Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been divorced from my ex-husband for about three years and I’m at the point where I want to start dating again. My kids (7 and 11) and I have a very close relationship and we talk about everything. But whenever I mention dating, instead of being happy for me, they get angry and withdrawn. What can I do to make them a little more supportive?

A: Truly wonderful when parents and their young children have a close relationship. But sometimes, lines can get unintentionally blurred (or crossed), which I think is exactly what you’re describing. There’s no question that your dating life will have an effect on your children—especially when you get into a serious relationship. But it sounds like you’ve given them the impression that their close relationship with you entitles them to an actual vote in the matter. I hate to be too harsh about this, but it’s really none of their business. You’re their parent, not their friend, end of discussion.

 

Aside from the boundary issue, your children may simply not want to share you with anyone. It’s been just the three of you for a long time, and they enjoy having you all to themselves. Any time you spend with other people—whether it’s going out for a beer with a work friend or dating a man who’s not their dad—is time you won’t be spending with them. It’s not going to be super easy, but here are few steps you can take to get your kids on board (or at least make them a bit less hostile).

  • Tell them you love them. Toys, gifts, and fun activities are great ways to show your kids that you love them—but children also need lots of verbal and physical demonstrations to remind them that they’re always your top priority (but not to the exclusion of everything else).
  • Let them know you aren’t trying to replace their father. Whether their dad is alive or not, no one can take his place, either in your children’s lives or their memories. They need to know that the reasons you’re going out with other men have to do with you and your needs only.
  • Date on your own time. If possible, do your dating on nights when the kids aren’t around. Hiring a sitter and going out when you’re with them could make them feel that their fears of losing you are coming true.
  • Don’t introduce them to your dates too soon. It’s important that you’re sure it’s a serious relationship before you bring the kids in. Before making your introduction, talk about the man you’re seeing, let the kids know how much you and he enjoy being with each other, and let them know you’d like to have everyone meet.
  • Don’t tell them how to feel. There’s absolutely nothing you can say that’s going to make your kids love (or even like) your boyfriend before they’re ready to. What they need is time. So leave them alone and let them develop their own relationship. And never, never, tell them to call anyone “Dad” but their real father.
  • Listen to them. If they don’t like someone you’re seeing, encourage them to tell you why. You don’t have to agree, but kids are often a lot more perceptive than we are and they sometimes see things we don’t or that love (or lust) has blinded us to. When my kids were little and I was dating, I introduced them to a woman I was pretty serious about. They told me afterwards that she really didn’t like children. At first, I thought they were making that up, but I started paying attention and they were absolutely right. End of relationship.

This article first appeared on MrDad.com

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