Sometimes it’s about your kids; sometimes it’s about his.
Doug had been raising his thirteen-year-old daughter by himself for two years; his ex-wife had walked out on him and Danielle. Two years later Doug lined up his first date. Needless to say, Danielle became very anxious. Before going on the date Doug was able to reassure his daughter that this was just a first date and didn’t really mean much to him. Still she remained anxious. During the date he received two phone calls, one voice mail, and three text messages. One text read, “I know you don’t want to talk to me anymore but I want to tell you something—have fun without me because I’m all by myself now.”
Why did Danielle toss a guilt grenade at her father…and the woman he was dating?
Some children are excited for a parent to begin dating, others go into a jealous rage, but nearly all children (including adult children) are concerned to some degree. If a child’s parents are divorced, dating signifies another nail in the coffin of reconciliation. If a parent is widowed, a move into dating could make a child wonder if their deceased parent is being forgotten or didn’t mean as much to the widowed parent as they once thought. These and other troubling thoughts can occur at the very same time that a child expresses excitement that their parent is “getting out there” and doing something for themselves.
“I don’t get it,” one parent said to me. “My kids pushed me to date before I was even thinking about it—and once I did, they did a 180 on me and whined and complained. What’s the deal?” Yeah, kid reactions can be confusing. But that’s the point—they are confused. One side of them wants to see you smile again; another side of them is frightened by how life will change if someone new joins the family. But why? What causes the fears?
Essentially children are dealing with loss. Just think about it. Your children have lost contact with extended family members and a parent (after divorce being with you means not being with the other and death means losing contact permanently); they have lost control over their lives (e.g., changes in residence and school, loss of friends); and they have lost predictability about the future.
Each and every loss creates the fear of more loss, which in turn creates a sensitivity to anything that resembles loss, especially losses that involve parents and family members. Family attachments are highly prized by children under normal circumstances, but after loss, they are golden. When a parent dates kids feel the shift in the direction of your attention away from them and the family and toward the man you’re dating; this ignites a fear of more loss.
Samuel approached me at a conference. “I’m dating a woman with two children,” he said. “My two girls, ages 12 and 10, are jealous of her kids. They don’t like me spending time with them and they tell me negative things about them so I won’t want to be close to them. It really bothers me.” I explained to Samuel that his children were feeling displaced—and that this was predictable. Don’t panic, I encouraged, just be sure to balance your time with your girlfriend, her kids, and yours—and repeatedly reinforce to your girls how much you love and are committed to them because without that this jealousy may not go away.
Adapted from the book Dating and the Single Parent by Ron L. Deal. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of FamilyLife Blended™, a popular conference speaker, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s, books, and curriculum for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, and the book The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. His one-minute radio feature FamilyLife Blended can be heard daily on stations nationwide and online. Tune in to his weekly Periscope broadcast (follow “Ron Deal”) on marriage and blended families. Learn more at FamilyLife.com/blended.
The Life of a Single Mom Ministries is a national organization that exists to empower single mothers in parenting, finances, and health & wellness, while also educating the general public on the challenges single parent families face and how we all can help. We have served more than 50,000 single parents in the United States, including more than 1500 churches who have launched or improved their single parent support group. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com.