After a divorce, both ex-partners need time to recover from the enormous romantic blow that comes from a failed marriage. Most divorcees take at least a year or more before they’re ready to even start thinking about re-entering the dating scene. In a healthy divorce, this year is focused mostly on putting your lives together as separate people and successfully co-parenting your children.
However, when your ex begins to tentatively dip their toe in the dating scene again, complicated feelings always arise. Even if you started dating first. You may be able to deal with your feelings of insecurity and self-examination that often come with seeing or hearing about your ex with somebody new, but many divorcees aren’t prepared for the fears about their children that can also accompany this issue.
You may worry that your co-parent’s dating life will start interfering with their parenting priorities or that unknown new adults will start to become a part of your childrens’ lives. The first step is to breath through your initial fears. Chances are that you have plenty of time to face the new situation, deal with your own feelings, and discuss the issue with your ex before there is a major effect on your children. But now is a good time to start preparing yourself for a possible step-parent future. For your ex and yourself.
Maintain Your Boundaries
Start by resolving yourself to maintain your boundaries. Your ex’s love life is not your business. While the thought of them with someone new may dredge up old bad feelings of hurt, these are yours to heal. You don’t want to know where they go or what they do. Getting too involved or invested, even if you wish them well, is not healthy. The best thing you can do for yourself and your kids is to treat your ex’s love like the same way you would a coworker’s. It’s not your business, but try to be happy that your ex is seeking happiness.
Resist the Temptation to Make Spies of Your Children
Many co-parents in your situation find themselves overwhelmingly tempted to pump their children for information about their ex’s romantic activities. While it can start by accidentally asking too many questions, it can all too easily turn into asking your children to investigate, report private phone conversations, or even go through your ex’s things looking for ‘incriminating’ clues. Watch out for this temptation in yourself and avoid it at all costs. The golden rule is your best friend here. If it would disturb you to find out that your ex was asking the kids to investigate you or asking certain questions, the same is likely true in reverse.
List the Potential Positives
Before you go into a spiral of doubts and fears about your ex’s dating behaviors or new significant other, stop and take some time purposefully think about the good that could come from this. There are millions of great step-parent examples today and kids are often happier when their parents find someone who makes them happy. What if your ex’s home becomes more stable as a result of a good match? What if they connect with another divorcee with kids and the children become best friends? What if you actually like the person they choose after this dating stint and you become even better co-parents than just you and your ex were to start with? Keep these possibilities in mind before deciding that any outcome will be bad.
Watch Out for Red Flags
All that said, it’s also important to keep your eyes and ears open for signs that something might be going south. Watch out primarily for mood disturbances in your children and in your ex when you see them during hand-offs and co-parenting sessions. Do your best to stay connected and be ready to take slowly escalating action if there are signs of trouble.
Prepare Yourself For the Step-Parent Possibility
It may be early in the process, but now is the time to prepare yourself for the possibilities if your ex really does meet someone who becomes a permanent fixture in their life. Whether or not your ex legally remarries, you may eventually find yourself working with a third co-parent. This person could be cooking dinner for your kids, driving them to dance practice, and deciding what they watch on TV during their time with your ex and you’ll want them on your side. Also take the time to put yourself in your ex’s shoes. What will happen when you start to date again? How will you want the co-parenting relationship to include your theoretical new significant other?
Consider the Legal Implications
Finally, never forget that there are serious legal aspects to the step-parent issue. If your ex connects with someone dangerous, you may need to take action to protect your children until they see sense. If you or your ex connects with someone stable who becomes a step-parent, they could become legal guardians and even adopt if the unthinkable happens and you or your ex passes on before your children reach the age of majority.