Your happiness and sense of security provides your child with their own sense of security, but sometimes children will attempt to manipulate for the maximum of attention. All children need a great deal of physical and emotional attentiveness, whether or not they are asking for it. But if allowed to steal all the attention away from the adult love and time you need, your well-being and happiness level (and theirs) could be at risk.

Children can be resistant to change, especially after a divorce or death of a parent. Even when change is for the best, they may dig in their heels, objecting to any of your attempts at a new life. Being a parent means making decisions that benefit all of you. Their opinions should be acknowledged and appreciated, but children are not the decision-makers.

In some cases, however, it’s the parent who’s resistant to change. Sometimes parents hide behind their children because they’re afraid of taking romantic risk. Some single parents—especially those with only one child—inhibit their wish for a real, adult love relationship by establishing an exclusive emotional bond with their child. If this sounds like you, you might be putting off the search for a mate, thinking that the love of your child is all you need.

Do yourself a favor by stress-proofing your dating life. Make your love life one of your priorities by taking the following 10 steps:

1. Talk to your children as honestly as you need to about your new dating life. If they’re younger, explain to them that you’re going out because you are a person who needs to have fun and play with your friends, just like kids do, and dating is a way to have fun and to meet someone new. If they’re older, they should be able to understand your need for a partner, even if they don’t like it at first.

2. Don’t introduce your children to casual dates or let them in on every detail of a relationship. The only appropriate time to introduce your children is when you are with someone truly eligible, a potential keeper, and the interest is mutual. When that time comes, your children don’t have to accept your new mate right away, but they do need to know that treating anyone you bring into the home with courtesy and respect is their only option.

3. While the care of your children is extremely important, you don’t have to do it alone. You need time for yourself, dating, and friendship. If your plate is too full, it’s okay (and important) to ask for help. Ask your friends and family for help, and get in touch with other parents to arrange carpools.

Do all you can to find at least one great babysitter. If you don’t have a babysitter, ask your friends and family to help, or look into a babysitting share with other parents. Be sure the situation you choose is safe and comfortable. Children are adaptable, and it’s important that they learn that you are not 100 percent available.

If the idea of putting aside your duties as a parent a few hours a week to date still fills you with guilt or fear, remember this: children are impressionable; when they see you taking care of your own well-being, they will be able to follow this healthy model themselves in years to come.

4. Go on a negativity diet – limit yourself to three complaints or criticisms a day with everyone. An atmosphere of positivism helps produce hope. Children and adults are more likely to assume all will work out if you don’t have a ton of complaints and offer an optimistic outlook. Not every negative thought has to be aired. If you need to communicate a difficulty, pre-think a possible solution so that you can focus on problem solving.

5. Compliment generously. Rarely does one feel at their most attractive or peak-performing level when they have children and a job. Parents tend not to be well-rested or in control of their time. So, bolster your own spirits with self-praise. And shower your children with it, you can expect greater cooperation in return if you are a mother or father who motivates with a can do attitude.

6. Listen to your child’s feelings without trying to fix them. Unwanted suggestions communicate impatience. Hear first, then ask if they want your help. It’s respectful. There will be times you deliver help or boundaries. Just don’t let it be your knee-jerk reaction or you will be over-worked and under-appreciated.

7. If spontaneity no longer works to provide play times with your kids, schedule time for conversations, movies, dinner, sports, mutual interests, and family and friends you all enjoy. Keeping home life a quality experience is a good source of security as well as pleasure.

8. Follow your pediatrician’s recommendations for bedtime. Parents who bend the rules accustom the child to becoming a nighttime companion. Don’t. You need their bedtime for their health and for your opportunity to communicate and have fun as an adult.

9. Kick the kids out of bed. The family bed concept where the entire family slept together in one bed didn’t last long, and here’s why: it’s terrible for your sex life and can get a bit weird as your children grow. It might bring a sense of connection to the entire family, but it tends to lessen the connection between parents and if they are sleeping with a single parent, you’ll only have a bigger fight as they get bigger. And please don’t wait until you find an adult substitute. You are simply guaranteeing your spouse the position of bad guy.

10. Reduce expectations for a perfect household, perfect parenting, perfect dating, or a perfect you. And when something has to go, just make sure it’s not the people.

Children are a joyful experience. One of the best gifts you can give your family is to be happy, enjoy and appreciate all relationships, and to protect from over-scheduling or too many outside demands. This will ensure a happier home and much richer dating life.

Click here for a complete list of all Dr. Janet Blair Page’s articles.
Dr. Janet Page is a psychotherapist in private practice for 30 years in NYC and Atlanta, and taught for 22 years at Emory University. As the author of “Get Married This Year,” she speaks to audiences around the country about keeping love alive and finding your mate. Click here for more information on her “Get Married This Year” seminars.
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