How Children Deal with Dating
Children ages 10 and younger can be very accepting about dating. Younger children may even ask or want a replacement mommy or daddy. They may voice their desire to have a replacement parent long before their remaining parent is even ready to date. This can cause feelings of guilt and pressure to recreate a family for your children. It is important that dating and remarriage is based on sound decisions when you are emotionally healed, not and a desire to fulfill your children’s needs. My youngest daughter who was 10 at the time of her daddy death was much more accepting of my desire to date than my teenage boys. She missed having a dad and longed for the attention that he gave her. She felt the same absence as I did and wanted me to date, even when there were no options available for me. Teens typically are very resistant to their parents dating or remarrying. They see it as a betrayal of their lost parent. The feel panic and insecurity with the thoughts of having a step parent and all of the potential changing that come with that. Ten months after my husband died, I began talking to a widower long distance on the phone. We had met in a online widow/widowers group, and although I did not intended on dating until all of my children had left home, I found that my conversation with him filled a big hole that I did not even realize existed. When I told my children that I was talking to him, my children responded in rather volatile ways. First, they grabbed my phone and proceeded to read the text messages. I had to reassert my role as parent and demand my phone back. My 17 year-old son told me, “I could understand your need to date and remarry if you were a guy, but girls can just tough it out.” My 14 year-old son told me that I would be committing adultery. When I voiced my worries about being alone after they left home, they offered to have me come and live with them. They frankly saw no reason why that would not solve all of the problems. When I expressed feelings of loneliness, the conversation soured even more and one of my boy threatened to shoot any man who came near our house. I remember going up to my room in tears. I couldn’t understand why my children were not more supportive. Looking back I can honestly say that I was thinking more about my grief than theirs. With some thought I decided to approach the problem differently.
So began the slow process of easing them into the idea.
Because of where I live, I simply do not have any opportunities to date anyone locally, so all of my relationships have been online and long distance. I have a house to sell and a move to make before I could really even consider getting serious. This situation has afforded me lots of time to get my kids used to the idea of me someday remarrying, so I decided to be proactive in the process. Here are a few things that I did to help prepare my kids before I started actually dating. I honestly believe that this preparation has made the process smoother and easier on my children. If you think there is even a possibility of you wanting to date someday, I believe that talking about it ahead of time can stay off a lot of problems.
1. I talk about the idea of me remarrying someday.
I found ways to weave in “if I get remarried someday” into the conversation. My children bristled at the comments at first, and talking about this caused some tension in our home, but gradually over time, they began to get used to them. Incidentally, I have used this same tactic with my husbands family to ease them into the idea as well.
2. When my kids are around they are my number one priority.
I reserve talking on the phone and texting for times when they are in school, I’m driving alone, or they are in bed. Having lost their dad and time with him, my kids feel very protective of their time with me, and I found that they were much more open to the idea of me talking to someone if it didn’t take time away from us. I did have to set some boundaries, and we had to discuss not being rude or grabbing my phone if I occasionally had to answer a call and schedule another time to talk. That took a few times, but eventually we settled into a truce that worked for our family. They also have agreed to not talk with friends or text during family time.
3. When I did go out, I compensated them by spending extra time with them in reciprocation for their cooperation.
I let them know that time with them was important and we came to a mutual agreement as to what would be an acceptable trade. This helped my children realize that I was not abandoning them and that I value time with them.
4. I occasionally and casually share things about the guy I am dating to help my kids get to know him without getting them involved until the relationship progresses to a serious stage.
I have had to approach this differently with different kids. I have to be careful what I share with my daughter, who is more excited about getting a new dad. She tends to get hopeful about anyone I am interested in. I don’t want her to get attached and feel a loss if the relationship does not work out, so I share less with her. Attachment is not an issue with my sons. With them, I am looking for common ground so that they will feel more comfortable and less worried about my safety and their potential future. Sharing little parts of our conversations has helped them to feel more comfortable and has been a safe way to introduce them to the idea and the person I am interested in.
5. I shared with my kids the idea that I was not just looking for a new husband, but that we would be ‘adopting’ a new family if I remarried.
I pointed out that remarriage was an opportunity to help another family with children who were also in a broken family situation. We talked about how we could help them and how it could be a positive learning experience for us to practice being more compassionate, charitable and empathetic. We discussed that blending a family would be difficult, but that they could have the opportunity to make a difference in another family’s life. At this point, the idea was mostly theoretical, so there really wasn’t a person to direct their anger towards. This idea was a little easier to accept without a eminent wedding date approaching.
Because we are a very spiritually oriented family. I shared with my children that I had prayed about whether this was the path that God would want our family to take someday. I told them I have felt strongly that I needed this learning experience. Then I went out a bit on a limb… I told them I believed that they could pray and also ask God if this was something He wanted them to do. Again, my children are used to praying about decisions in their lives, so this was an acceptable idea for them. After a week I began asking them individually if they had gotten an answer to their prayers. Through this experience everyone one of my kids had a change of heart. Each one agreed that they felt this was an experience that would be beneficial to our family. My 17 and 14 year-old boys were still not super excited about the prospect, but they were open to it and felt that it was a worthwhile endeavor. I couldn’t believe it… we had had a major break through.
So my children have accepted the idea of remarriage. I found that my initial relationships gave me the opportunity to break the ice with my children and discuss and overcome lots of issues… Issues that I quite frankly did not even consider. I am grateful for these stepping stone relationships because I think they have prepared all of us to better understand what we are getting into and what will be required to make a blended family work. It is my hope that this preparation will ease the process when the right guys comes along. Stay tuned for future dating posts…