Martha had been single since the day she separated with her husband Josh. At the time of separation their son Laryl was 2 years old. Josh moved on and married another woman who was Martha’s friend two years after separation. Laryl had been meeting and spending time with his dad until when he was 12 years.
In the 12th year of his life Laryl had a conflicted relationship with the father because he wanted to know how the father married the best friend of his mother. Laryl felt conflicted because he had checked photographs of himself when young and had seen so many other photos that the mother had taken together with the step mother and the mother confirmed that the step mother was her best friend and daddy loved her later after separation then married her.
While Laryl was in primary school, the mother decided to dedicate her time to parent the son. She did not go out with friends or even date because she imagined being the only parent, Laryl needed her more than her friends did. She told herself that she would date when Laryl went to boarding secondary school.
When Laryl joined secondary school, the mother felt she could allow herself to date since Laryl was away in school. When Laryl came back for holidays, he made the mother’s life difficult because every single day she wanted to go on a date, he would get sick, he would accuse the mother of leaving her like dad did. The mother did not know whether to continue dating or simply stay home with the son.
Dating for parents is slightly different from other kinds of dating and this is because there are children involved, there is the other biological parent of the child involved, there may be co-parenting taking place. There are children dynamics too- how will they treat the incoming member? What if they reject the new member? What if they decide to choose the other parent?
Just like any other relationships are difficult because two people are from two different backgrounds with two different perspectives and ways of life, relationship with a single parent may be even more difficult when:
How can a single parent keep it healthy and make it more easier when they plan to remarry or to start dating?
In his book, Divorce and New Beginnings, Genevieve Clapp highlights the following:
Set aside time to relate with the outer world even if you are not dating. Let your children know that adults need some time to relate with fellow adults the same way children need time with other children. When one begins dating, then it does not cause any disturbance to the children. This is what Laryls mother missed to do.
Build a good relationship with your children so that in times of conflicts they will be able to communicate. When a parent has a good relationship with their children and there are open channels of communication, children will openly share their feelings.
Share with your children that someday you intend to get married if that is the case and also assure them that when that happens, you will not abandon them. This prepares the children and helps them to handle feelings better when a parent starts dating. This is another thing Laryl was not prepared for.
Keep the sex values you have taught your children alive during your dating. If sex is only allowed in marriage, then keep it that way otherwise you will be sending conflicting messages to your children by living a double standard life. If sex is allowed for adults, and you intend to bring your date to your house, let children know that you and your date will be sharing your bedroom from time to time.
Do not involve the person you are dating in your routine day outs with your children. Have the different day outs so that you can give yourself time with the children and give the new partner time separately. When you bring the new partner in all the routine outings, you deny your children an opportunity to enjoy time with you and this may result to jealousy and feelings of abandonment.
When and how do you introduce your new partner to the children?
Only introduce your partner when you have good reasons to believe that you and your partner have intentions of having a long lasting relationship. If you are not sure that the relationship will last or even lead to marriage, then it is unnecessary to introduce because it may leave children unstable as a result of the many relationships you introduce.
To introduce a new partner; Let your children know the nature of relationship before the meeting and share the news when it’s not night time. Sharing news at night can cause anxiety in children and they may not be able to sleep. Allow them to ask all the questions they may have and answer as honestly as possible, let them share their fears as you listen.
Assure the children that you love them and that is not going to change, let them know that your new partner will not replace their biological parent because this is one of the fears they deal with. Let the children also know that the new partner will not take you away from them but that you will make time for them separate from the time given to the partner.
Finally, share with them the expected behavior as they meet your new partner because the meeting with a new partner takes them through a process of loss all over again. Research has showed that a great number of children behave negatively because they are dealing with their own emotions as a result of their parent being involved with a new partner. There are however children who respond positively to their parent’s new relationships.
The adults in the set-up also need to agree that, the new companion will not try to take any parental role in the meeting because the likely thing is children will resent him for taking over their lives as a stranger. The role of the new companion is only to form a relationship with your children.
If children are uncomfortable with you dating, should you quit your relationship?
Children’s resistance is a method of communication. When children have issues with you dating as a single parent, the questions to ask them is- what are the reasons? What are their fears? Have some time with them to have them share and once that is done, assure them of your love and commitment.
No adult should quit a relationship because the children want that. First, each person has their own life to live separate from their children, the children may be reasoning from the place of grieving and as such, they are afraid that their own parent will be forgotten and the new partner will take over, or they are afraid to lose the available parent, just like they lost the other one.
Dealing with their needs which is fear or grief will help them ease their emotions. If you feel unequipped to deal with these emotions, seek the services of a Child Counselor.
What should be discussed before marriage?
Just like any other couple needs to engage in thorough background checks and heal the wounds of their past experiences, relationships with single parents need the same plus they need to discuss and agree on the points below;
How to handle finances: – since there are not just two adults involved, the couple needs to agree who is going to cater for the financial needs of the children.
Discipline: – in the beginning, the work of the step parent is to bond with children while the work of the biological parent is to discipline the children. The discipline methods need to be agreed upon by the couple.
Dealing with the ex-spouse and in-laws: – will the children be allowed to see the other biological parent? Will the other ex-spouse/other biological parent communicate with this one? What methods of communication will be appropriate? Will children visit their biological parent’s relatives? How will they relate with these relatives? Will they visit the step parent’s relatives? How will they relate with them?
Possible problems to arise – What kind of problems are you anticipating and how will they be resolved?
Are relationships for/with single parent impossible?
Answer is, No.
There are advantages to it, some of which include good management skills, ability to raise children alone (they have learnt what to do and how to delegate some responsibilities to children) they have also learnt to balance between work, themselves and family. It is also possible that they have better methods of handling pressure (of being single as individuals, of parenting alone, of finances) etc.
With proper preparation before marriage and with adequate skills, a couple is not only able to get married but also have a satisfying family after they have taken time to work towards the family blending- which even if it takes time, it’s possible.
By Joan Kirera-family therapist. For more visit www.joankirera.com: Facebook: Joan Kirera, YouTube: joan kirera