Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford
Single Parenting & Dating: 4 Tips to Consider Before Introducing Children to Someone New
Most of us are familiar with the joys and pains of dating and relationships. However, when dating and relationships involve individuals with children from past relationships the process of dating and building a relationship can become further complicated. Those interested in dating and relationship no longer have the luxury of dating solely for themselves, but are encouraged to consider how their relationships can impact their children. Introducing children to someone that could possible become a long-term or permanent fixture in their lives is never easy. Most children hold onto the belief and hope that one day their parents will get back together, or they will “become a family again”. By introducing children to someone that a parent is dating realization typically sets in for children that the relationship between their parents as they have known it is officially over.
Building a relationship with someone else’s children can be difficult as children often perceive the new person in their parent’s life as the primary reason their parents are unable to get back together. Integrating your kids during the dating process with the person you are dating as well as his or her children isn’t always the picturesque scene depicted in movies, it usually involves some sort of power struggles, resistance to change, isolation, combative behavior, or even acting as if the person his or her parent is seeing doesn’t exist. Being a single parent is both challenging and stressful for a number of reasons, which include but are not limited to; having more of a parenting responsibility, additional financial obligations and concerns, balancing parenting and work (which was once shared with former partner), making time for themselves, etc.
Introducing children to a parent’s new relationship must consist of the following factors:
Timing. Determining when to introduce children to a parent’s new relationship is very important. Parents should try to determine to the best of their ability can they see a future with that person, is this relationship expected to be something long-term? Introducing children to someone too soon can be damaging as it does not give the parent an accurate picture of whether or not there is a future in this relationship. Children just like adults need time to make adjustments and process the end of their parent’s relationship, therefore introducing children to someone a parent is dating as well as that persons’ children can create feelings of confusion and anxiety for children. Children from divorced or separated families have already experienced a loss and can get attached very quickly, so it is important to think about how the introduction will affect them.
Type of Relationship: When contemplating when to introduce children to someone we are dating parents must consider the stage of their relationship, i.e., is this the courting stage, are they in the active process of getting to know you, do they see a future with the person they are dating, has the person the parent is dating expressed a desire to perform an active role in the lives his or her children, etc.
Identify reasons for introduction: Often the initial phases of dating and relationships can be very exciting and thrilling. However, some relationships fizzle out and become nothing more than casual dating without the desire to commit further. Single parents need to ask themselves are you rushing into introductions prematurely, have your children adequately processed their parent’s divorce or the end of the parental relationship, are parents acting upon excitement rather than weighing the pros and cons, etc.
Age of children: Children at different ages process their parent’s divorce or separation at different rates and with different levels of understanding. Witnessing a parent, no longer in a relationship with the other parent can be difficult and confusing for children. Overall, it is difficult for children of any age to witness their parents dating. Children are often left with anxiety about how their parents’ dating will change their lives. Children may feel threatened or resentful at having to share their mother or father with someone new.
Single parents just like any other adult deserve to be in a loving and caring relationship. However, it is best to avoid making hasty decisions in one’s life as they are no longer living for themselves but their children as well. Single parents are encouraged to hold off involving their children in a new relationship without identifying any factors that may cause them further distress, which could potentially undermine the parent’s relationship with the children as well as the new relationship.
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