The Perils of Divorced Parents who Date


It can get a little weird for your kids when you're the one asking for dating advice.

By Jennifer Powell-Lunder, Psy.D. for

“I know technically I’m an adult,” the 19-year-old girl tells me, “but my dad keeps ogling my friends, and my mom asked my boyfriend if he knows someone for her. I mean, really?”

I have to admit I am slightly taken aback by her comments. My own experiences with both of her parents over the years have been great. They are loving, caring and supportive people who have always put the needs of their child first, at least when she was a child.

We live in an era when divorce is not uncommon. According to government statistics, the rate has been holding steady over the last few decades at around 40% for first marriages and 60% for second. While the majority of marriages fail within the first five years, there is an inordinate number of middle age couples divorcing. A large proportion of these couples have children in their teenage years and above.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, research confirms that the divorce rate for individuals 50 and older reflects the greatest increase among any age group. A large proportion of these individuals are reportedly empty nesters.

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In the meantime, the media is filled with pictures of mixed-age couples. Although the relationship has ended, Ashton and Demi dominated the celeb social scene for years. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are another power couple, and Alec Baldwin who at age 54 married 28-year-old yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas are now expecting a baby.

While it may currently be commonplace to date younger individuals in Hollywood, most of us aren’t celebrities. You can date younger, of course, but if you are a parent, you have to realize that your kids would certainly appreciate you being discreet, to put it mildly .

So PARENTS, here a few things to remember when it comes to dating:

1. Your children are not matchmakers, nor do they want to be put in that role. While on occasion an adult child may find a suitable someone for her mom or dad, I can assure you this is the exception, NOT the rule.

2. No matter how old the age of your child, you are his parent, NOT his friend. Yes, it is true that the older your kids get, the less they rely on you but at all ages children turn to their parents for guidance and support. There may indeed come a time when the role reverses, and your child is charged with caring for you, but hopefully that time is many years away.

3. Your young adult or teenage child needs you more than you may think or that she will acknowledge. The teen and early adult years represent the years of exploration and growth. Kids at these ages are typically trying to secure their identities. In her search to “find” herself she looks to role models to help her find her way. As her parent you play a pivotal albeit distant role. The values and ethics you have instilled in her over the years become paramount as she engages in the search for self. While she may be capable of functioning completely independently, she still needs your guidance and support. Asking her for dating advice at this point is not the kind of conversation she either needs or wants to have.

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To ‘children’ of divorce of all ages:

1. Your parents are adults, they can date whomever they please. As their child you certainly have the right to voice an opinion about your parent’s romantic choices, especially if you have real concerns. In the end, however, you have to realize that your parents may indeed choose to ignore your complaints and/or concerns. If age is the only issue, at least step back and give your parent’s significant other a chance. If you are worried that mom or dad is being taken advantage of, sit down and talk with him or her.

2. If you do feel you need to involve yourself in a discussion about your parent’s dating choices, be respectful and kind. This is your mom and/or dad with whom you are speaking. Even if you deem your parent’s behavior foolish or immature, it is important to approach the topic gently and calmly. While you may be quick to assume that your parent does not “see” what is “really” going on, you may actually be surprised. If, for example, your dad is dating a woman you deem a “gold digger” because of their age gap and her attitude, you may be surprised to learn that your father is more mindful of the relationship dynamic than you believe. In most relationships there is a quid pro quo. Maybe this woman gives your father something he feels he cannot find in a relationship with a woman closer to his own age. Regardless of his motivation, the choice of partner does indeed belong to him.

Which leads to the next point:

3. Your parent’s behavior does not reflect on you, although the reverse is somewhat true. You are your mother’s daughter or your father’s son. As such your actions are indeed held to a certain scrutiny by them. What they say and do may result in a negative or positive reaction from you, however, it is not a reflection of you in the same way that your actions are on your parents. The parents’ job is to raise their children. In my experience, most parents do the best they are capable of doing. While there does reach a point where a child must stand on his own, the responsibility a parent feels toward a child usually lasts a lifetime. A child’s job is not to parent a parent; therefore, while a child may be committed and devoted to his parent, by definition he is not responsible for them. Hopefully, he feels devoted, especially later on in life when they may need him most.

4. Regardless of whether your parents have been apart for years or recently broken up, the impact of divorce on children of all ages can be devastating. The relationship between your parents can at times make your life complicated and tricky. You may cringe at the thought of an upcoming ‘big event’ such as an award or honor, graduation, or game. Try and keep things in perspective. You are probably the most important person in your parents’ lives.

When it comes to whether your parent is a little too friendly with your friends: A little communication can go a long way. Lost in the exuberance of feeling ready to pursue romantic interests and the elation of having an older son or daughter who is also engaged in “playing the game,” your parent just may not realize the discomfort he brings you when he stares a second too long at your best friend or college roommate. Your mom may not grasp that her “hello” is a bit over the top and that she has not only embarrassed your favorite guy pal but you as well. Take the time to talk it out; you will both be glad you did.

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Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, Psy. D. is currently a clinical administrator on an adolescent inpatient unit in a private psychiatric hospital. She is an adjunct Professor of Psychology at Pace University and maintains a private outpatient practice. She is also the creator of, a forum for family and friends.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.