The doorbell rings as you adjust your make-up one more time and pray that you won’t trip in your new platform sandals. You shake your head and think, “I haven’t dated in decades. What am I doing?” You take a deep breath and open the door to your date.
There is more than a 50% chance that American adults will find themselves dating in midlife. Statistics tell us that the happily ever after marriage is not always forever. Many will face divorce and some find themselves widowed. These folks grieve, they heal and then many say, “Now what?”. They enjoyed being part of a couple and find (sometimes to their own surprise) they want to do it all again.
Dating after marriage feels far more complicated. Aside from a myriad of emotional and practical issues you deal with as you consider entering the dating world, there are the issues facing your children.
Allowing your children time to adjust to the divorce/death before bringing a new person into their lives is important regardless of how old they are. While you may be thrilled that your grieving period is over, your children will most likely take longer in their grieving process. They may need more time to heal before they can embrace the idea of someone new entering your life. This does not mean you put your own need for socialization on hold, but be sensitive to their needs. Your children do not have to know everything you do, or have input into your decisions. Dating is a grown-up decision, as is the decision to divorce. However, if your children are uncomfortable with your dating, then you can pursue relationships while your children are visiting their father or out with friends. The same goes for older children, even adult children: you don’t need to lie, but you do need to be discreet.
Forcing young children to accept a new person in your life before they are ready can create many problems. They may feel this new person will take you away from them. Or they may worry that you will “like” this person better than you like them. Sometimes young children want to be included all the time and while you can bring them on occasional outings, remember, this is YOUR friend. You need couple time, alone. Explain to your children that they have their own friends, and so do you. If they are older, they may feel your behavior is inappropriate; for example, when the other parent is still grieving the loss of the marriage or if the parent has died and your children are still in their mourning period.
If your date turns into a something “important”, bring the children into the relationship very gradually. A child may resist a relationship because he/she feels it is disloyal to the other parent. You can be supportive by emphasizing that this new person will not be a substitute for the child’s other parent. Furthermore, assure them that your new relationship will in no way undermine or disrespect your child’s feelings about his/her father. However, if your kids resist, honor their wishes to take it slow. All of you will have years to work on forging solid relationships. Be patient. However, on the other hand, if they bond with this new person and it doesn’t work out, then you have to deal with all of you grieving a loss all over again!
Regardless of their age, all children implore that their parents are sensitive to issues of sex. Both young children and adult children have expressed discomfort and concern about their parent’s sexual relationships. Please be mindful that your adult children do NOT want to hear that this is the best sex you ever had! Always be aware when children are in the house and proceed in your intimate relationship with the utmost discretion.
Children hear more than we think they do. One adolescent girl shared with me that she was concerned this new man was hurting her mother as he locked the bedroom door and she heard her mother crying out. Another teenage boy, whose bedroom was adjacent to his father’s, shared his discomfort because he could hear the banging of the headboard!
This new relationship may feel like the greatest thing that ever happened to you, but chances are your children will feel differently. Both children and parents need to recognize that this discrepancy is not only acceptable, it is appropriate. Adults can have more than one spouse, but children have only one set of parents. Validate and respect your child’s feelings, but not at the cost of your own. It is one of those times when you can agree to disagree.
Be aware that your roles keep changing – wife, mother, single mother, and now girlfriend. Even though you may be ready to date, your children may feel differently. It is a balancing act; honor their needs, but not at the cost of your own. Work at doing what you need to do for yourself, while staying sensitive and open to their issues.
© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. This article is adapted from her first book, From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which is now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. To read more about the author and her work, please visit www.donnaferber.com
[Reprinted from Donna’s June 23, 2013, blog article “Dating in Midlife: Do You Need Your Children’s Approval?”]
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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for 28 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.