“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.” ~Oprah Winfrey
In any situation, when you get a divorce or move on to a new relationship and you have kids, it makes dating a completely different experience. No longer are you just trying to find someone who’s right for you – you’re trying to find someone who’s right for your kids.
And when your ex is a narcissist, it’s a whole other ball of wax.
Even so, there are some common truths for all moms who are dating again after divorce.
The fact is that you might find yourself looking for a “new dad” or someone to fill the void left in your life by your ex – but don’t fall into that trap! You might end up scaring away Mr. Right – because unlike most narcissists, Mr. Right is willing to take things slowly – and that’s what you should want to do as well – after all, you definitely don’t want to attract another narc, right?
So, before we continue – a bit of harsh truth for you.
Being a Mom doesn’t mean you have to be looking for a forever commitment – even though most women do seek out that stability for their children in these circumstances.
You don’t have to latch onto the first man who is willing to date a woman with children – you can take your time finding Mr. Right and vetting the prospects to see who would be the best fit for your family.
When I was a single mom, I’d ask myself “Is this guy someone I’d want my son to grow up and be like?” It is an incredible way to really get a good read on a guy, if you can be honest with yourself.
You never want to settle for someone who is right for you, but not your kids – or right for your kids, but not right for you. He needs to be the total package. That means you prioritize things a bit differently sometimes.
How Soon Should You Start Dating When You Have Kids?
This is going to be a different answer for every woman. Only you know your kids and your situation. But there are some guidelines you can use to figure out when the time is right.
Is your ex-narcissist influencing your kids against you? If there’s chaos in the post-divorce stage (and it’s likely when you’ve been involved with a narcissist), then he might disparage you and make the kids think less of you because you’re dating again.
This kind of thing happens frequently. You don’t have to wait forever, but it might be best to either postpone dating until the raw feelings fade away, or make sure that your kids are okay with it before you go there.
Some kids will be loyal and fierce to your ex no matter what – and no amount of time is going to make them okay with you dating again. You might have to get family counseling so that an unbiased third party can help them see that you’re an individual now, not a couple, and that you should be allowed to enjoy life, too.
When your kids are too small to understand, then you can begin dating as soon as you see fit. The older they get, the more resentment they may feel – but that all depends on the relationship they have with you and their father.
Many kids embrace the idea of their parents getting out on the dating scene because they like to see their parents happy. This is perfect – but don’t force yourself into it if you’re not ready.
What Type of Man Would Be Right for Your Family?
Like I mentioned, when you’re looking for a man who is right for you, you have to always be thinking in the back of your mind, “Is he right for my kids?” You might have your own criteria, but here are some things to consider.
Is he willing to take things slow? Some men will want to come right over and spend the night – practically moving in on week one – and be careful, because that’s a sign of love-bombing. You want a man who will respect your boundaries on when he should meet your kids, spend time at your home, and anything further than that.
Does he respect the role of their biological dad? Regardless of his flaws, the kids will already have a father – and you might have problems if he assumes that the two of you dating means he’ll be taking his place.
In some instances, the kids won’t have a father in their lives – and that means this new guy might be seen as a father figure. Is he okay with that position? Some men might feel uncomfortable.
What kind of parental role do you want him to have? Should he be like the fun uncle who comes over to play and act silly or eat dinner once in awhile, or will he be stepping up to the plate to be “Dad” pretty soon?
These are things that you need to be open about and honest with yourself about – even though your heart (and other tingly bits) may not go along with at first – but you and I both know this MATTERS – you don’t want to fall into old traps and old habits. You need to make it clear to your new potential love how involved you want/expect him to be with your kids if at all.
Personally, I had a rule that no guy got to meet my son unless we were able to date consistently and monogamously for 3 to 6 months. Yes, it made life a bit more complicated, but it protected him from a lot of heartache in the end. This way, he didn’t develop attachments to people I dated who weren’t right for me.
Can/will he discipline the kids, and if so, how? Some families have it written into the parenting plan during a divorce that other people can’t punish the kids at all, or that no corporal punishment should be allowed.
Is he good to your kids? You want someone who is protective over them and wants everything in their best interest – even if he’s not leading the family as a father figure at all.
You want your kids to be excited about him coming over, not resent it or head off to their rooms when he arrives. This is where a sense of humor (which is different from biting sarcasm) comes in handy. It’s great to find a guy who will play ball with the kids, engage them with a video game, or just chat with them about their day.
Does he have kids of his own? This brings another layer to the relationship if you decide to date this man. The Brady Bunch makes it all look easy, but mixing families can be difficult.
If he does have kids, be sure you each meet each other’s kids and get to know them before you start introducing the kids to one another – this will help to take the edge off a bit. Take it slow and make sure each child feels adequately loved and important during this transition.
Uncomfortable but Necessary Warning: It’s a simple fact of life and you need to be aware of it so that you can protect our family. There are some dangerous men out there who seek out single Moms to date because in reality, they’re pedophiles.
These men will date you and even marry you – and you might have a thriving sexual relationship – but they’re doing all of it to gain your trust so that they can abuse your children. Educate yourself about this before you start dating because it’s a real issue with serious consequences.
First Date for You Versus First Meeting With the Kids
There are two different situations here. The first time you meet a man and the first time your kids do. Your first date should come quite a bit of time before your kids are introduced to him. For me, the 3 to 6-month rule worked, but that might be different for you – don’t get stuck on numbers.
For your own first date, keep yourself safe. You should do this anyway as a single woman, but as a Mom, you have a responsibility to your kids now, too. Don’t have anyone pick you up at your home.
Meet him somewhere else instead. If possible, take a friend along (have him bring one, too) and make it a double date. If not, that’s okay – just meet somewhere visible with other people around.
You want a place where good conversation can take root. Meals are great! You can talk while eating – and if you want to have a quick date, try doing brunch or lunch instead of dinner.
Sporting events are another great idea. You can really get to know each other if you’re sitting at a baseball game for your local team (if both of you enjoy it and are fans).
When should you introduce your kids to your new man?
When you have kids, it becomes difficult to decide when to introduce them. On one hand, you don’t want to go through man after man after man with your kids. They need stability and it doesn’t make them comfortable to see their Mom dating dozens of different men – and that was part of my reason for the 3-6 month rule.
On the other hand, you don’t want to get too serious with one man before introducing him to your children because you have to see how it works with your children first.
So sometime between “just met him” and “I’m ready to be exclusive with this person,” you should introduce him to your family. Start off by letting them get used to the idea.
You can initiate conversations about your new guy first. Don’t just spring him on them out of the blue one day. Mention him in passing as a friend who you’re having dinner with, etc.
Don’t bring him to your house to meet your kids – and don’t take them to his. Have all of you meet at a public, fun destination like the park where your kids can play and he can interact with them.
You might want to clue your new date in on some things your kids do and don’t like before he meets with them. For example, if they hate someone teasing them or can’t stand it when someone throws them in the pool, give him a heads up so that he doesn’t become public enemy #1 without warning.
How to Help Your Kids Cope With Your New Dating Life After Divorcing a Narcissist
Sometimes, no matter what you do to try to alleviate the strain of your new dating life, your kids will have a problem with it anyway. Sometimes their feelings are justified and you can help them by acknowledging that, so don’t dismiss it just because of their age.
Let’s look at some common complaints kids have when their parents start dating and how you can address each one:
“You don’t spend time with me anymore.”
If dating starts to consume you, then it can get things started off on the wrong foot. It’s understandable that you want to spend lots of time with your new guy, but remember that your kids view him as an invader – and they’re going to dislike him if he is favored over them.
Make sure that you take each child and spend some one-on-one time with them throughout the day. Don’t text or take phone calls during this time – focus all of your attention on their needs.
It’s great if your kids can see you recognize a call from your new guy and say something like, “Oh that’s Bob – I’ll call him back later – right now, I’m playing with you!”
Though I got remarried 15 years ago, I still try to make at least an hour a day to spend with each of my kids (we’ve added two to the fold in that time) – the mornings are great for that in my case.
“He’s just not right for you, Mom!”
Sometimes we’re so desperate to get into another relationship that we forget about our list of deal breakers. We fall into old patterns. Our kids may be able to see it – the way you become “different” around this new guy versus when you’re by yourself.
If they have concerns, make sure you give them the freedom to speak up and talk to you about it. If they say he puts you down, for instance – ask for examples and keep an open mind. Don’t excuse his behavior – address it with him.
“He doesn’t like us (or we don’t like him)!”
Some men may be right for you, but when it comes to your kids, he just doesn’t have the right mindset. Maybe he’s always grumpy or he comes off as “weird” to your kids.
You want your kids to enjoy the time they’re spending around him, so work with both your kids and your new man to see if things can get smoothed over to a better place. If not, then you may need to let him move on to someone else.
“We already have a dad and we are fiercely loyal to him!”
This is a normal reaction for kids to have, even if Dad is also a narcissist. If you’re on good terms with your ex, have him sit down with you and the kids and have a discussion about how it’s a positive thing that the two of you are dating new people.
Chances are that most narcs aren’t going to be okay with it, especially if they’re not already moving on (and in some cases, even if they are – narcissists aren’t known for their ability to empathize or for fairness/equality – they’d have no problem being with a new woman and still not being okay with you being with a new guy, especially if they perceive him as somehow superior to them).
But, in the rare case that he can or will work with you, remember that if they see that Dad’s okay with the new guy, they might be more open to accepting him, too. Invite both of them to something like your child’s birthday party and let your child see them shaking hands and being friendly to each other.
Tip: You can sometimes convince a narc to do what you want by convincing him that first, he’s the most amazing dad you know – and “how wonderful that he’s so secure in himself that he’s willing to be so selfless with his kids that he can at least pretend to like the new guy.”
When the Narc Won’t Budge
If the ex is part of the problem, then you might need to have an honest discussion with your child about the situation. Don’t disparage their dad. Instead, explain to them how you just weren’t right for each other and that the new guy has nothing to do with the fact that you’re no longer a couple.
He may have believed that if the new guy wasn’t in the picture, then you and your child’s father might get back together. Explain to him that this isn’t a possibility even if you stay single forever so that he doesn’t sit there “wishful thinking” anymore – it will help you BOTH, even if the initial discussion is a little uncomfortable.
Finding Balance Between Your Dating and Parenting Lives
Parenting will always be your most important task in life. But you also need to take care of your own needs – and that includes forming meaningful relationships.
Put your needs and those of your children first. Then try to accommodate the new person you’re dating, because it will be difficult for him, too to come into an existing family and try to fit in while being judged. Dating with kids doesn’t have to be a struggle, even if you’ve been in a toxic or abusive relationship in the past. Just be mindful of everyone’s feelings and do the best you can!
You feel me? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, below.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.