This guest article from Psych Central was written by Laura Smith, Ph.D.
Almost a third of children are being brought up by single parents. Lots of those parents date. Concerned single parents worry about how to manage relationships when children are involved. Common questions include:
When do I introduce my child to someone I am dating?
How do I manage an intimate relationship when I have children?
What happens if my relationship ends?
Unfortunately, there is little scientific data about these matters. However, an understanding of child psychology mixed in with common sense can provide some answers. Here are a few principles to keep in mind for parents who date:
1. Young children bond to their caregivers and are primarily concerned with those relationships. They want love, attention, and stability. They don’t understand the significance of a dating relationship until they are older (usually school-age). Single parents who date occasionally should simply make sure that their children are always safe and well cared for.
2. If you have a dating relationship that may turn into a committed relationship, proceed slowly. You might start by inviting groups of friends or relatives together for outings, parties, or picnics. At this point, you don’t want to have your children involved in evaluating or approving a relationship. That’s your job—but you do want to see how a potential partner interacts with others–especially your children.
3. Most likely, you’ve already gone through a breakup…not an easy experience. Take some time to examine your priorities. What do you want in a relationship? It’s pretty natural to look for someone that seems different than your ex, but be careful you don’t overlook red flags in the hopes of finding someone to love.
4. Again, go slowly and be careful about who you invite into your home, your children’s home. There’s nothing wrong with socializing with friends when kids are present, but showing excessive affection in the presence of your children will be noticed—even by very young kids.
5. When kids have strong attachments with their caregivers, they tend to be very resilient. If your relationship ends make sure that you take care of yourself but also be available for your child or children.
6. Remember that even if you go slowly and do everything right, it’s possible that at some point your child will become attached to your dating partner and feel very hurt if things don’t work out. If that happens, explain what happened at your child’s ability to understand and make yourself available to talk about your child’s feelings. However, take care to discourage dwelling and ruminating about your ex.
Being a single parent can be very challenging. Look for ways to get the social support you need. Be assured that your child or children will benefit from your love and care.