A Special Note for Single Parents
- 2008 14 Apr
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Single Men Are Like Waffles - Single Women Are Like Spaghetti by Bill and Pam Farrel (Harvest House Publishers).
Single parents have all kinds of stories, all kinds of pressures, and all kinds of issues. How do you know if and when you are ready to date when you have kids to raise and the memory of a broken relationship to live with? It’s common for people to compound the hurt in their lives by getting into new relationships before settling the issues of old ones. Here are some questions that are vital to ask yourself if you’re trying to balance parenthood and a personal social life.
1. Are you completely finished with all court hearings of any kind? In other words, is your divorce really final?
2. Have you completed divorce recovery counseling or been in a divorce recovery group?
3. Have you and the children settled into a new routine?
4. Do you have at least one group of single friends, or are you a part of at least one organization where single parents can socialize as a group?
5. Have you forgiven your former spouse?
6. Are you attending a church that has programs for single parents, divorce recovery, and counseling that help single parents heal so they can integrate into the general congregation?
7. Do you have a childcare system in place so that your children are encouraged and ministered to when you socialize?
8. Have you talked with the children about their feelings of you dating again?
9. Have you determined what you might have done to contribute to the end of the last relationship?
10. Have you created a list of qualities you are looking for in the next person you marry?
If you can’t answer yes to all ten, then you are not ready to date yet. Let’s take a look at each.
Are you completely finished with all court hearings of any kind? In other words, is your divorce really final?
The biggest mistake we see individuals make is getting involved in another relationship too soon. (In many cases, getting involved with another person is what ended the first marriage—that’s definitely too soon!) Divorce is traumatic—to yourself and to your children. Give God time to heal you and your children. Too often, the wounded parties think they are okay because the immediate shock and turbulence is over—untrue. After both the Vietnam War and the Gulf War, veterans who came home soon discovered many harmful side effects from what they’d been exposed to in the war. Divorce carries its own “agent orange” and you are probably shell-shocked, so give yourself some time to recover. As a basic minimum rule of thumb, for every year you were married, you should take a month off from dating. This formula goes into effect only after the divorce is final—not just after the papers are filed. It’s not fair to another person, nor to your children, to expose them to the whole divorce process and a new relationship at the same time. Bob Burns and Tom Whiteman, in The Divorce Recovery Handbook, say this:
Go slow. That will be frustrating, but be patient. Research shows that it takes three to five years to learn to trust again, to fully reenter society. That’s how long you can expect to be recovering from the grief of divorce, attaining a level of acceptance. But it’s usually another year or more before you can really turn your attention outward again, restoring relationships and overcoming vulnerability. It’s a long slow road.
Have you completed divorce recovery counseling or been in a divorce recovery group?
If the divorce was a mutual decision, then you have some sorting out to do. Why didn’t the first relationship work? Are there new skills to learn? If you left your mate, why? Was it their unhealthy choices—or yours? If your mate left you, you are going through grief just as real as if you lost someone to death—or maybe worse because in divorce, the person chose to leave you. Rejection often feels worse than bereavement.
Any new relationship will have plenty of issues of its own. And there will be issues you can’t help but carry forward such as custody and parenting with your ex. Why compound the problem by carrying unnecessary baggage forward? Many issues can be effectively dealt with in a counseling office or small group setting. An added benefit of counseling and small groups is that your life will be very stressful as you navigate the divorce and the recovery. You will want to talk out these issues (women really want to talk them out), and your friends may get tired of hearing them. Counseling and small group settings are a safe haven for your feelings. The worst thing you can do is put your child in the place of a counselor! Commit early on that you won’t vent your emotions when you’re with your children. As much as possible, try to help your child have a normal, happy childhood. They are grieving too, so they really don’t need adult-level problems added to their already hurting hearts and minds.
Have you and the children settled into a new routine?
Give your kids some time and space to get used to a new routine. Your economic status may have changed. Your living quarters may have been rearranged. Your kids may be getting used to having two rooms, one at mom’s and one at dad’s. Or they might have a room while with one parent and then feel like a camper or overnight guest while with the other.
In addition, divorce takes a lot of time. Whether you sought the divorce or it was thrust upon you, divorce is time consuming and steals time away from your children. Invest in some extra time with them. Get their lives stabilized before you add another relationship to it.
Do you have at least one group of single friends, or are you a part of at least one organization where single parents can socialize as a group?
The longer you were married, the more important this step is. Single dating is stressful. Get used to the dating dynamic by group dating first. Investigate what organizations or groups might be available in your community. Many single parents discover new friendships by joining Parents Without Partners or church single-parent groups. To find some healthy singles, look through the yellow pages for single parenting groups, call your local Christian newspaper or bookstore, or call a local social services organization for referrals.
Have you forgiven your former spouse?
This issue was dealt with in length earlier in the chapter; this is just a reminder that to go forward you have to let go of the hurts of the past.
In addition, your children may have to forgive your ex, especially if there were any issues of abuse, an affair, or abandonment.
Are you attending a church that has programs for single parents, divorce recovery, and counseling that help single parents heal so they can integrate into the general congregation?
Some of the best help for handling dating and single parenting can be the modeling you receive from other healthy Christian single parents and from other parents in general. A local church is a great place to meet others who are at least desiring to live a more emotionally, spiritually, and morally healthy lifestyle. A local church is often a great resource for low-or no-cost counseling, recovery groups, and small groups that deal with specific issues. In addition, when you do begin dating, churches often have many safe social events. If a relationship progresses and you begin dating seriously, that same church can offer pre-engagement counseling. Your pastor, whom you now have a relationship with, can perform your wedding, and there will be follow-up help if the next relationship hits any stressful bumps in the new emotional road you’re traveling.
Do you have a childcare system in place so that your children are encouraged and ministered to when you socialize?
No one likes feeling left out or abandoned, especially children who might already feel like a parent has left them emotionally. This is common in single-parent homes. Make a plan for your dating life. Date on the weekends when the children are with the other parent. Create a single-parent baby-sitting co-op where single parents take turns creating a party-like atmosphere for the children. You’ll need to take your turn hosting a fun night for the kids. Or arrange to hire a consistent childcare provider who really cares for your children. Even a teen who is like an older brother or sister will help a child feel like they are in a family again. Older couples can act as surrogate grandparents (or the children’s actual grandparents can be a nice option as well). The important issues to consider are:
• Does the child look forward to this childcare option?
• Is it safe—emotionally, physically, and spiritually?
• Does it buy you more time (not less) with your child?
Have you talked with the children about their feelings regarding you dating again?
After the children have settled into a new routine, the divorce is final, and you feel you have personally recovered and set a healthy plan for your dating life, then approach the children about your dating. If you have younger children, they might have already brought up the topic—often with some uncomfortable questions such as “Why don’t I have a dad?” and “Why don’t you get married again and get me a mommy?” Teens might make comments like “Mom, you need to get out once in a while.” However, don’t let your children’s concerns and questions be the determining factor on dating. Date when you and your children are both ready.
What do you do when you think you are ready, but your children aren’t? Perhaps they are holding out for a miraculous reconciliation between you and your ex. Or maybe they don’t want to give up being “the man of the house” or “the woman of the house.” What if you find resistance?
First try talking it through. Often, if you set aside time to listen to your child, you may discover an underlying fear or frustration which you can address. Also, it helps if they hear from you the kind but honest reality of a situation. For example, “I know you want mommy and daddy to live together again, but honey, that is something that just isn’t going to happen.” Then explain why in a simple one- or two-sentence explanation. “Daddy is dating another person.” “It just isn’t safe to live with Daddy anymore.” Try to be honest without degrading the other person. It often helps to explain that you want to go do things with your friends. This sounds less threatening than “Mom’s dating” or “Dad has a girlfriend.”
Also, keep your child(ren)’s best interest in mind. When my own parents divorced (Pam), my mother went for years without dating much. She had a few men in her life as friends, but she quickly saw that she wasn’t ready for a relationship and neither were any of us kids. We were all between the ages of 15 and 20, but we’d been hurt by our father and hurt from all the disruption the divorce caused. Soon my mother realized that it was healthier for her relationship with all of us if she waited to date until my youngest brother was away at college. She put her social life on hold for the greater good of our family. I respect her so much for this decision. Instead of dating, she put her time into personal growth for her. She spent time assessing the hurt we’d been through and found ways to help us recover. And she spent a huge amount of quality time developing deeper relationships with each of us. She also created ways for my brother to gain healthy male role models in his life.
My mother worked hard after the divorce at a new career, so she could have easily felt she “deserved” to date and have a little fun. Instead, she looked at what her children deserved and put us first. After my brother went away to school, mom did invest more into group social activities and met a wonderful man who shared her same values. They eventually married and were quite happy until his untimely death from a heart attack. We wondered if mom felt her time with her new husband was robbed because she delayed dating, but she reassured us that she’d do it all again—only she would have decided even sooner not to date until my brother was away at college. My mother made a short sacrifice that has paid long-term benefits.
Have you determined what you might have done to contribute to the end of the last relationship?
Before you go out to begin new relationships, it is imperative that you look yourself in the mirror and ask, “Did I contribute anything to the dissolution of the marriage?”
We see individuals all the time who blame all the problems in a marriage on the other spouse. They run away, often to another relationship, only to find , similar problems cropping up in the new relationship. We can’t run away from ourselves!
When you begin dating, be ready to be honest with your potential dates. One man, when asked by his first-time dates, “Why did your marriage go on the rocks?” would answer, “I know I contributed to the demise of the marriage. I was a different man then. After the marriage ended, I felt like a huge failure, so I took a long hard look at myself. I saw I was not good at managing stress. I was too short-tempered and impatient. I also hid my true emotions. I would just push down any negative emotions. When there was a seemingly minor infraction, I would overreact. I have worked on learning many new relationship skills, including some great new communication and listening skills. Also, the divorce caused a crisis of faith and I came to realize I was unable to control all of life. Now I know God is in control, so I don’t have to be controlling. Even my children have seen a difference. Ask them!”
By being honest and open and giving permission for the date to “check him out” with others, this man opened the door for an honest relationship. A foundation for trust was laid on the first date.
Have you created a list of qualities you are looking for in the next person you marry?
On some side-view mirrors are the words, “Objects may appear larger than they really are.” In the same way, loneliness, unmet emotional needs, and old patterns can make someone of the opposite sex appear to be much more attractive as a potential mate than they actually are. Know what you are aiming at. Take the advice of one of the people we surveyed for this book: “Be the kind of person you’d want to marry.”
In addition to your list, ask your children what they want and don’t want in the person you might marry. They might want someone with kids—or they might not. They might want a man who’ll come watch them play sports or a woman who is a great cook. You won’t know until you ask them.
Taken from Single Men Are Like Waffles - Single Women Are Like Spaghetti. Copyright 2008 by Bill and Pam Farrel. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by Permission.