Dating with kids. The do’s and don’ts

Lotte Ditzel | Wednesday 23 February 2022

For single mothers or fathers, it can be a challenge to get out of the house at all, let alone have time to go on plenty of dates. And while casual dating can sometimes yield the requisite hilarious anecdotes, the search for a long-term partner can at times be downright frightening. Especially after a divorce. Divorce can leave a significant dent in (self) confidence. Many parents also feel guilty towards their children and often doubt their ability to find the right partner. Add to that the fact that after the divorce they often think they are entitled to a next relationship without disappointments or rejections (aspects that really go hand in hand with dating) and the recipe for the considerable task that is dating with children is born.

What does it actually mean to date someone other than the father or mother of your children? Do you keep these worlds separate or not? What pitfalls lie in wait and how do you ensure that the children do not become the victims of your active dating life?

Racing in slow motion

When it comes to dating with children, it is essential to keep the right pace. ‘Finding a new partner in this case can be compared to racing in slow motion,’ says Psychologist Elaine Hadfield. You’re also more likely to run a marathon all the way through if you keep running steadily, rather than sprinting to try and reach the finish line. The faster you go, especially in a relationship, the sooner reality catches up with your infatuation in the long run. After all, the real challenge only begins after that first half. When the first heavy infatuation has subsided somewhat and the other person is no longer a necessary good to meet all your needs or the attraction is no longer purely rewarding. Children who experience a certain degree of instability at home do experience the negative consequences of this later. This does not mean that dating can no longer take place when children are involved, it means that the adults take responsibility for making this happen in the most stable way possible.

What role will the stepparent take?

Whether we want to admit it or not, children will experience some form of instability when their parents set out on the path of love again. Although they can also benefit enormously from having a new partner in the household, it is still good to ask yourself in advance to what extent you will involve them in your family life. What role will the potential step-parent take on? Are you going to let him or her in on parenting? Does his or her way of parenting fit with yours? Can you possibly find a middle ground in that? Children generally thrive best with a way of upbringing that does not differ much from that of before the stepparent entered the family. So it is important for a new partner to realize that he/she is going to adapt to the already existing rules in the home, rather than having them adapt to him or her. If there are children on both sides, it is wise to make very clear parenting agreements in advance. Of course, sometimes the children do not want a new member of the family at all. In this case, the step-parent would do well to position him or herself more as a friendly/supportive aunt/uncle, who understands the child but also holds him or her responsible for unacceptable behavior. 

Timing is everything

Raises the next question…when do you introduce the kids to a possible flame in the first place? Although most dating parents are naturally cautious about introducing a new partner, a study by Hadfield shows that this actually causes children to be more dismissive of this person. Loyal as children are to their own parent(s), they hold the new partner responsible for withholding this important information and label him or her as the reason their father or mother lied to them. However, informing your children immediately about a new love does not guarantee that they will embrace this person immediately either. In this case, the stepparent is often accused of demanding the attention of the own parent. At such a moment, you have to try to estimate/feel from your mother/father’s heart what your child’s needs are at that moment. The only thing you can do, according to Hadfield, is not to introduce your children to every possible new partner. Children often don’t even want to meet all these partners, even though they may say they do. So wait until your relationship is stable and serious enough. 

If an apparently serious relationship does not turn out to be what you expected, this will of course have consequences for the children as well. And although most lovers initially cut off all ties with their former lovers, children can be very upset about this. Not least because, in their perception, the stepparent disappears again from one moment to the next and, of course, they did not choose this at all at such a time. Hadfield therefore argues that it is always better for children to continue contact with the ex if there is a need to do so. Even if you can no longer get along with each other. This does not have to be complicated, a card/call or app from time to time can make all the difference.