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Oregon Family Magazine

Nanny Connection: Mom's Dating Again!

05/28/2010 ● By Anonymous
Dear Nanny:  I can’t believe I am writing this, but I think I am ready to start dating!  Several kids and a lot of years later, what do I need to know?

Congratulations! You don’t say whether you are a mom or a dad, but the recommendations will be the same. As a responsible parent, the bottom line rule of thumb is always,”What’s in my kids’ best interest?” When it comes to your emotions and the excitement of a new person in your life, the boundaries can easily become blurred. Dating is about sharing a variety of experiences with a variety of people. You may decide to continue dating several people, or just one. You may decide to enter into a committed relationship with this person, or not.

Your personal life is ‘personal’ because it is your private adult business. Too often we are so excited about positive changes that we have a need to tell everybody and anybody everything, right away…including our kids. Slow down, enjoy the positive feelings and keep your personal life separate from your family life until you are sure they should be integrated. This is much simpler if you are not single parenting full-time, but it can be worked out through child care, and spending time together when the children are in school or with friends. If this person is meant to be in your life, you could have the rest of your lives together, so what’s the rush?

Most kids are very sensitive to energetic changes in the family, even if they don’t have specific information about what is going on. They will pick up on the fact that you relate differently to this “aunt” or “uncle” than you do to their biological relatives. Think about all the things you “knew” about your family growing up, without being told (who had the drinking problem, who was having an affair, etc.). Kids always have their radar out and absorb information (verbal and non-verbal) like sponges. Plan to keep all your communications private, which means when the children are not around (in school, at friends’, etc.), not when they are in their rooms with the door closed or in bed and you think they are asleep. Why? Because kids have feelings. Too much information (that they have no control over) too soon, can result in anxious kids, which makes it harder for them to manage their behaviors; which can make them harder to parent. What may be a glorious yearned for opportunity for you may be a dreaded, resented change for them. You may be focused on having a peer to share adult interests with, while they may be focused on not wanting to have to share you with someone new. Kids become attached to people in their lives, which hopefully will include this person.

However, if the relationship doesn’t work out not only are you dealing with your grief and loss issues, but those of your child’s as well. When children experience repeated relationship losses they lose their ability to trust, and to develop healthy relationships as they grow and mature. They also grow up learning what they live: that adults have what is often referred to as “serial monogamy”: one relationship after another, but nothing long term. They grow up thinking this is normal.

“But I don’t want to keep secrets from my children” is something I often hear. Having appropriate boundaries and keeping secrets are two different things. Adult information (financial, employment, housing, health, and relationship concerns) is for adults. Keeping it to your self and only sharing it with other adults is maintaining healthy boundaries, not keeping secrets. If your child asks, of course answer honestly, but only offer as much as they need to know. It is also important to not give personal adult information to your older children (because they can “handle it”), or ask them not to tell their younger siblings or other family members. That is asking them to keep a secret, which may make them feel special, but it also adds extra pressure and is not fair to them.

There are many more things to consider, too much for one column, but some things to ponder include:

  • How well do we really know each other? Have we had a wide range of shared experiences?
  • We may be madly attracted to each other, but are we “relationship material” with each other? Is our “appropriate” relationship platonic, sexual, casual, committed, or…?
  • What is their relationship history? What is mine? How will our histories impact the present?
  • What are the ‘red flags’? Which ones am I denying, minimizing or ignoring?
  • What are my friends and family saying (there is usually some truth in their perceptions)?
  • How affectionate can we be in front of my children (this will depend on the developmental stages of your children, as well as your comfort level)?
  • What will my children call him/her (also depends on their developmental level, and may change over time)?
  • How much input do I want him/her to have in parenting my children?
  • How do we integrate him/her into my family, especially if they have their own children?
The list goes on, but this is a start. That said, enjoy this new addition to your life, and all that it brings. Remember that change, even when positive, is often experienced as a loss. You may feel sad, as well as excited, energized, and elated. And that your children are not only their own people (different from each other and you), but are experiencing these changes from a child’s point of view, which is different from an adult perspective.

Nanny Connection is contributed by Leigh Files, a family therapist in the Eugene area.