So, I wanted to circle back around on some things we spoke about on our podcast, "Dating With Children". When you are dating and have children already, the waters must be tread lightly.
We are so full of excitement and hope in the beginning of a relationship, especially if we are trying to revive our love life after divorce. It can be VERY tempting to jump in. If we are being honest, it feels good to have someone there when we've been left alone doing life with kids. The support is missed. The adult conversation and connection is missed. The feeling like a family is missed. And all these things we've been missing as a single parent, we naturally yearn for and tend to attach ourselves to when opportunity presents itself.
The first obvious danger when we seek out what we are missing is that we can let our fantasy of what could be cloud the reality of what is. Our good judgement and good sense both take a back seat to our feelings and desires. The first person that comes along and shows a bit of interest in us can get us so caught up in the flattery that we forget to pull out our measuring stick to see if who they are actually measures up to the life we want for both ourselves and our children. Hear me; LIFESTYLE MATTERS. When you are dating for the purpose of marriage, you have to really consider the lifestyle they bring to the table as much as you do the love you have for them. This is the time to be mindful and intentional about your choices, more so than you have ever been in your entire life. You know yourself better at this point than you ever have, and you have lived through a lot that has taught you more than you have ever known before this point. This is not the time to allow your feelings to take over, but allow your good sense to lead the way. I have always believed that we know what is right and what is right for us, we just have to consciously tap into that wisdom (sometimes second by second as our hearts pull us in a different direction). Practicing self love and self control is key to leading a fulfilled life.
If you are not dating for a purpose, but just for fun, that's your prerogative, but keep it away from the kids. Plan "dates" for when they are not around (such as when they are with their other parent or visiting grandparents). Do not give up time with your children for someone else with such little significance, no matter how good they may make you feel. And I get it, as someone who had two marriages under her belt and two kids in tow, dating after divorce was a curious thing for me because I felt like a walking red flag. I didn't think anyone would be interested in sharing in my baggage and be accepting of all the scars left on my heart and mind. I was wrong, of course (as I am married now to my darling Eric), but I surely remember being in great awe as men asked me out and showed interest when I was fresh out of my previous marriage. And while I didn't trust any of it at the time simply because I couldn't believe I was worthy of anything real, it was bliss getting that attention and feeling desired. It could have gotten me and my children in a lot of dysfunction had I entertained what could have been a revolving door of band aids to feed my selfish desires and attempt to fix my brokenness. My only choice was to let someone in whose heart matched my own (enter Eric).
All that aside, what I really want to talk about is dating with kids in tow. Fast forward to when you are seriously dating someone and there are kids in the picture. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to go slow and have boundaries. Creating boundaries will make all the kids feel safe, and safe is what you want. Kids who feel safe and secure will be more easily able to embrace and accept a new person (people) in theirs and your life. You cannot jump immediately all in when kids are involved. So let's talk about the first meetup with everyone. When you are first introducing kids to your boyfriend/girlfriend and their kids if they have any, meet up at a public place. Choose a neutral location where everyone holds equal ground, such as a park. It can be extremely awkward to chose someones' home for a first meeting (or even a second or third encounter). Homes are very intimate, and automatically divide those in it to those who live there and those who don't. Trust me it affects the situation by taking away the ease of it all. Same with car rides; don't ride all together for a long while. Choosing to pick up the other family and ride together is also pushing things a little too fast. It is assuming a family unit before the family unit has even been formed; it creates undue pressure that usually turns kids off. The last thing you want to do with kids, especially in the beginning, is make them feel pressured into something they don't know or trust. Something as seemingly insignificant as riding in a car together, is a big deal. Allow and respect that kids have their own territories (homes and cars); give them the time and opportunities they need to open up to sharing both.
Kids are extremely resilient and want connection and love like the rest of us, but kids with divorced parents take more time to warm up and trust. They are territorial of their parents and protective of their relationship with both Mom and Dad. If they see anyone as a threat to either, they will push and shove away the person/people who makes them feel that way. This is why the whole "friends first" thing is super important here. Rather than pushing the title of boyfriend or girlfriend onto your kids in the beginning, allow them to see your friendship first. This is why the where part matters where you are meeting up. Do friendship-like activities (park, beach, hike, bowling, movie, eating out, etc.), this will set everyone up to focus on everyone getting to learn each other versus focusing on the actual romantic relationship between the adults. As an added bonus, you all will be making memories and have fun which is a lot of what building relationships with anyone is about. Allowing all the kids involved to have opportunities to get to know and view the person you are dating and even their kids as friends first is key because friendships are a lot less threatening and alarming to children than romantic relationships. There will be a natural progression for the kids from that initial friendship to something more significant and meaningful. The timeline here is very different for every family. Some kids will warm up faster than others. The point is to give it time; to do everything you can to consciously pave the way for acceptance.
What happens if you kids just don't want you to remarry? Well, that is super tricky. The hard truth is kids are notorious for coming between marriages in a blended family. They can manipulate, pit both adults against each other and create a real-life hell that's extremely hard to exist in without casualty. Another hard truth is that in this situation the parent of said difficult child WILL choose sides (child or spouse, someone WILL get hurt). So, this is what I say, the chances of you having a successful marriage AND a good relationship with your children if they are against your relationship with your spouse is very, very, very slim. This is something to become aware of BEFORE you walk down the isle. If your children are not supportive, have some real time and real conversations with them to get to the root of why that is. They may have very good points and be able to give you a different perspective on your relationship that you haven't considered (they may be saving you from a big mistake). Your children may be feeling insecure, left out, pushed aside and/or neglected. If that's the case, you can help fix that by being intentional with your time and attention towards them. Reassurance is everything. Express to your children that you are always there for them and that your marriage will not take away any responsibility or love you have for them; you will then have to live that out. Kids embrace and trust consistency more than anything, so being consistent in your relationship with your children will give them the security they need to let their walls down and accept your relationship with your spouse.
Dating with kids in tow is a whole new ballgame. Take it seriously; there's more than just your life at stake. Be mindful and do it right so that you give yourself the best chance for a happily ever after that you can; you AND your kids deserve that!
Peace and Love,