"Is it OK to let your kids see your online dating profile?" asks a friend. "Not even sure I want to know what the experts think!"
She remains on the fence about how much to share with her daughters. "I'm a little mortified, but the girls know I date, and they want to see how I present myself as a single woman," she says. "They help pick my pictures, and then they love to look at the profiles of the guys. I don't overindulge, but I don't think it's right to make it verboten."
Her kids sometimes think she is "being too self-deprecating," she says. "They LOVE the parts of my profile where I talk about them!"
So what do the experts say?
Put yourself in your kids' shoes. "What they're looking at is people their mom is going to replace their dad with," says Michelle Barratt, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence, and the mother of five. "There has to be some sense of, 'I don't like any of these people!'" Kids tend to dream that their parents will reunite, she says. "Even when that fantasy is completely untrue, even smart kids who quote unquote know better hold onto this idea that, 'If I'm good enough, my parents will get back together.'"
Don't forget appropriate parent-child boundaries. Kids may be able to give constructive feedback on portions of a parent's personal statement, but it may be better to keep them one step removed, says Barratt. "I would probably print it out, and let them read it. It's one step away from mom's e-dating, and that's going to be my replacement dad."
Respect the potential date's privacy."He shared that material with the lady," says Barratt. "He did not share that material with the kids." Give your kids relevant information. For example, you might tell them the potential partner is a previously married parent.
Consider how open your kids are to the idea of their parent dating. If they are, it may be OK to get their input. "I've had several situations where parents have shown profiles to their teenage boys and girls, and the teens have been very helpful in building mom up and keeping mom honest," says Carl Hindy, a psychologist in Nashua, N.H., a father of four, and coauthor ofIf This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure?"The teen girl was saying, 'Mom, you're putting yourself down here, and you have lots of different interests. You're short selling yourself here. You're a wonderful cook. Why are you being so bland and afraid of saying who you are?'"
Limit your kids' input. A mature teen might be able to look at some replies. "[But] you have to keep some boundaries and not establish some pattern where the kids are fully a part of your interactions with the guy, where they're reading all the emails and deciding by committee how to respond," says Hindy. "I think mom would need to keep some limits and help the kid feel they're involved in it. But they're not equal partners in this. It's not a truly joint equal activity."
Take advantage of the opportunity to talk about dating in general. A mom (or dad) could ask a teen, "What's important to you? Is it someone who shares your values, or should I just look at the pictures?" says Hindy. "It's a real kind of opportunity to share in a way that could help the teen."
Listen to your kids. Often women say, "My daughter never liked him from the beginning,' says Hindy. "The hunches of children — and dogs!'"
Let your kids boost your self-confidence. "Adults, we're more jaded, we've been hurt in the marriage, we're self doubting about our own strengths," says Hindy. "Very often women aim too low in dating. They aim too low much more often than they aim too high." So kids may be good at saying, "That's not your match mom! Are you kidding? What would he have in common with you?"
Remember your kids' mixed emotions."Parents who are widowed or divorced may not realize how strongly their offspring may feel inside when they begin to date other people to replace the parent who is missing," says Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character. "It is often a very sensitive subject for children who have experienced these types of losses, and the youngster may brush off these emotions by saying brightly, 'Oh, go right ahead! Date whoever you like! It makes no difference to me!' The single parent may feel pretty much like moving on, while the child is still far more emotionally connected to the missing parent and full of disturbing questions about why the marriage failed, why the parent who left has deserted the child, why the single parent feels like moving on (when the child doesn't), and quite confused by feelings of abandonment, jealousy, anger, sadness, and helplessness."
Don't forget your kids are still kids."A very frequent reaction to these feelings is denial: for the child to become a premature adult, breezily offering companionship and peer mentoring to the parent at home," says Berger. "The parent too tends to lean on these charming miniature adults, so apparently wise beyond their years, and turn to them into pals or confidantes. The child becomes suddenly quite grown up, while the parent — immersed in the excitement of dating and exploring new romances—suddenly becomes a teenager all over again."
Recognize the potential benefits of sharing online dating profiles, too."The peer relationship of a single parent and offspring can, indeed, have some positive consequences for them both: the relationship once perhaps conflicted is now joyous and fun," says Berger. "The child, by becoming a valued peer, no longer feels at the mercy of all-powerful adults but instead a fully-fledged equal and esteemed colleague whose input is eagerly sought and carefully weighed."
Be a parent first. "Adolescents still need parents to be parents, and to rely on their leadership," says Berger. "If the roles are reversed, then the teenager may have an additional reason to feel cheated: often this is expressed by the statement, "First Dad left us in the lurch, and then Mom fell apart and I had to put her back together!'…Parents who consistently ask themselves, 'Is saying this really in my child's best interest?' are likely to find the right path.'"
Respect that most kids are straight laced. "There are often deep needs for parents to be wise, responsible, and traditional-minded about commitments," says Berger. "Although it is normal for people who are entering the dating scene to run hot and cold about a new romantic excitement, to feel butterflies churning in the pit of one's stomach, and to pine and weep and die of joy over a phone call, all of these natural expressions of budding relationships can seem mighty undignified to one's children."
Consider when kids should meet the e-dates in person."I wouldn't do that until you're sure this guy is going to be in your life for at least a couple months," says Barratt. "At some point there needs to be a family date." After all, prospective partners need to figure out if they can "integrate these kids" into their lives, says Barratt. "Watching the mom with her kids could be a great turn-on to some men dating. It could also be a great turn-off. 'She's so harsh with the people she loves.' If he goes for the first time, and the lady is a witch, he might take that as a cautionary note."
Think about how much you care what your kids think of your e-date."Is it a deal breaker if your teenage daughter doesn't like the man?" says Barratt. "She's going to move out of the house, and you're going to have your whole life alone…Some families delay the wedding until the kids are launched, to the college or into the military. But it's hard to wait."
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