As a child psychiatrist, I have treated a large number of children who were harmed by the poor choices their parents made while dating. I also saw parents do quite a few disturbing things when I was recently single and dating, but you don’t have to be a spinster to protect your children if you are smart about it.
Here is my top 10 list of things parents and people dating parents should never do, based on my experience as a child psychiatrist, step-parent, parent, step-child and recent online dater. Armed with these tips, you can confidently get back in the dating pool knowing that you are not putting your children at risk.
I. Thou Shalt Not Post Pictures of Your Children on Online Dating Sites: You’d be shocked at how many women post pictures of themselves with their children in their online dating profile. Pedophiles are real and most have never been caught so they don’t appear on any sex offender list. There is no reason why a guy on a dating site needs to see a picture of your children!
II. Thou Shalt Not Reveal the Ages or Genders of Your Children: Again, pedophiles are usually attracted to a specific age and gender, so don’t give them what they are looking for online. All you need to say is “I have children” or “my children are grown”. A decent person doesn’t need to know anything more than that to decide whether or not to go on a date with you.
III. Thou Shalt Not Discuss Your Custody Battle or Your Crazy Ex: You are not doing yourself any favors by dumping on your ex or detailing your five year custody battle. All you are doing is showing your Cray-Cray and scaring the sane people away.
IV. Thou Shalt Not Discuss “Why Your Child Doesn’t Need a New Parent”: You’d be surprised at how many single mothers go on long rants on their dating profiles about how their children already have a father and how they are not looking for a new father, blah, blah, blah. Trust me, the rest of us have no desire to try to replace your child’s other parent. But when you talk about it so much, it makes us start to wonder.
V. Thou Shalt Not Introduce Your Children to Every New Person You Are Dating: Children often emotionally attach to any adult they are frequently around. So every time you break up with someone your kids spend time with, they have to grieve the loss as well. Why put them through that? Plus, you are exposing them to someone you barely know. It’s better to wait until you are clearly in a long-term relationship and you are both thinking about getting married or moving in together.
VI. Thou Shalt Not Invite Your New Crush to Family Time: Let’s be honest, if your new crush is there when you are spending time with your kids, you will be making googly-eyes at your crush and mostly ignoring your children. Children can only respond to such a situation in one of two ways. They will either get sad because they feel like you don’t care about them or they will act up to compete for your attention. Not a pretty picture, eh?
VII. Thou Shalt Not Lie to Your Children About the Fact That You are Dating: Children often secretly wish their parents would get back together and the longer they think you are not looking for someone new, the longer they can hold on to that fantasy. I have seen parents lie about dating, sometimes for years, and when the child eventually finds out, they can be devastated. You don’t want to introduce your children to who you are dating, but you do want them to know that you are dating again and are not getting back together with their other parent.
VIII. Thou Shalt Not Let Your Children Know That You Hookup: Children and teens don’t have the cognitive and emotional maturity necessary to understand and cope with adult sexuality. Plus, they unconsciously observe everything their parents do as guides for how to behave. So ask yourself, do you really want your 15 year old doing exactly what you are doing? Wouldn’t you prefer to let them slowly discover their sexuality rather than throw them into the deep end of the pool.
IX. Thou Shalt Not Try to Parent Someone Else’s Child: Children are very clear on who their parents are. Even if a parent is dead, has abandoned them or is in prison for life, children often resent attempts by step-parents to parent them and see such things as manipulative efforts to replace a parent. The best thing to do is to be the child’s friend and then let the child decide what form the relationship will take.
X. Thou Shalt Not Discipline Someone Else’s Child: Parents sometimes subtly (or not so subtly) try to push the unpleasant parts of parenting, namely the discipline, off on the step-parent. I could write a book on all the reasons why this is a bad idea, but until I do, please just trust me on this one. The best thing for a step-parent to do is to merely be the adult in charge, like a babysitter or nanny that enforces the rules when the parent is not there, but then leaves the decisions about consequences to the parent for when they get back.
Much like the Ten Commandments being the basis for our modern legal system, this list is just a starting point for dating as a parent. There are a number of fine books on dating for single parents out there, but until you’ve read a few, keep these tips in your back pocket in case of emergency.
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Also, if you are the parent of a young children, here are my top two tips for coping with the challenges of parenting young children.