Don't you just love receiving parcels at home, even if you ordered the goods yourself? It feels like you're opening a present! Imagine my surprise when I came home one day to a package at my front door from ebay, and the sender being my adorable mom. I was quite stoked at the idea of receiving something unexpected, but upon opening, it was something doubly unexpected – a boyfriend pillow! I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh or cry! On ringing mom, she said she thought since I didn't have a boyfriend, I might like one of these to hug at night.
I think I got the hint loud and clear that I should start dating ... but when is it the right time? Ok, I've been a bit busy over the past few years enjoying time with the kids, or on the off-weeks with friends or just myself. But as one male friend said the other week, 'don't you just want someone to cuddle at night?'.
Let me think about that for a second. Yes I do, but is it too much hassle? All I hear from single friends and work colleagues is the time that you have to invest on dating sites, having dates, worrying if you should message or call the next day, the let-down, and in our case, introducing them to your kids. In developing Divvito, I’ve spoken to hundreds of parents, so here are my top tips about dating after a separation.
1. Don’t rush into it
Time and time again I’ve heard of the anguish from a parent when their co-parent starts dating within months of separating. It seems men rush into dating a lot faster than women. PLEASE DO NOT RUSH INTO IT. Why? Because as much as you think you’re ready, the ones who aren’t are your kids. Think of it from your perspective. You’ve told them that you and their other parent are separating and not getting back together, and then within months you’re introducing a new person into their life who is replacing their other parent. Of course, they’re not actually replacing them, but that’s how your kids will perceive it. If you were the one to separate because you’ve met someone else, if that someone else feels strongly for you, they will understand that you need time to separate without them involved. Yes, I’m telling you to put that relationship on hold for now.
Give it four to six months before you enter into another relationship, or ideally six to nine months. In that time:
• you can finalize your financial settlement and ongoing parenting arrangements
• you and your children can adjust to your new situation
• you can learn to be on your own and not rely on someone else to fill any emotional void
• you can work on rebuilding you and figuring out why you separated so you don’t repeat the same problems next time
2. Date someone close by
As much as you might meet someone who lives several suburbs away, if they have children too, the reality of it lasting is low since you will be spending a lot of time travelling in the future. Think about it. You move in with them but your children go to school back near where you lived. You will have to commute constantly on weekdays and on weekends for sports and seeing friends etc. I guarantee after a few months, the novelty of new love will wear off!
3. Date someone with similar shared care arrangements
Like location, if you meet someone who has their children when you don’t have yours (like week on, week off), the kids will never enjoy each other’s company and you both will always be the third wheel.
4. Before you get really interested, meet their kids
So you are head over heels with someone and then you meet their kids. It could all unravel. Why?
• they are rude and obnoxious
• your new beau parents them completely different to how you do your children
• they resent your presence so much they’ll do everything to sabotage your new relationship
If you get on well with their kids, that’s great! The next step is seeing if the kids get on
5. If you want to get serious, tell your co-parent before your kids
I bet you’re thinking, ‘why the heck should I tell me ex?’ The reason is they shouldn’t hear about it through your kids or their friends. Respect that you did have a life together and created kids too, so respect them enough to let them know you’re dating someone, and share the guidelines you’ve set re not letting them stay over for a couple of months. At least they can’t blame you for being an insensitive ass. Once you’ve told them, you can tell the kids.
6. Before you get serious, let the kids meet
This will be very new for your kids, so when you do introduce your new beau’s kids to them, make sure it’s in a neutral space. If they are all young, meet at a playground. If older, go out for brunch or lunch and keep it casual. It also a good way to see your beau’s kid’s manners! If the kids get on like a house-on-fire, plan when you could all do a sleepover, but make sure they are all ready for that move.
7. Rules about staying over
Don’t invite your new beau to stay over while your children are with you until three to four months of dating. You will have enough time to see them while you don’t have the kids. If you have your children full-time, invite your beau over for dinner or for the day on weekends for several weeks before they stay over. This gives your kids ample time to get comfortable with them. If you’re a mom, one thing you have to cover off with your children is about safety. As much as you could think your beau is an angel, 80% of all child abuse comes from people the children know and single moms are constant prey for pedophiles. Sorry to raise it but it’s important. So how do you raise it without scaring your kids? Here is what you could say. Let’s call the new beau George:
’Hey kids, I just want to let you know that there are no secrets between us. Since George is in my life, he will be in yours too. If for any reason George makes you uncomfortable, you have to tell me, even if George says not to. You are my priority and your feelings are important to me. Do you understand?’
8. Be conscious of your kid’s feelings
I heard from a teenager about her dad’s new relationship and why it hurt so much. Firstly, they were friends on Facebook and the way she found out about his new girlfriend was through his Facebook posts. Secondly, he continued to post photos of him, his new girlfriend and her kids looking so happy … at the beach, on picnics, on holidays … and he never took those photos of their family when they were together. Be sensitive of how they will feel. Enough said!
9. Making your new relationship permanent
So it’s been several months and you’ve considered moving in with each other. If you’re really serious about the move, the best solution is finding a new home that both families have a say in. If one family moves in with the other, the kids moving in will never feel like it’s ‘their house’, and neither will you. If there is no choice but to move into one of your homes, call a family meeting and advise that you’re all moving in together and from that day on it’s ‘our house’ too, not their house. If you want to make it fairer, put all the kid’s rooms in a hat and have them draw out their room.
10. Popping the big question
‘Weren’t you just talking about dating?’ I hear you ask. It’s always best to be prepared. Like dating, don’t rush into it! Ensure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and ensure there is no friction with the kids.
So much to consider! In the meantime I'll make the most of mom's present. Actually, with Leo spread eagle when sleeping, I'm not sure if he'll let anybody else take that side of the bed any time soon! No ... I promise I won't turn into a single cat lady!