By Michele Germain, LCSW www.thejillprinciple.com
When their parents date, it creates anxiety in children and teens. The changes and losses they have gone through often cause them to feel jealous and insecure. They may become uncooperative, withdrawn, and rebellious or over attached to you. Each child, depending on age and personality, will react differently. But it is important to understand that they are struggling with two main feelings.
First, children hold a fantasy that their parents will be reunited so they do not want their other parent replaced Second, children fear losing your love and attention and believe they will become less important.
These strong feelings are seldom expressed openly. Therefore it becomes critical to be prepared and act in a way that helps them adjust to your dating and share their feelings. Here are five ways to help ease their concerns and anxiety.
1. Give your children reassurance that they are loved and your relationship with them will not change. A child who feels secure is less likely to feel frightened. Now is the time to set aside special time with each child, even if it is only 15 minutes a day. Quality time tells the child you are paying attention and they are important. This time if for them, do not burden your children with adult issues, or adult feelings. Do not use them as surrogate partners, friends, or little therapist.
2. Allow your children to express all of their feelings about your dating, positive or negative. Listen and show concern, and do not be reactive by yelling, judging or criticizing. They can better adjust to the situation if they feel their needs and sensitivities are being recognized. Helping them to express their anger or frustration without doing damage is the goal. Once they are allowed to express their feelings they are more likely not to act out inappropriately.
3. Avoid introducing your children to your casual dating relationships. Children can get attached easily and suffer more loss. Introducing a series of casual dates to your children will only cause them more anxiety and ambivalence. Immediately following a divorce or break-up it is wise to limit your dating or be discreet to avoid confusing and burdening your children.
4. When it is time to make introductions, do not force children to accept your date. Go slowly. Talk to your children ahead of time as to how you expect them to behave. It is important always to teach your children to respect others and to be kind. They do not have to like someone to be respectful.
5. Be mindful of your sexual morals, and remember you are always a role model. Children do what you do more than what you say. Keep in mind that teens are struggling with their own emerging sexuality and have trouble dealing with a parent’s sexuality. These are individual choices made according to your children’s needs.
6. Do not let your date exert authority over your children. Your children will respond to you better than your significant other until there is sufficient time for integration into the family. Always set appropriate boundaries with your children, disciplining in front of your significant date is appropriate.
7. Consider counseling to integrate families. Or if you have a significant partner that you are spending considerable time with. Blending families are challenging especially when children are carrying around unresolved grief associate with loss of a parent. Counseling gives everyone an opportunity to be seen and heard, and facilitates the adjustment phase of families coming together. Sooner than later is better.
Being single with children has it own set of challenges can be demanding and exhausting. And as a single parent you can be confused as to how to parent and date at the same time. Keep in mind that communication is always the goal. We want to let go of blaming, angry outburst, silence withdrawal or acting out, all of which can occur in families, either by you or your children. Being sensitive to one another, respectful of your needs as well as your children’s needs is what will bring families together. Healthy talk is the way to get there.
About the Author:
Michele Germain, author of The Jill Principle: A Woman's Guide to Healing Your Spirit after Divorce or Breakup, has a master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University and is licensed as a Clinical Social Worker and Marriage Family Therapist in California. She is a Certified Bioenergetic Analyst, offering an approach that resolves the emotional pain remaining in the body, increasing the individuals well being and capacity for pleasure. She conducts workshops and seminars on a variety of mental health topics and life changing issues. She has appeared on radio, cable television and in print media, and has lectured aboard major cruise lines such as the Pearl and Royal Caribbean. For more information and to sign up for her free newsletter visit www.thejillprinciple.com.