Q: I'm a divorced parent and I plan to begin dating again. How can I help my 9-year-old son feel comfortable with this decision?
A: Actually, the best thing for you to do would be to leave your son out of it. "At age 9, children are most concerned about getting the love, care, and attention that they need," notes Robin Goldstein, a Potomac, MD- based child-development specialist. "If you start to talk to your son about bringing a stranger home, it could trigger all sorts of anxious thoughts and negative feelings on his part.
"Rather than create a situation like that, try to keep your dating life separate from your life with your son," Goldstein advises. For example, plan to meet your date at the movie theater or restaurant instead of at your house. And when you tell your son that you are going out, emphasize what you're going to do instead of with whom.
Remember, too, to remind your son that he'll be having fun while you're out. Try saying something like "I'm going to go see a movie with a friend on Friday night. I've asked your favorite babysitter to come to stay with you, and I'm going to order a pizza and rent a video for the two of you to watch." When you return home from your night out, resist the urge to tell your son all about the date you just had. Instead, focus on what he did while you were gone.
If dating someone eventually leads to a deeper relationship, you can always talk to your new friend about how you would like him to behave when he finally meets your son. "Organizing a few brief, casual meetings is the best way to help your son with the transition in the beginning," Goldstein comments. "However, it is important for you to remember that even if you're madly in love with someone, it may take your son a long time before he's completely ready to accept a new person into his life."