Good for you! You've done your healing work and are ready to try dating again. But what about your kids?
At first, you may decide to simply lead a double life -- enjoying an adult social life when the kids are with their other parent, and being a full time caregiver when they are at your house.
This compartmentalization works well for many parents for quite a while. And sooner or later, many of us decide we are ready for more than just an occasional night on the town.
Below are some suggestions for parents who are dating to find a new mate. For simplicity's sake, I'll write as if your date is male, and trust you to make the appropriate translation if this is not the case.
Before you became a parent, dating was just about you. The stakes were not high - if at some point things weren't working well anymore, you could just walk away.
Now, becoming serious with someone means he will play a major role in the lives of your children. Dating when you have kids is about screening prospects out, not about making allowances or exceptions that grease the way for potential partners to glide their way in to your life.
Please set your standards HIGH. You are not only interviewing for the position of partner; this job description includes parental duties as well. Excitement on Saturday nights is no longer enough - you need someone who is also engaging and helpful with the kids on Sunday mornings.
Before you introduce your new 'friend' to your kids, do your homework! To put it bluntly -- put him through the wringer. If it doesn't happen naturally anyway because your kids get sick or your child care falls through, then deliberately cancel a date or ask to change the time or meeting place. His reaction to the change will give you a sense of how he handles the inevitable schedule adjustments that are part of the parenting package.
Watch how he treats the waiter at a restaurant. Observe him driving in rush hour traffic. Any signs of a temper? Any condescension or rudeness? Ask him about his ex if he has one, and LISTEN to his answer carefully. If there's any unfinished business there, wait until it's finished before you bring him home to meet your kids.
Likewise, ask about his relationship with his family of origin, and once again, pay close attention to his reply. Listen for red flags - unresolved anger, blame, lack of forgiveness, rigidity, etc. Don't overlook these signals! They are warnings that tell you he may not be a good fit for your family situation. (It goes without saying that active addictions automatically disqualify him, right?)
Discuss topics like whether he wants to have children of his own someday. Talk about your childhoods, your values, and your ideas about religion, discipline, and finances. You can't afford to wait until later to ask these kinds of questions.
Get it all out on the table NOW, before your kids meet or become attached to him. Neil Rosenthal over at http://www.heartrelationships.com/ has some quizzes and relationship checklists on his site that I find to be very practical and revealing.
The bottom line: Is he the kind of man you would want your son to grow up to be? (If you don't have a son, ask yourself the question hypothetically. It still works.)
If not, don't bring him home. Either move on, or let your fling run its course out of the view of your kids.
Any prospective partner needs understand that your relationship with your kids came first: it was in place before he arrived, is permanent, and will always take priority at a very primal level. There is no room in your life for a clingy, dependent or jealous man. This is not to say that your new partner will forever play second fiddle. It's simply unkind, unfair, and unrealistic to represent yourself as anything other than what you are - a parent, first and foremost.
In Dating after Divorce, Part Two, I'll cover how to talk to your kids about your new friend before they meet him or her. Part Three will address loyalty, commitment, realistic expectations, and boundaries. Since this is a very loaded topic, I suspect there will be a Part Four and Five as well, so please feel free to send me your questions.
If you'd like some support navigating the dating-with-kids territory, let's schedule a phone or email parenting consultation. Visit www.karenalonge.com for more information, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.