Recovering after divorce or a breakup can be incredibly difficult. When you add children to the mix, the pain and confusion grows tenfold. Finding a way to co-parent with your ex is crucial, especially when you finally feel ready to start dating to again.
Here are six tips to keep in mind now that you are dating as a single dad:
1. Follow the “1/2 Rule” if possible.
It’s never a good idea to jump right into a relationship again after just ending a long-term partnership. That’s why I advise people to take time to heal and recuperate by following the “1/2 Rule”: Divide the length of your last relationship by two. That is how long you should wait before dating someone again seriously. So, if you dated someone for two years, you should wait a year before settling down again.
You can date freely and meet people, but just be careful about rushing into anything too soon. You need time to heal and take care of yourself, especially when you are trying to parent at the same time. Now might be a good time to channel your energy towards your kids as you transition during your divorce, so you might not have a ton of energy for dating right now anyway.
2. Be honest with your kids.
You might be tempted to keep your dating a secret from the kids, at least for a while. However, in my years as a therapist, I have found that secrets can do incredible damage to a relationship, even when well-intentioned. You don’t have to give your kids every minute detail. Just say something like, “Now that your mother and I have separated, I will be taking things slow and meeting some new people. I am in no rush to settle down and I am not going to make any decisions without telling you first.” Your honesty will be so crucial in helping them to feel secure in their relationship with you and their future.
3. Own your 100 percent.
After a breakup, it’s tempting to lay all the blame on your ex. Yet it is crucial for you to step back and see your own role in both the relationship and the breakup. As hard as it may be, this is the only way for you to be able to truly grow as a partner and as a parent. Perhaps you might learn that you need to have more patience or practice better communication. Or maybe you might notice that you routinely choose the same type of woman (such as always going for the ‘bad girl’) and that it is time for you to make a change in order to experience better results. To this end, try doing things out of your ‘type’ and dating women you wouldn’t normally go for. You might meet someone fantastic if you just open your mind to new possibilities and let go of your preconceived notions.
4. Don’t bring home just anyone.
Your kids should never be introduced to anyone who you are not serious about, even if it just a causal meal or a passing introduction. Kids take things to heart very easily, especially when it comes to their parents and their feeling of security in the world. Young children can especially become very confused if they are continually meeting new girlfriends and getting attached to different people, only to see them come and go when the relationship ends. Use your best judgment and make sure that the relationship has a real, solid future before introducing your new partner to your kids.
5. Always talk about your ex and other women respectfully.
You might be tempted to vent about your ex or complain about women in general after a series of bad dates. However, your children learn how to treat people from watching how you treat people. If you treat women disrespectfully (even if it is just to joke how all women are crazy or all women only want a rich guy), you are instilling these harmful ideas in your child’s growing mind. If you have a son, you will be teaching him to look down on women or to speak ill of them, and if you have a daughter, you are teaching her that it is okay for men to treat women poorly. After all, if her beloved dad does it, it has to be okay, right? It’s easy to see how harmful this type of discourse might be to your children, even if you think it’s just innocent joking.
6. Spend some time getting reacquainted with your kids.
Many fathers find that they have to reestablish their relationships with their children after the divorce. You have to find a way to navigate not only your children’s feeling about the divorce (which could range from fear to hurt to rage), but you will also have to find a way to parent them as a single dad. Mom won’t be around anymore, so that means that if she used to encourage dad-and-daughter time or that if she would stick up and be the bad guy so you could be the good-time parent, all that is going to change.
Now, it’s going to be up to you to learn how to discipline on your own, as well as how to spend time with your kids all on your own. You won’t have someone prodding you to remember the dance recital or reiterating to you that there are no snacks after 9 p.m. Essentially, you are going to have to spend some time getting to know your children all over again, and that’s why it is important to take things slow with your social life. To that end, make sure that you keep your dating to nights when you don’t have the kids, so that they won’t be hurt or feel left out when they find out you have a date on the night they are staying with you.
As you can see, dating as a single dad comes with a whole host of considerations that don’t exist for those without children. However, many of these considerations can actually make you an even better version of yourself and help to make you more likely to meet the one.
Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."