I'm finally dating after my divorce — and my six-year-old loves it

July 12 2011 | Guest post by theantibride
Mug by witticismsrus

I began dating about nine months ago — roughly three years after my divorce. My daughter was three then, and I tiptoed on already cracked eggshells to make things smooth for this little girl who just didn't understand why people couldn't make things work out. The first few years after the divorce, I wouldn't even consider starting a new relationship — I had a child who needed her mom to not quickly jump into another relationship.

I also didn't know if I could handle anymore heartache — or anymore love. So I focused on work, on being a mama, and processing the 500 post-divorce emotions that came without invitation.

A few productive, insightful, sadly celibate years rolled by, and then it happened: I met a fella. And it happened with ease! And he likes my gray hair! You mean I can get down with all of this again, after all? Who knew! I couldn't even believe it was happening… until my now six-year-old asked me if I have a boyfriend. When I said yes, she asked to meet him.

Pause. CAN SHE MEET HIM?

After five failed excuses I caved, and they met for about fifteen minutes. The three of us didn't spend time together again for the next six months — I needed the time to re-learn, and to also have trust, fun (you know what I mean?), and to feel like my daughter wouldn't be irreparably harmed if she hung out with us.

Now we hang out all the time. A few times a week we go out for veggie dogs, a walk to the park, or take photos together. They adore each other, and for a while I've been sort of frozen, wondering what to do. At times it scares me to have things so intertwined (read: what if…), and at other times I feel like I am re-learning what it's like to give and take.

I don't know if I am doing the right thing, but we're all talking and asking questions. It's dawning on me that I might just have to relax and keep unfolding.

  1. I love how you put your daughter first and went about this w/ precaution. I don't use the word "hate" very much but I hate when men and women are so quick to introduce their children to who they are dating at the moment and within a 6 month period have already met 4-5 different boyfriends/girlfriends.

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  2. You have done the most fantastic thing…. YOU WAITED!!!! The biggest mistake (in my own opinion) that dating parents make is introducing a new person too soon.

    My husband and I started dating within about 6 months of his separation and the kids were nowhere NEAR ready to handle a girlfriend. We knew pretty quickly that we were serious about each other and made the decision to wait to introduce me for several months. The kids(both in grade school)knew that Dad was dating and later that Dad was dating a particular person… he started using my name with them after about 3 months and started telling them things about me if they asked. We kept checking in with each other about our own level of readiness and by the time we were both on board, it was about 6 months in…. and then we waited some more.

    Our rationale was that we only got one chance at the introduction… and that it was likely that I would eventually be their step-mom… so we wanted EVERYONE to be completely cool with the prospect. After about 9 months, the kids were asking to meet me and we were all ready to know each other. And it was fun and pretty relaxed and we all had a great time… and it was a happy experience for them and for me.

    It was definitely the harder, more inconvenient choice, but we reap the benefits all the time. I have a great relationship with the kids and their mom, we avoided a LOT of drama, and it showed the kids that they matter in the equation… it's not just about us. They're in high school and college now and have thanked us for giving them the time they needed to recover from the divorce.

    Good for you… keep talking and listening. 🙂

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  3. I am a widow and not ready to start dating again (I still feel married), but I always have in the back of my mind what I would do if and when I ever decided to start dating again. This made me feel better that my dating won't dystroy my son forever.

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  4. I have to give my support to the waiting strategy, as a child of divorced parents, but I want to give a quick warning, as well.
    My mother waited to start dating again. I was three when she left my father, and she didn't start dating until I turned twenty. She was paranoid that any man she dated would sexually abuse me. I grew up lonely, wishing for any kind of father in my life. This she abjectly refused to give me. I resented it. I cried every time I watched "The Parent Trap" and any other movie with a similar plot.
    Now I don't want a father figure. I have a relationship with my real father that's better than my relationship with my mother. And now that my patience has long since run out, she wants me to give her boyfriend a chance at being a father to me.
    I don't care if they get married, this man will never be my dad. He will not be my stepfather. He will be my mother's husband. I will call him his name and nothing else. My mother doesn't like this, but too bad. If she wanted me to have a father, she should have dated at a time where I would have wanted one.
    So, for other moms on here, waiting is good, but don't wait too long if you want your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife to have any influence on your children. If you want your children to call this new person "mom" or "dad," don't wait until your children are grown up and about to get married themselves. I'm sorry if this sounds mean, and your mileage may vary, of course, but this is my experience.

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    • Just as a counter example, in case anyone's freaking out over not dating soon enough: My mom was also paranoid, having worked in family and juvenile court, over what damage a stepfather could do, and also didn't date until I was an adult. While she was probably overly cautious, I really appreciated the time she gave us to grieve and not have some substitute father come in. I wanted my old dad back, and never pined for a new father figure.

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      • Oh, obviously things will be different for different people. I didn't mean to imply that there's a deadline on dating, though reading my comment again, I see that I did. I'm talking specifically about the idea of wanting a new honey to be important to your child(ren) after divorce, not just dating someone for your sake.
        If you're looking for a long-term relationship, waiting for a while after divorce is good. Waiting is the best strategy, and the best thing you can do for your child. People who wait to date again are making the right choice. But waiting for eighteen years (or until your child[ren] is/are all grown up, moved out of the house, and about to get married and have kids of their own) is excessive IF you expect your child to accept your new honey as a father/mother figure, like my mother does in my situation. I'm just a tad bitter because my mother expects me to suddenly accept this stranger into my family after eighteen years of getting used to it being just the two of us, being lonely, and finally moving out, and I'm just not comfortable with that. She wants me to see him as a replacement for my actual father, and if she wanted me to do that, she should have been dating ten years ago when he could have actually been an influential figure in my life. She didn't, so he isn't, and now she's angry at me about it.
        That's all I meant. Sorry if I was confusing!

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        • just a thought for ALL people thinking about dating after a divorce, do not expect your kid to see the new person as their parent!!!! Weather you wait a few months like my parents or years like Katie's mom. It is the kids personal decision weather or not to choose to look at that person as just a friend, or a parental figure. I am extremely close to my step mom of 16 years, but I would rather cut my tong out then call her mom.

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        • This is interesting to me because I had the exact opposite experience. After my parents divorced, my mom waited a few years but then rushed into marrying again because she desperately wanted me to have a father figure. Too bad the guy she rushed into marrying ended up being a total nutcase who was a compulsive liar, verbally abusive, refused to hold down a job and ruined her credit. She was so blinded by her feelings that I "needed" a father in my life that she failed to realize that the man she brought into our lives was a terrible human being.

          Conversely, she married a third time when I was 19 years old and her current husband is more of a father to me than my own father ever was.

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          • I'm glad that it worked out with your mom's third marriage, even though the second didn't work at all. I'm happy to hear that you have a good relationship with your stepfather.
            I realize that a lot of people will have different experiences here, which is one of the best parts of the Offbeat Empire. I'm just upset that now, when I'm 21, my mother wants me to trade my hard-earned relationship with my real father for a relationship with this guy who had absolutely nothing to do with raising me and who has nothing to do with my life. I'm upset that when I was younger and asked for a daddy every Christmas and birthday, she did nothing to alleviate the loneliness, even just by spending more time with me herself if she wasn't ready to date again. Now that I've got my actual father talking to me several times a week and I've accepted that he'll never be perfect, she wants me to love this other guy instead because her new boyfriend is "so much better" than my actual dad. (She thinks my father is the scum of the earth, and isn't afraid of saying so, which makes every time anyone has told me "you're so much like your father" feel like a little dagger in my chest.)
            Of course it will be different for everyone. I should probably have said something like what DangerMom said, but I didn't think of it.

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  5. from one michigan mama to another, good for you <3 i was so glad to see this today. i've had a lot of mixed feelings about dating, myself, though i've been with a partner for the last year and my ex and i split in 2008. sometimes i think i should *still* be waiting…it's just nice to hear other women's stories. i wish you all the best!

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  6. Good for you! Much like you and your family, my mom and dad split when I was three. I only met two of my mom's boyfriends, and the second one ended up being my step-dad. He's the best thing that happened to us, and their marriage has taught me how to have a healthy and loving marriage of my own. Best wishes!

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  7. This is awesome. I waited 2 years before having my son meet my boyfriend. They didn't see each other again until a year later. I didn't want to put my son through the heartache of getting attached to someone if it wasn't going to work.

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  8. I really, really love this post!
    My mom was single when she had me (a whole other long story for a very different time) and although I knew that I didn't have a "father figure" around, she made very sure to give me the time, attention and love I needed to remind me that our lives weren't "missing" anything.
    Then she met my dad. He lived across the country and so I didn't meet him for a nice long while. She made sure that it wasn't a passing fling before we were introduced and she always made sure I understood that this was a relationship but that he wasn't around to be "my father" specifically and he didn't have to be anything I didn't want him to be.
    It took me a while to warm up to him but once I did, we were inseparable and he has been an amazing father to me.
    Taking time to introduce two people so important to you and having an open and honest communication with both of those people is such good advice!
    Thank you for this post!!

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  9. Just adding a different perspective….
    My boyfriend and I started seeing each while we were both still married. We left our spouses in July of 2010 on the same day. My kids were 6 months and 2.5 years then.
    We lived apart for 3 months until our divorces were final. We did hang out with everybody maybe 3 or 4 times during that time. We moved in together in October 2010.
    And now….my boyfriend is the one my kids call "Papa". They are extremely attached to him and if we are out somewhere he always says they are his kids. It has been such a blessing to me to see them blossom from having a real "father" in their lives, from someone that chose to do that.
    I realize that this is a rather unusual situation, but I just wanted to point out that not waiting won't necessarily be catastrophic.
    And btw, my ex-husband has had every opportunity to be an equal co-parent, unfortunately that was not his choice. He sees the kids a couple times a month.

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  10. I have to say, I don't recall my dad waiting terribly long to introduce us to his girlfriend (now our stepmom) and I distinctly remember one other short-term girl and two other boyfriend outside of my stepdad. It didn't bother me or haunt me. Then again, I was five when my parents split, and while I had no idea how to process exactly all the details of the divorce, I did know that whoever these new people were, my mom and dad didn't shout and cry around them. Instant plus. Besides that, my sister and I always got a pep talk before we met one, the first few times were brief, then we had a family date, and it went from there. Not one of these potentials ever asked us to call them "mom" or "dad" or "think of me as your other …." and we had our grandparents with us too. The overwhelming amount of support might have curbed all this.
    The really important step is to simply love someone who can love your kids as fiercely and strongly as you do. My step parents would do anything for me (which they have proven time and time again) and yet they would NEVER ask me to replace my biological parents with them or belittle each other. I suppose the real advice is to handle it all like adults and keep loving your kids, and the rest will find a way.

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  11. Both my mom and dad were completely inconsiderate when it came to remarrying. They divorced when I was a toddler, and remarried multiple times. For the longest time, I said I would never get married… and I did wait until my husband and I had been dating for 4 years to pull the trigger. Ultimately, I think watching them make so many relationship mistakes made me choose a better partner and have more of a commitment to… commitment 🙂

  12. Thank you for this. I have a two and a four year old, and am contemplating the impossible idea of divorce from a husband who had an emotional affair. The idea that I might one day love again, and that might not damage my children further, is really what I needed to read today.

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