These tips come from dads I know who date. I’m not a dad and, well, I’m married, but I wanted to share some collected wisdom that might help. From a dad: “There is very little that is more draining than the end of a relationship. All the hurt and anger and pain that has dragged out is ended and over. She’s asked you to move out, the kids are now split between visiting you two weekends a month and a midweek evening. It’s been a whole mess for so long that the finality of divorce is often a relief. It can be so hard to recover from a divorce, especially if the relationship was happy until it suddenly wasn’t. As the man in the role, you are supposed to be the strong, aloof one, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t been hurting, too. When you chuck the children into the mix, it’s a bad tasting soup, isn’t it?”
Co-parenting rules are so important to keep your relationship with your ex as amiable as possible and once things settle down and the wounds are beginning to heal, dating may feel like a possibility again. There are so many rules surrounding dating in the normal world, but when you’re a single dad, things change. Those rules about wooing someone new haven’t changed, except this time you have to be far more reserved about who you date and when to introduce anyone to the lives of your children. It’s a slightly more complicated web, but if you follow the rules below, you can be a single Dad who is dating and having fun again.
- Be transparent: the last thing that you want to do after the breakdown of a relationship or marriage is to jump straight into finding a long-term partner. You need time to just be with yourself and rediscover what it is you want in a relationship. The qualities that you wanted in a partner years ago when you used to date may now have changed massively, and you also have to consider the fact that you have children. One thing that you should always do is make sure that you mention your kids on a first date. If you’re dipping a toe by going into online dating, put it in your profile. This way, whoever you go on dates with will already know your situation and not be put off by it. Let’s be honest, not everyone wants to take on someone else’s children – and that’s just fine, that’s their preference. The key is to get dates with the people who have the same preferences and values as you.
- Don’t rush: if your children are a little older, it’s normal to assume that your last relationship lasted a significantly long time. Do not rush into another relationship, and make sure any new partner knows that you’re taking it slow. You have to be a parent in unfamiliar territory while taking care of yourself, working on your own mental health and managing your normal daily routine all at once. That’s a lot to handle, so a new relationship can add stress and new obligations. Take your time, take care of yourself and your children.
- Be honest: your children – especially if they’re older – are going to be dealing with their own emotions throughout the split between you and your ex. The idea of seeing you with a new person could be very raw and tough for them. You might be tempted to protect their feelings by not telling them that you’ve started dating other people, but actually, it could be very helpful for you to be open about your dating. I’m not suggesting that you introduce the kids to every person you invite for dinner, but if you wait around until someone is serious enough to want to introduce them to the kids, you may find they feel betrayed that they didn’t know that you were dating in the first place. Explaining that now you are divorced and would like to see other people – slowly – gives them the time that they need to process all the changes. It won’t be easy, but be honest while respecting your ex.
- Don’t complain: no matter how your partnership ended, it’s important to be respectful of your ex when discussing her with anyone – especially your kids. You always hear those stories that start, ‘I had a psycho ex…’ – don’t do that. The majority of the time, any woman hearing that story will wonder about you first and foremost. It’s also important to remember that the ex you haven’t got a good word to say about still gave you a family and children. There are always those awkward questions to get to know someone, and it’s always going to come up about why you split up. You can give a lighter version of what happened – at least in the beginning of your new relationship. Your children are half of her; the more you insult her, the more you are inadvertently saying that your children could have her bad qualities.
- Be present: you can date on your weekends without the children, the evenings that you don’t have them, over lunch, etc. Don’t schedule your dates during the time that you have with your children. Make sure they’re your priority. You need to find someone else who will respect your relationship with your children and the fact you are a Dad first.
You deserve to be happy after a relationship ends, just like anyone else. You should never feel guilty for seeing new people and building new friendships when a major relationship ends, kids or not.