Q:I’m a single father of an 8-year-old girl. Her mother unfortunately passed away nearly four years ago, when my daughter was about 4 years old. Up until this point, I haven’t felt ready to date, but now I’m getting ready to put myself out there. How should I navigate this new world with my daughter?
First of all, allow me to express my condolences on the loss of your wife. I can only imagine how difficult that was for you and for your 4-year-old daughter.
That you are reaching out to ask about how to navigate the world of dating when it comes to your daughter says a tremendous amount about you. Clearly, you are a deliberate, caring father who wants to do what is best for your daughter. That you have waited four years before entering the dating waters also speaks to your character and your priorities.
Your daughter is now 8 years old, but I know nothing about her—her emotional development, her current emotional state, her maturity, her sophistication, her social skills—it’s hard to answer your question definitively. The answer is dependent upon YOUR daughter.
I do wonder if she has asked you any questions about your plans, about your social life. I wonder if she knows that grown up people “date.”
Has she asked if you are going to get married again? Has she ever asked if she is going to have another mommy? (And the answer to that, by the way, is that she will always have family and friends who love her deeply, who care about her tremendously and who will always be here to take care of her. She had a mommy who is no longer alive. But her mommy’s spirit/soul lives on in her heart forever and ever. No one can ever take that place.)
It is 100 percent acceptable (and great) that you are ready to date. About that I completely support you. But your child’s awareness of your dating life is another story.
When parents get divorced, I emphasize the importance of keeping one’s dating life private and away from your children’s awareness. For example, children should not be introduced to someone you are dating until you are quite sure of the relationship and where it is heading.
Sometimes I even say, “No ring, no bring!” The child will likely become attached to your date after repeated exposure. And if you break up, which is so hard for a child to understand, she kind of has to go through another divorce of sorts. In your case, the same could hold true.
For the last four years, your daughter has been the only lady in your life. She could even have grown to feel that you belong only to her. It is possible that she would feel possessive of you, not want to share you with the date.
All this is to say, tread lightly and carefully. Regardless of how your dating life proceeds, you will go just one small step at a time and see how it feels.
The first thing to do is make arrangements to have the time to date. If you have not ever been going out at night, for example, the time has come.
You can certainly tell your daughter, “Children have their play dates during the day. Grown-ups have them at night. I am going out with some of my friends to a movie.”
That will get you out of the house. Your daughter need not know with whom you are going out, and it is OK to reshape reality on this one.
Only if and when you find someone who is more than “a date” will you think about introducing your daughter. And, of course, you will want that date to know your daughter and your life. Likely, they will first meet in the context of many friends getting together. But that is way down the road.
Keep the brakes on, resist the urge to make any introductions quickly and respect the process. It takes time.
Most of all: Have fun!