I'm a divorced father of three -- 5-year-old and 8-year-old sons and a year-old daughter. I think I've finally found someone I want to date, but with the kids, I don't have a clue as to how to go about it. Have you seen the Friendly's commercial, the one in which the handsome suitor anxiously waits to meet his lady's daughter and suggests they all go out for ice cream together? The one that ends when the sweet little blonde looks up from her sundae, totally won over, and says, "Mommy, I like our new friend?
Well, don't worry if you can't. Real life isn't like that, anyway. What real life is like, say The Family Project 's parenting experts, is likely to make your situation so individual as to make general advice next to impossible. But they do want to say one thing: Don't rush into introductions when it comes to the kids. At the start of dating, regardless of how enthusiastic you feel, you don't know that any particular romantic interest is going to work out.
Your kids already have faced the loss of their intact family, and they probably fear, at some level, that they could "lose" you as a parent, too. The last thing they need is having to face another loss, if they or any combination of them decide they really like your new person and then she suddenly disappears because she's not interested in you.
And think what a pickle you'd be in if you want her to disappear and the kids have glombed onto her like, well, hot fudge on ice cream.
Not to mention that if the kids or any combination of them decide they don't like her, you've got complications on your hands that a new relationship can really do without.
You should have heard the pleading that went on from panelists, male and female, professional therapists and not, that you put your kids' well-being first and take it slow, slow, slow. Well, you need to be up front that you have children and "your children are first," says panelist Jorge Echegaray. Do you need to tell your children you're dating? Well, early on, panelists say, it's probably best to keep the actual "dating" away from the kids.
Early dates don't need to begin or end at home when children are present, for example. Once you have enough time in with a person with whom you feel comfortable, panelists say, you can introduce her as a "friend" and gradually include her in more family activities. Your not lying -- at the beginning of a relationship, "friend" should be an accurate term, if you're following the advice above and going slow.
Don't lie to the kids about how you are spending your time, either. If you as a family have lots of friends to begin with, it won't seem odd to them for you to be making new ones, says panelist Marcie Lightwood. While it's tempting, panelists say, to want to "replace" the children's other parent, don't give in. Don't make comparisons, either stated or implied. Your kids need to feel good about the two parents they already have.
Plus, it's not fair to your lady for you to see her only as "parent material" and not see all the aspects of the whole person she really is. Ultimately, how your kids will react to another person in your life, panelists say, is likely to depend on a lot of things, including their ages and temperaments, how they and both parents feel about the divorce, how long ago it took place, and how they feel about you, their mother and their lives in general at any particular moment.
These things all change, so if you don't get exactly what you'd like from the kids regarding your new person at first, hang in there, at least for awhile. Like everyone said, take it slow.
Here are some tips for parents starting to date: Your love life is your business. Don't enlist your child as a romance confidante. Keep relationships to yourself and your dates away from your home and kids in the early stages of dating.
Don't rush into relationships; let them evolve. Don't expect your children immediately to adore a person you find adorable. They have a right to their own feelings. Remember, relationships don't always work out. Don't subject your children to repeated introductions to people who suddenly go away. Be careful who you bring into your home. Make sure you know as much about the person you introduce to your children as you would anyone else whom you would allow to watch them.
If you don't feel entirely comfortable with a person, listen to your gut. Each child will react in his or her own way, but if you know your kids, you'll have a good idea of what to expect and what to do about it. Kids also will react in ways common among kids that age. For example, a year-old is at a stage in which he or she might decide to hate anyone you bring home, just as a 5-year-old might get immediately attached. Don't try to create an "instant parent. But make sure you see their other attributes, too.
Don't put a person you are dating in a position of making decisions about the kids, or in the middle of disputes between you and them or you, them and their other parent. At the outset of a relationship, it should also be true. Don't lie to your children. Don't make excuses about what you are doing when you are on a date. Saying you are spending time with "a friend" is probably enough. Don't interrupt kids' routines to date. Keep your promises to them about when you will see them and talk to them.
Box , Allentown, PA Ann Friedenheim, clinical supervisor for Confront, Allentown. Bridget McVan, director of outpatient services, Confront, Allentown.
Joanne Nigito, registered play therapist and parenting educator, Bethlehem. Family and Counseling Services of the Lehigh Valley, Parents Without Partners, Online help includes information and opinions from many viewpoints, including religiously and commercially oriented sites.