How do you tell your child that you’re dating?

by singlemomseeking on March 17, 2008

holding_hands.jpgCrazy Computer Dad recently commented that “you really want to make sure you let your children know you are dating.”

He added: “The backlash and alienation can be severe if they learn through some other means or very late in the process.”

As I read Crazy Computer Dad’s advice, I was relieved. After all, M is way too young to know or care about dating. She’s only seven (fine, she will turn eight in April). She doesn’t talk about boys at school, and all any reference to “having a crush” seems to go over her head.

It’s pure innocence over here, right?

The last time I dated a man, seriously, M was five years old. She had just started kindergarten, and I’d explained to her, simply, that I had “a new special friend.” While M is a very perceptive kid, she hardly asked me any questions.

I guess it’s time for me wake up.

As you know, I met the Biologist the first week of February. Thanks to the crisis on our second date — during which he led me into the poison oak — I hit the pause button. In the meantime, he has apologized profusely. He brought me wine, chocolate and flowers. He took me out for a really nice dinner. We’ve had a total of six dates, and we now laugh about the fact that the poison oak might have brought us closer. (We didn’t kiss until the fourth date, and I was in euphoria.)

When I told the Biologist that M was giving a speech on Madam Curie to her second grade class, he scored lab coats and mixing bottles for her. This was the first notion that M had of the Biologist, after I told her that the supplies were from “a scientist friend.” But M was so immersed in mixing up a concoction that might explode, she didn’t bat an eye.

This weekend, however, she caught me off guard.

I was telling M that she’d be having a slumber party at a friend’s house. Usually, when I announce this, M dashes off to pack her dolls. Her focus is on herself and having fun. She has never asked me where I’m going or what I’m doing.

Until Friday night, when she said, “Mommy, what are doing when I’m at my slumber party?”

Me, flustered: “Uh, I’m going to dinner with a friend–”

M: “But that’s too late for dinner, Mommy. Restaurants aren’t open that late.”

Me, trying to think very quickly: “Your favorite pizza place on the corner is open to 2 a.m.”

Her: “Oh.” And then: “What friend are you seeing?”

Me, biting my lip: “Remember when I told you about my scientist-friend?”

“Yes.”

“That friend.”

And she was off, to find her American Girl doll, who arrived home Friday night from the hospital. But it didn’t end there.

On Saturday, after the slumber party, my little social butterfly had another play date. As I drove M to her friend’s house, I explained that I’d be down the street, working at a cafe. (And, yes, secretly, I was hoping that the Biologist might swing by after his bike ride.)

M: “Who’s going to meet you at the cafe?”

Me, feeling just a tad defensive: “I’m going to be working, honey.”

Her: “Really?”

But I didn’t feel right. What happened to that open, honest Mom I want to be? Was I keeping secrets? Help.

I glanced at M in the rear view mirror.”Honey, I know you’re curious about what’s going on,” I said.

She nodded her head.

“Well, remember when I told you about my scientist-friend, the one who got you that lab equipment?”

Her: “Yes.”

Me: “Well, I’ve been spending time with him–”

Her: “Mommy, will he teach me how to do a science experiment?”

“Uh, maybe,” I said. “But he actually studies birds.”

Her: “Then, will he show me how to get a bird to land on me?”

Me: “I can ask–”

We drove up to her friend’s house, and that was that.

Please help me out here: Did I say too much? Should I have said more?

I need to hear from single parents who’ve talked to their kids about dating. What did you say? How did you say it?

Photo courtesy of Adrian

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Elissa March 17, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Thing is KILLING me! Crazy Computer Dad’s advice was, I think, directed at me. I really want my kids to meet my significant other without knowing he’s my significant other. They literally have no idea I’m dating because I only date when they are with their dad. I made the decision not to tell them because I didn’t want them to know anyone I date unless I am fairly sure he is “the one.” Then I felt like I would slowly introduce them to him in bits and pieces. I am increasingly worried that we’ll run into my kids one of these days though! They know I go out with friends when they are away, which is true. They just don’t know there is any romantic link. I have a joke about all the candy in my house being “momma stuff” because I don’t let my kids in on it… My boyfriend jokes now that he is “momma stuff” My original plan seemed like a good one until now that I’m having to live it out. I’m still trying to decide what the best answer is.

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Angie March 17, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Well, you are in a MUCH better spot than I was when my darling seven year old found out I was dating. I am a full-time parent — no dad help and no family in the area. If I go out, I must hire a sitter or trade favors with friends. So…to go on a dinner date, a guy has to have some pretty good potential.

But, I often go on lunch/coffee dates during the work day. I have been for a few years.

One day about a year and a half ago, I was talking to a girlfriend. The kids were in the other room playing, and I hadn’t noticed my little man sneak into the next room. He heard me say something about kissing a date and had a fit.

He screamed “you can’t kiss and date other people!” and locked himself into the closet.

Wow. What to do?

After talking to some friends, I decided to come clean with the little man. Let him know I was dating. I then started having special Mom and Dan date nights. Nothing different than our typical nights out, but now we name it “date night”. This gets rid of his feelings of being left out. Now he doesn’t care if I date, and I don’t try and hide whether I date or not.

So, I don’t think you said too much. I think you should let her know whatever you’re comfortable telling her. But keep in mind it’s better she hear anything from you so she doesn’t feel isolated from that part of your life….

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Angie March 17, 2008 at 1:05 pm

I should clarify my “tell them” by mentioning my kids have never met anybody I’ve dated. That would be a serious decision, and I’ve just never been there with anyone…

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singlemomseeking March 17, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Angie: This is SO helpful!! I love the idea of “date night” with your kid. M and I go out a lot and have mom-and-daughter time, but I’ve never put a name on it. Thanks!

Oh my, that image of your little guy locking himself in the closet!

Elissa: That’s great that you manage to keep two separate worlds. Wow, impressive. And boy, that cute puppy you got must be a great distraction to your kids! Who can think about mom dating when there’s such an adorable dog around. (See Elissa’s blog for puppy pics!)

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BlueBella March 17, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Sounds like you’re spot on here. If M is satisfied with your answers and the conversation comes to a natural close, then you’re on the right track with her.
I think too much detail can be just as harmful as not enough detail, but at this point it sounds like M is coping just fine. And she’s taking an interest in your scientist friend . . that’s a good sign!
Good work Mama.

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Amy March 17, 2008 at 5:31 pm

My kids are 6 & 7 and totally understand the idea of boyfriend/girlfriend. They think kissing is “gross” but they know that I have somebody in my life that I love & like to spend time with. We talk about how grownups like to spend time with just grown-ups, and how I like time just with them.

I didn’t introduce them to my boyfriend, though, until we were both totally committed to each other, I would not even tell them about dates – but once I “came out of the closet” I was totally open. I started out saying we were “special friends” but they were all “oh, he’s your boyfriend!”

They have accused me of “loving my boyfriend more than them” but then they also accuse me of loving the computer more than them, too! And when they say it I just calmly say that I don’t, that I love them the same and that I have enough love for all of them.

I feel like I had such a bad relationship with their dad, that it is important for me to model a good, healthy, loving relationship…

I think, though, that it seems with M that she does not want to know too much. Just keep the lines of communication open – but I think making it something secret makes it seem like it’s something bad.

They watch tv. They’ve seen Arthur where Buster’s mom has a boyfriend… Kids really know more than you think.

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Susan March 18, 2008 at 6:18 am

Arthur’s mom has a boyfriend? My kids don’t watch Arthur anymore, but that’s interesting to know. I’m glad to see more single moms in books/tv now, and different definitions of family — for everyone’s sake!

I don’t have any practical experience on the above topic, but you can be sure I’m reading all of the comments to learn from them for future reference!

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Kelly March 18, 2008 at 7:21 am

Last summer I went on a date and all I told my 11 yo daughter was that I was going to dinner and a movie with a friend. My mom, who was watching her for me, didn’t know this and mentioned that I was in fact on a date (I can’t blame her, she knows we have a pretty open relationship and assumed I’d told her).

She was kind of annoyed with me for not telling her, but she also did just what I was afraid of and got carried away, asking if I liked him and wondering if he would become her step-dad. After one date. I just told her not to get so ahead of herself or put too much stock in someone I didn’t really know yet. And I reminded her that our life was already pretty great, even if I didn’t manage to find her a step-dad anytime soon, and that she does have some great men in her life already (my male friends, my dad, my brother, other family members).

I don’t think you said too much. I think you handled it well. With kids that age, they don’t need a ton of information. I tihnk it’s a good idea to just directly answer their questions and not elaborate unless they ask.

You made me think of something that happened last night. My daughter asked me if I’d ever done drugs. I did, for about a year. I didn’t want to lie to her, so I told her I had. I pointed out that I was a grown up by then, that it was a bad time in my life, and said that it did not make it okay for her to do them. She said she never would, but now I worry that when she gets older, she’ll use it as a justification to try them herself. So, I’m just wondering if I handled it well, and what we are supposed to do in that situation? Should I have just told her it was none of her business? That’s almost the same thing as saying yes.

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Dan March 18, 2008 at 11:01 am

I pretty much go out of my way to keep my dating secret from my 4 year old. Made the mistake early on introducing a woman i was a dating to her…my daughter latched on to her like she was the last woman on earth. She would always asked when so-and-so was coming over or you should invite her to dinner with us. When I told her that I was dating that person anymore…she didn’t understand and got really upset that this person wasn’t going to be around anymore. Hard lesson learned…I won’t introduced my daughter to anyone I date unless I’m sure its going to be a serious and steady relationship first.

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dadshouse March 19, 2008 at 9:16 am

In eight years of divorce, my kids (who are now early teen) have met just two women I dated. Both times I waited a few months, just to make sure there was serious relationship potential.

I did NOT wait until I thought they were “the one”. To me it seems that puts way too much pressure on everyone – this was a girlfriend my kids were meeting, not a for-sure future step-mom. Looking back, neither of them turned out to be “the one”, but it was still a good experience having my kids meet them.

Kids want their parents to be happy. Mine understand that adult relationships are part of that. They know I date. They’ve liked the two women I’ve had them meet. And they understand that no matter what happens, I will be here for them, loving and protecting them.

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Crazy Computer Dad March 19, 2008 at 6:48 pm

In the last 6 years I have been pretty selfish when it comes to dating and my son. It hurts to admit it, but it is true. Had I waited a little longer and not just thought about myself, my son and I both would probably be in better shape right now. I’m pretty picky about who I date, and I usually end up in fairly long and strong relationships.

I really wish that I had read more or understood more early on in the process.

When I saw on this blog that there was a book coming out called “Dating for Dads, The Single Father’s guide to Dating well without Parenting Poorly” by Ellie Slott Fisher with Dr. Paul Halpern, I pre-ordered it. Why couldn’t it have come out years ago? There is a lot of good advice in there about single parent dating (and it probably works just as well for women).

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Tonya March 19, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Hi Rachel,
Its my first time here… though I’ve been told about your blog by many others. Great blog. Love it. Amen!

My two girls are so darn nosy, its hard to keep things from them. The worst was when they knew I was dating my soldier (the man I’m falling for/in limbo with). I decided I needed to make a trip to Victoria’s Secret for some, ya know, girly stuff. As I’m trying on lingerie, with both kids in the dressing room with me(ugh!), my older daughter finds that she likes one outfit in particular and announces, “Mommy, you should wear that for (my soldier)!” ?!!

Yeah, um, I have no idea where she got that idea from. They are WAY too wise for such young kids!

I’ll be reading!

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