Single-parent dating: don't leave kids out in the cold

During the three years after my marriage broke up, my daughter and I were close buddies and had even packed off for a summer at a girl's camp together. And during those years I had little social life except at church-related meetings and an occasional get-together with business associates.

I became father as well as mother, and we enjoyed 4 a.m. fishing trips and trying to hook a rug or crochet a chain. But once in a while my daughter (now 9 1/2) would say that she wished I would remarry. I had never seriously considered that possibility, since I fully enjoyed being a single parent.

The tide turned when a very special man entered our lives.

My daughter suddenly realized that she didn't care for the remarriage idea at all! Frequent outings for the three of us turned into disasters. "How to cope" became the main topic of conversation at our house.

How does a child handle being suddenly relegated to the back seat of the car after three years of sitting up front?

I fancied at first that everything would pass in time. But time merely served to solidify the hostile atmosphere. Finally I began to try to put myself in my daughter's shoes. And the more I tried to put myself in her place, the better we were able to handle this "intrusion."

We usually invited some of her friends to go along on our outings. This gave her someone to talk to and play with who was special to her. She could more easily see the connection the next time she said she didn't want to see my friend anymore, and I responded that that would be like my asking her not to see her friends anymore.

We also found that car games were a good way to include all of us. They were not only fun but acted as great unifiers of back seat and front seat occupants.

I learned my daughter's rules for my new friend and passed them along to him with her permission. A small list, but to her a very important one: no physical games, as in chasing, Tickling, cathing, etc. Car games were fine, as were table games such as Monopoly and cards. But the other rights had to be earned. My friend wasn't to act silly, but neither was he to act to serious, because "then it's like he's angry." And "I don't want to be alone with him."

When I presented my daughter's list to my friend, he was pleased, since it gave him a base to work from. Even though a middleman had been used, it was an attempt at communication. Immediately there was a noticeable change. Everyone relaxed, and within three days of the time this list was shared and discussed, my daughter's feelings for my friend had reversed.

After an evening together, she proclaimed, "I really like him now, and I don't mind at all if he chases me."

Whether my friend becomes her stepfather or not, a major obstacle has dissolved.

The key to single-parent dating seems to be going slowly and with a lot of love. The routine shouldn't be altered too drastically. If you've never used baby sitters much, now is not the time to begin. Try to plan outings (as much as possible) to include the child or children, but don't neglect to make time for yourselves, too.

Above all don't become so pleased with your new friend that the child is left out. Tense reactions on the part of the parent dissolve, the fear of loss on the child's part evaporates, and the new friend has earned his own special spot.

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