Despite being divorced, you and your ex remain in a committed, long-term relationship. That is, you’ll be working together for years to come to raise healthy, well-adjusted children.
Additionally, you’re in a long-term relationship with your children, who require your time and attention as they grow and mature. And, if you’re pursuing romance or hoping to get back in the dating game soon, that’s a third relationship to nurture.
Dating and co-parenting can have you feeling pulled in no less than three different directions at once. Each relationship requires adequate treatment and care.
Achieving balance in co-parenting and dating doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming, though. The following tips can help you successfully manage your many relationships.
Fear, envy, jealousy, neglect, helplessness–these emotions can develop in your children, co-parent, or new love interest when they learn about each other.
For example, a co-parent might fear for their child’s safety in the care of someone they don’t know. They could envy the fact that you moved on. A child might feel jealous over the perception that a stranger is using up their parent’s love. These feelings can surface as anger but stem from different underlying emotions.
Take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of each person you’re in a relationship with. Understanding and addressing the feelings and their root causes can help you proceed with compassion.
Co-parents can save themselves from future misunderstandings if they can anticipate and nail down as many details as possible in their divorce agreement, including how to proceed with prospective partners. However, it’s never too late to develop a strategy. Contact your mediator and co-parent about adding guidance on dating and introducing new love interests to the kids.
What’s a reasonable wait time before introducing a prospective partner to children? Can you bring your date to a custody pick-up/drop-off? Should the parent be given a heads-up before the children meet the new partner? How do you alleviate fears about the safety and background of your co-parent’s new love interest?
It’s essential to think of future needs and questions. While you can’t prepare for every possible scenario, you, your co-parent, and a mediator can form some general guidelines.
Consider the newness of your divorce and your relationship. Proceed slowly and deliberately so that everyone has ample time to acclimate to different situations. Think of building relationships like building a model airplane–the glue needs the right amount of time to dry so it won’t easily fall apart.
If you foresee arguments or attacks from your co-parent against you or your new partner, it’s best to say nothing initially. Until you and your new love interest are more serious, limit the co-parent’s knowledge of them.
The same goes for the kids. Children can have big feelings one way or another about their parent’s partner. They could become unnecessarily troubled or easily attached to someone who won’t be in the picture long.
In a nutshell, focus on bonding with the new person first, and don’t rush a relationship between them and your kids or ex-spouse.
Raising your kids with your co-parent takes top priority. A new partner must understand that relationships with your children and co-parent require communication. Establish priorities and expectations with a new partner to help them understand why you frequently contact your co-parent. You could even show them your parent custody app to demonstrate how you and your co-parent exchange information and what you talk about.
On the flip side, new relationships need attention, too. Set boundaries with your kids and co-parent by sticking to schedules and obligations and expecting the same from them. If you arrange a pick-up time or promise to attend their sporting event, show up when and where you’re supposed to. If it’s your co-parent’s time with the kids, use that opportunity to connect deeper with your new partner.
Avoid canceling or cutting a date short due to anything but an absolute emergency with your child or co-parent. Check with your co-parent first to see if they can handle a situation that comes up while you’re on a date, and consider scheduling your date on your co-parent app so that your ex can avoid contacting you during those times to the best of their ability.
Avoid bringing casual partners to meet your children. When it’s clear that you and your new love interest are getting serious (and you’ve had an explicit conversation together about it), it’s time they and your kids met.
Make introductions carefully and deliberately. The best first step is to give your co-parent a heads-up that your kids will meet a potential partner. This conversation should be polite but matter-of-fact and should not sound like asking for permission.
Set up the meeting in a public space like a park, playground, or restaurant to keep the home a safe space. Older kids (tweens and teens) might have fun helping plan this meet-up.
You’re slowly introducing changes within your relationships (kids and co-parent), so limit physical affection with the new partner in front of your kids for a while.
Don’t expect either side to form relationships right away. Both need time to get comfortable around each other.
Have a conversation with your children that bonding with your new partner doesn’t diminish their relationship with their other parent or you. Let your co-parent know the same. There could be some fear on either side that the new partner will replace a parent, and that’s just not true. Seek family counseling if dating seems stressful for anyone in your family as time goes on.
Prioritizing relationships with your co-parent, children, and a new romantic partner is possible. Take time to bond with your new partner before bringing them fully into the fold. Give your co-parent a courteous heads-up, and slowly introduce your new partner to your children.
Regardless of your divorce, you and your former spouse will continue to maintain a committed, enduring partnership focused on raising healthy, well-adjusted children for years to come. Furthermore, you are engaged in a long-term relationship with your growing and evolving children, who demand your time and attention. If you’re also seeking to embark on a new romantic journey or planning to re-enter the dating scene soon, that adds a third relationship to nurture.