For a child, seeing one or both of their parents begin to date after a divorce can signify the death of a fantasy. According to Katy Abel, because children's identity is wrapped up in the union of their parents, seeing Mom or Dad interested in someone else threatens their sense of self. It may be difficult for divorced parents to understand the intense emotions their decision to see other people stirs in their children, but learning the reasons behind these strong feelings will help ease the transition into dating.
Confusion and Anxiety
Seeing their parents dating can leave many children feeling confused and anxious. It threatens their sense of stability to see that Mom and Dad are not getting back together, and they may perceive the new love interests as attempting to "take their place." It may further complicate things when a parent wants his new significant other to move into the home he and his children share. This is a giant step that many children are not comfortable with their parents taking.
It is natural for a child to feel threatened by the entrance of a new relationship into the picture, according to Katy Abel. A child may wonder if Mom is going to pay as much attention to him at his basketball game now that she has a new boyfriend. Furthermore, a child may feel that the new lover is trying to step into their other parent's place, potentially leading to rebellion and bitterness. Finally, they may find themselves competing for the attention of the parent who has found a new date.
Learning About Dating
Children will learn a new attitude about dating based on the example their dating parents set for them. According to Heather Setrakian, what children see is what they will do in their future relationships. Public displays of affection -- or PDAs -- are discouraged, especially around teenage children. Parents need to make the effort to communicate about appropriate sexual behavior for adults and adolescents before either gets involved in a relationship.
Loss of Control
Katy Abel reports that many children will be manipulative upon hearing about a new love interest in their parent's life. The reason for this is because they feel a loss of control at the realization that they cannot control their parent's decisions, and that they do not understand their parent's desires to see other people. Abel advises against letting them dictate Mom or Dad's love life, however, as their manipulation is likely just a result of their attempt to regain a sense of order.
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