our worries. They also have concerns and fears about you being away from them. It's natural and normal.

Incorporating dating into a life you share with a child takes some time and consideration and there are ways to help your child deal with this new phase in your life together. The best way to prepare your child before you venture out on a date is to be "age appropriate honest." This means that if your three-year-old wants to know why you're going out on a Saturday night instead of staying home with her to watch Shrek 2 for the umpteenth time, you give an explanation that a three-year-old understands. Telling her that this night is for "mommies only" is something she can comprehend. Nothing more need be said.

An older child gets a more "mature" explanation. They can grasp the fact that mom needs to spend time with other adults. They relate this to their own age group-based society like school or sports.

A good way to prepare your young children for mommy's first date is to make sure they see you interact with adult friends and coworkers. They will feel comfortable with the idea of you being with other grownups. Have them meet your friends and bring them to your work if possible.

Talk openly and honestly about what a date means. Let them know that there are activities for adults only like dancing, late dinners and social organizations. Introduce a date as one of your friends. Be casual because it is casual. This person may or may not be in your life on a long term basis so don't make the meeting anything more than it is.

Tell your child approximately what time you'll be home. If you leave before they go to bed, call them once during the date to say goodnight. That gives them the comforting sense that you are thinking about them and for a child that is paramount.

Relax and enjoy yourself. Your child will be fine and so will you.

© 2013 copyright Kristen Houghton

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