Dating During Divorce With Kids Is It Right Or Wrong?

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    When you're losing a partner through divorce, or more accurately for many people, when a divorce finalizes the loss of a partner who's been gone for a while, it's very tempting to seek out new companionship. Resisting that desire is difficult. Many people in this situation wonder if dating during divorce is really okay?

    This question is particularly important if you’re considering dating while going through divorce and you have kids.

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    More than anything, dating during divorce, especially with kids, depends upon how you go about it as to whether it's good or bad for you. There are other considerations as well, so check out this article on dating while separated for other things to think about.

    Divorcing is hard, regardless of whether it’s something you wanted or something you didn’t. And it’s completely natural to want to feel loved and valued by a new partner if the opportunity presents itself. But if there are kids involved your interests, while valid, are no longer the most important ones.

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    So, what do you need to know about dating during a divorce when you’ve got kids?

    Problems Dating During Divorce Can Cause

    Having counseled divorcing couples for almost two decades, I've seen plenty of bad examples of couples doing a poor job preventing divorce from negatively affecting their lives and parenting. Let's look at a recent couple to see some of the ways dating during divorce can be a big negative.

    Meagan and Colin are in the middle of a divorce. The reasons aren't so important, but it is a mutual decision to end their marriage. Since their separation more than 6 months ago they've handled the custody of their 3 kids 50/50.

    Meagan has stated several times in our divorce counseling that she's entitled to "have some fun" since Colin did (without her) during their marriage. Their split custody arrangement has given her 3 days a week without parenting responsibilities, and so she now has the time to do it too.

    This is a common result of a divorce -- parents go from being full-time parents to being part-time ones. Now in nearly all cases this isn't the parent's first choice. They don't want less time with their kids. However, once it's forced upon them, many quickly realize there are benefits that come with this arrangement -- one of which is free time!

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    For some divorcing parents, particularly moms or whomever was the kids' primary caregiver, this new free time can be something they haven't had in years. And that isn't always a good thing. All of us need structure in our lives, although hectic and overwhelming at times, it's good for us to have structure because it keeps us out of trouble.

    So, Meagan's newfound free time, combined with her desire to "have some fun" and for companionship has resulted in her spending a lot of time at a couple of local restaurants with bars. She's been drinking a lot and begun dating during her divorce.

    Sadly, many divorcing couples revert back to acting like they're 20-years-old and in a fraternity, instead of being the adults with kids and responsibilities that they actually are.

    Over the past few months, Meagan's new priority of "having fun" has resulted in:

    • The kids (the oldest is 14 years old and youngest is 10) being left at home alone a few times while she's out you know where.
    • Colin trying to text or call her about something involving the kids and she either doesn't respond for long periods of time or is too distracted and doesn't give him or the kids the attention they deserve.
    • The kids don't always have the attentive mom they used to have, as some days Meagan's thinking and speech can be slow and groggy.

    Colin has been patient with her behavior and how it's negatively affected their co-parenting. In my opinion he's been too patient at times (we all have a responsibility to our kids to hold the other parent responsible for appropriate parenting). Colin's silence is partly due to his guilt over his prior bad choices, as well as the dysfunctional relationship they've had for years in which he was not honest with her.

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    Last Sunday, when Colin dropped the kids back off at Meagan's house at 3:30 in the afternoon, she answered the door in her bathrobe and clearly was not feeling well. The kids later said they were "bummed" that mom was not "not excited to see us."

    So, when is dating during divorce with kids okay? Some may argue that Meagan is not typical and many parents wouldn't become this selfish and negatively affect their kids this way. But in reality, Meagan's choices are not unusual (legal reasons why dating while divorcing isn't a good idea).

    I haven't even given the whole story. I've left out the men Meagan has been dating, they've stayed overnight a few times, and the kids know that sometimes when they call her she has something else (or more precisely someone else) that's more important at the moment than them. As much as Meagan wants to believe she's keeping her private life from her kids, I bet they know much more about what she's doing than she thinks.

    Overall, Meagan's a good parent, but she's making some poor and selfish choices lately that are hurting her kids. She would never want or intend to do that, and would probably deny that she’s doing it now, but the truth is she is.

    Deciding To Date During Divorce – Other Considerations

    Clearly Meagan’s situation is having an undesirable affect on her kids. Their well-being should be the primary concern of both parents and that seems to have gotten lost in the divorce transition. But the children’s emotional health isn’t the only complication that crops up related to dating while divorcing. More importantly, it’s not the only kid related issue.

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    Some of the other considerations when it comes to your kids and your dating habits include the following:

    • You’re creating additional instability by dating. It really doesn’t matter how old your kids are, if you’re divorcing then their world has an element of insecurity in it. The family they knew has fallen apart and by introducing a new person, or the pursuit of one, you only exacerbate their feelings of insecurity.
    • Your children are likely to reject and resent a new partner. Kids aren’t mature enough to reason out whether your new partner is good for you or not, and they shouldn’t be expected to. They just know that person isn’t their parent. So, if you care about the person you’re seeing and want your children to accept and respect them, you’re doing yourself and that new love a huge disservice by dating during divorce.
    • Their future relationships are guided by what they see you do. Remember, you define what they know as normal. Dating while divorcing demonstrates a greater concern for your happiness than for your children’s. Having kids is a weighty responsibility, so think about the kind of people you’d like them to become and then be the best example of that you can. This is the best way they learn what to do and what not to.

    Dating during divorce with kids is difficult to do. Obviously, we're dating for ourselves, not for our kids, but that doesn't have to make it bad or wrong. If we don't manage it correctly and set appropriate boundaries, however, we can easily make dating while divorcing have a negative impact on our kids and ourselves.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published April 26, 2014 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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