Ex-etiquette: Dating and the virus
Q: My children’s mother and I split up about two years ago. We co-parent well, but I have recently met someone and it looks like it’s getting serious. I want to introduce her to my kids, but we are all on lockdown with this virus and I’m wondering if I should hold off for a while. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: I think your instinct to hold off is a good one and I’ll tell you why — most kids, no matter their age, secretly hope their parents will eventually go back together. This wish is the strongest for the first few years after the break-up. When a parent introduces a new love interest, it dashes the hope that mom and dad may reconcile. That’s the reason why many kids have such a hard time accepting a parent’s new partner. It has nothing to do with the specific partner, it’s that they now realize mom and dad are really and truly done.
Unfortunately, statistics are telling us that the stress of the pandemic is causing an increase to domestic violence, mental health concerns, and alcohol and drug abuse in parents. For kids, the inability to socialize, to go back to school, or participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, has turned their lives upside down. In some states where the virus is spreading rapidly, some parents have even agreed that it is in their children’s best interest to stop going back and forth between homes. With all the stress families are under during this pandemic, introducing a new partner into the mix maybe just one more thing. Plus it may sabotage acceptance, particularly if the parent who has not seen the child as a result of lockdown is now seeing someone new. The child can easily become jealous — and rationalize that their parent prefers this new partner because they make arrangements to see that new partner, but they don’t make arrangements to see them.
We all know that is probably not the case, but that’s what it may look like to your child. It’s not uncommon for a child to misunderstand what’s going on during a break-up. Their little minds conger up all sort of blame/fault scenarios to rationalize what happened. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Maybe if I cleaned my room more often or helped out more around the house, mom and dad wouldn’t have fought so much and they would still be together. This is my fault.” So, to introduce a new person in a time of stress when nothing is the same as it was, a child may simply not have the coping skills to adapt easily to such a huge change.
Of course, life goes on even in a pandemic and many might feel how long can I put my life on hold? Once you have kids, it’s not about you anymore, so you put your life on hold for as long as you must to keep them safe, secure, and healthy, both mentally and physically. Be observant. If you’re putting them first (Ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 1) you’ll know when it’s the right time. Just make sure to keep the children’s welfare at the center of the decision and not that YOU want to move on with YOUR life. When you do make the introduction, go slow, don’t push. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com .
©2020 Jann Blackstone
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