Dating after divorce can be a challenging path to navigate, but doing it with kids is even more tricky.
It’s not just your wants and needs to be mindful of. And unlike with a regular breakup sans kids, you can’t just cut all contact and move on with your life because your ex is your kid’s father and will have to remain in your life to some extent. So dating again after divorce with kids comes with much more responsibility, baggage, and feelings to consider.
It’s natural for your kids to find the whole situation confusing and maybe even heartbreaking. Seeing their parents move on and start dating again is confirmation that this separation is not temporary and you’re likely never getting back together. But I want you to know that you deserve to start dating again and find love—if you’re ready.
A 2019 study conducted by Worthy surveyed over 1,700 women across the US who have been and are going through a divorce, and the findings were interesting. By the time the divorce papers were signed, 78% of women had already started thinking about dating again, 65% were dating again within the first year of being separated or divorced, and 80% of those surveyed had kids. So be reassured that it’s normal to want to date again after divorce, and you are not selfish.
In this post, I’ll share useful tips for dating after divorce with kids so you can protect your heart and your kids as you navigate the dating world again.
15 steps to take when dating after divorce with kids
1. Evaluate what went wrong
If your previous relationship ended on a sour note, it could be easy to fall into the trap of finger-pointing and issuing blame. Resist the temptation to do so because this will only keep you in a negative headspace and prevent you from fully moving on. A relationship involves two people, so you’ve both got to accept responsibility for the breakdown of it.
A more helpful approach after the divorce is to consider what went wrong. What made you incompatible? How did you end up here? What can you learn and carry with you into your next relationship to avoid repeating the same mistakes? Take some time to do this before you start dating again and jump into a new relationship. You’ll thank yourself for it down the road.
2. Don’t start dating right away
That brings me nicely to my next tip, which is to give yourself a healthy amount of time and space before you start dating again. Both you and your kids need time to adjust and settle into your new reality. Even if your relationship broke down long before you divorced, you’ll still likely need time to reflect on what happened, grieve the relationship, learn from the past, and heal your heart.
Many people jump back into a rebound relationship out of fear of being alone. While there’s no set time to wait, I’d recommend giving yourself (and your kids) at least six months before dating again. Although many women tend to emotionally separate from their partners while still in the marriage, everyone is different. Wait until you feel ready to trust someone new. Use this time to work on yourself. Be there for your kids. Invest more time into your career, your friendships, and your hobbies.
3. How to find your next partner
I’m not going to sugarcoat this—dating after divorce is likely more challenging than before you got married and even more challenging with kids in the mix. Whether in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or beyond, you have to consider whether a potential partner is a good match for you and a suitable co-parent for your kids. So if you thought the dating pool was small before, expect it to have shrunk into what feels like a little puddle.
But here’s the great news: caring for kids means you’ve got way less time on your hands than you did the last time you were single, and time is more precious to you than it ever has been. In your 20s, you may have been content dating with a healthy dollop of nonchalance. But now? You don’t want to waste time dating the wrong men. Having your dating pool narrowed for you is a good thing.
Get clear on the qualities important to you (create a love vision: Little Love Step #2), then think about where you can meet men who fit this vision (Little Love Step #3).
4. Be (appropriately) open and honest with your kids
When you’re dating after divorce with kids, you must talk to them about your plan to start dating again. They don’t need the nitty gritty, intimate details. But they do need to know why you’re dating again. Explain that just like it’s important for them to hang out with kids their age, it’s important for you to do the same.
Make it clear that they will forever be your number one priority, and no man will change that. And make sure you back this up with how (and who) you choose to date. It’s also important to clarify that no man will replace their father because this will likely be a concern of theirs.
Go into this conversation expecting some resistance. Even if they seem supportive, look out for signs in the future that they weren’t telling you the whole truth. And if they are resistant or downright unwilling to accept you moving on, resist the urge to get defensive. Acknowledge their feelings, empathize with them, and give them extra cuddles. But don’t let this change your mind if you want to date. This is not a decision that your kids get to make.
5. Acknowledge they are likely to see you dating again as a threat
Even if your kids seem to be on board with you dating again after the divorce, recognize that a part of them will also, consciously or not, see it as a threat.
After a divorce, or even after one parent remarried, some kids cling to the belief that their parents will eventually get back together. Some even go as far as sabotaging new partners and scheming matchmaking plans (hello, The Parent Trap).
Because their identity is wrapped up in the family unit. The idea of that unit disintegrating threatens your kid’s sense of self, even if they maintain a strong relationship with both of you. It might feel like, since the separation, they don’t exist.
This isn’t meant to deter you from dating again after divorce with kids. It’s intended to prepare you for how your kids may react and encourage you to be open and honest with them as you dip your toes back into dating.
6. Seek help from a therapist
It’s common for your kids to say one thing to your face but keep their true feelings and concerns hidden. They might not have the courage to come clean and share their fears with you, or they might be worried about hurting your feelings or accidentally guilt-tripping you into not dating again. This is why enlisting a trusted therapist’s help can benefit both you and your kids. It will provide a safe space for them to be honest and chat about their concerns and feelings, and it can also help you improve how you communicate with your kids and co-parent with your ex.
7. Schedule regular parent & child time in your calendar
One of the main fears for kids when their parent(s) starts dating again after a divorce is that their time with you will be replaced by dates or time with a new partner. Your kids want to see you happy, but sometimes they need to be reassured that they are still loved, valued, and a priority.
So do what you can to put them at ease. Maybe that means scheduling regular one-on-one time with each of your kids. Make sure you’re fully present during this time and that your new partner is not involved, no matter how serious things get between you. Protect this sacred time fiercely, regardless of how busy life gets.
Ideally, you want to schedule dates when your kids aren’t with you, i.e., when they’re with your ex or perhaps sleeping over at friends. This isn’t always possible, but it can make a big difference to how your kids feel about you dating again.
8. Only make introductions if you’re serious
You want to avoid ending up in a situation where your door is revolving with new men every couple of months because this will seriously mess with your kids’ heads! Children must have a safe and stable environment where they trust the people around them. You know how messy breakups are, and the last thing you want is for your children to go through the emotional upset of that.
So, how long should you date before introducing your child to your new partner?
I recommend only introducing a new man to your kids if things are serious and you believe he is the guy. Wait until you’ve been in an exclusive relationship for at least six months and reached Little Love Step #7, where you’re ready to build a shared life vision together. Until then, keep dating and keep your kids separate.
9. Prep before the first meeting
Once you’ve reached Little Love Step #7, it’s time to prepare before your partner and kids meet for the first time. Don’t just spring it on them; make sure they feel part of the process.
Give your kids some details about what you love about your new man. Next, tell them you think it might be nice for you all to meet. Ask them how they’d feel about going for lunch or dinner together. It’s best for the first meeting to occur in a neutral setting, not in one of your homes.
Make sure you also take the time to fill your partner in on your kids. Tell him about their interests, hobbies, and anything else that might help him engage in a meaningful conversation with them and make a good first impression.
10. Remember that every child will react differently
If you have more than one child, you’ll know better than anyone that every child is different, which means every child will react differently when introduced to your new partner.
Some kids are warm and welcoming, while others are more hesitant and quiet. You’ll have a good sense of your kids’ personalities and temperaments by this stage, so consider this. Go into this knowing there may be a range of reactions, and that’s okay.
11. Keep the first few meetings light & fun
Even after the first introduction, when you’re dating after divorce with kids, you’ve got to keep things light, bright, and fun! Avoid meetings at home for a little while. Avoid planning meetups on big dates like birthdays or during the holidays when many other people are around because this will be a distraction. And don’t spring surprise meetups on your kids or “accidentally” run into your partner in the park.
Plan a series of fun activities you can do together, like going to a movie, a water park, or a crazy golf course. Give your kids and your new partner time to build a genuine connection. Your partner might have kids too, so fun, neutral, kid-friendly settings like these are a great way for the kids to bond with each other.
12. No sleepovers unless you’re very serious!
Grown-up sleepovers should not be happening unless you’ve reached Little Love Step #7! How you navigate this will depend on both your values. But kids learn more not from what you say but from watching what you do.
Sleepovers get the green light when your kids are out of town staying with their dad or friends. But try and keep it away from your kids. It won’t be long before your 16-year-old daughter asks if her boyfriend Sam can stay the night. Although you can play the age card, it will be more challenging to lay down the law if men you’re dating constantly try to sneak out of the house unnoticed.
13. Avoid step-discipline
How you discipline your kids should be a conversation you and your ex have. New partners, even after getting remarried, should not be chiming in. It’s all too common for a step-parent to try and discipline their step-child, only to have them shout, “well, you’re not even my real dad anyway!” And we all know that those conversations never end well.
Of course, your partner can speak to you about any issues or concerns they have. But it should then be 100% on you to proceed however you decide to. This will protect your relationship with your kids and their relationship with your new man.
14. Encourage the other parent relationship
As you move on with dating after divorce with your kids, be considerate and respectful of your ex. Don’t flaunt a new partner in front of them. Let them know you’re dating because you don’t want them to find out from your kid’s, worse, a mutual friend. If you plan on moving in together or getting married, let them know, but keep the details to a minimum to avoid rubbing it in their face.
As your kids build a relationship with your new man, they may feel guilty, thinking they’re betraying their father. So be sure to set the record straight, and make sure they maintain a strong relationship with your ex (unless, of course, you believe he is not a positive role model for them).
15. Getting married again can be a beautiful thing
The final thing to know when dating after divorce with kids is that remarriage happens all the time, and it can be a wonderful thing as long as you choose the right person!
Although your new partner will never replace your kids’ parents, having two adults living in a house together does provide a healthy example of love and relationships. Plus, if you’re happy and thriving, you’ll be able to be a better role model for your kids.
If there is a wedding on the cards, make sure your kids have a voice in it. Involve them in planning little things like catering or outfits, and even have them involved in walking down the aisle with you if appropriate. This will help your kids feel like active participants in your new marriage.
You deserve to be happy and find love again, and even if your kids are hesitant at first, they want this for you too!
Have you started dating again since your divorce? Or are you thinking about dating again? I’d love to know your biggest challenge—share your story in the comments below!