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Eva L. Both boys were brimming with news When a divorced parent starts dating Daddy's new friend, Joanne. But when she referred to their father as someone who was dating, the children were quick to insist that she was wrong. Given the power to vote on the relationship, the children cast "no" ballots and told their dad that, per his earlier declaration, Joanne couldn't move in until after they went away to school.
The story illustrates the confusion and anxiety children often feel when parents, eager for some measure of happiness and success in a new relationship, struggle over how much distance to place between their children and a newly developing romance. Gary Neuman, L. Neuman is creator of a divorce therapy program for children mandated for use in family courts by many states.
The power of the reunion fantasy is not to be underestimated, says Neuman, observing that some childrencling to the belief that their parents will get back together even after one parent has remarried. The reasonis simple: 's own identity is very much tied to that of his family.
When the family disintegrates, achild's sense of self is threatened, even if he maintains strong ties to both parents. Neuman recalls, "This year-old kid once said to me, 'I feel, now that my parents are separated, that Idon't exist. While most children don't articulate their feelings so strongly -- in fact, most shrug or say "okay"if asked how they're coping with a parental split -- therapists who work with children of divorce agreethat divorce makes kids question who they are, where they came from, and where their lives are headed.
That's not an argument for or against divorce, for or against dating. It is an argument for honest, direct dialogue with kids about new relationships: When a divorced parent starts dating Mom or Dad wants one, what Mom or Dad will doif a new relationship becomes serious, and how Mom or Dad's relationship with the child will be affected.
Since then, Eva and her year-old son have had many discussions about her relationships with menand his with girls. He once waited up for her when she was out on a date and asked, "How did it go? Later, the two discussed her difficulty ending the relationship. The child urged herto say goodbye to the man she'd been seeing, and Eva is now moving toward doing so, in part because she was so impressed with her son's observations.
But despite such late-night chats and an occasional "flurry of activity" on her social calendar, Eva hasno interest in introducing any man to her sons. I think it's horribly unfair to children. Joe B. The parents and kids enjoyed ski trips together, often in the company of other friends.
From the start, Cathy said little about her father's growing relationship with a new woman. But she never asked me anything. She made some comments to my roommate at the time, but not to me. Gary Neuman agrees that casually introducing every date to a kid is a bad idea; equally wrong, he believes, is minimizing the importance of a new love interest. Children who "discover" that their parents are in loveoften feel betrayed when the situation reveals itself.
Already anxious about the changes in their lives due to the divorce, and often feeling closer to a parent than they did before, they may now feel that a trusthas been broken -- exactly at the point when trust and reassurance are most needed.
Rather than forgo romance, Neuman and parents interviewed for this article suggest addressing children's concerns head-on before dating begins:. Make sure the introduction of your new ificant other takes place only after you've had a privateconversation with your child about the relationship. Then, Neuman suggests choosing a setting where the focus will be on an activity, not "getting to know each other better.
On theother hand, casually introducing Sally or Pete at a huge Christmas party might not give kids a true senseof how important the relationship really is. Introducing the Main Squeeze Eva L. Putting Happiness on Hold?
Rather than forgo romance, Neuman and parents interviewed for this article suggest addressing children's concerns head-on before dating begins: Acknowledge to yourself that children are likely to view a date as a threat to their own personal timeand experience with you. Whether or not they voice their concerns, children may wonder: "Will she go to my soccer games now and talk to Dad and then he won't watch me play?
They may wonder why, as Neuman puts it, "A total stranger is being invited to ourspecial club. I know some kids don't like it when their parents date. What do you think? Children who are manipulative are usually fearful that events in their life are spinning out of control. Rather than viewing it simply as bad behavior, parents should recognize it as 's attempt to regaincontrol and restore a sense of order. Curb manipulative behavior by demonstrating with words and action that a new love interest won't undermine your parent-child relationship.
That may mean creating "sacredspace" -- regularly scheduled parent-and-kid time when the new boyfriend or girlfriend isn't part of theaction.
Neuman suggests telling children, "I'm going to date, but when you're not with me, so it won'taffect our time together. If I get serious, then you'll meet the person, but I'm not going to get serious until I know they'll fit into our family.
Have hope: if the proper groundwork if laid, and if the new boyfriend or girlfriend is really committed toyou and accepting of your children, they can indeed develop a fond relationship with your new partner. FEN Learning is part of Sandbox Networks, a digital learning company that operates education services and products for the 21st century.When a divorced parent starts dating
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Coping With Divorce: When a Parent Starts Dating