How Old Are Your Kids? (We’re Dating. It Matters.)

Life after divorce is full of adventures, isn’t it?

What about life after divorce and covering the Kid Duty on your own… as an older parent?

Listen. You may possess the exuberance of a 22-year-old, the energy of a 28-year-old, and the body of a 35-year-old! But it doesn’t change the way the world sees you (necessarily), the reality of your age (sadly), and what happens when you think you’ll pick up the pieces and start again.

Now, now. Before you decide I’m about to rain on your parade, it’s not that simple. Let’s look at a few of those gnarly post-matrimonial wrinkles more closely. No, not the ones forming on your forehead as you read these words.

Let’s consider those quiet nights when you wonder about your future in both general and specific terms, when you ponder whether or not you’ll ever have sex again, when you try to imagine how a string of dates that resemble a relationship might come about, or even that elusive goal for some – marriage.

Are You Datable?

I’m not going into the nitty-gritty of whether or not you’re datable, and when. That’s entirely up to you, though my gut tells me time, time, time is all to the good. But maybe that’s just because it was the right thing for me and I believe, for my children.

You may be dealing with complications you didn’t anticipate, a slow healing process as your ex remarries quickly or moves, ongoing legal skirmishes – over everything – that are disruptive, and possibly costly. What else?

The emotional hangover from all of it, and hiding your angst from your kids.

Tricky stuff. Very tiring.

Then there’s gearing up to put your best self out there.

Ditto. Hard work. But you do it. Maybe you even meet a few people you like, with whom you have a few laughs, and more than a handful of interests in common. Then comes the line of questioning about your kids. And that includes – “How old are they?”

Ages and Stages

Here comes the mismatch. You’re older, remember? You may be 40 with a three-year old, or 50 with a 10-year old. Or 55 with a stubble-sprouting young teen whose hormones have him bouncing off the walls just as your own have you tossing the covers off your legs on a crisp winter night, and dabbing perspiration from places we really don’t need to mention.

Not to worry. You’ll cool off again. And just in time to catch your kid making out on the sofa, to teach her to drive, to help her prep for SATs, and do the same for the younger ones, assuming you have some.

But you’re female, remember? And that means – statistically, anyway – that demographics are against you when it comes to dating over 40, certainly over 50, and more so if you’re still raising kids – because the men will likely be even older – and their options remain greater.

Dating for Yourself, Dating for Your Kids

Now about that dating thing. You know. Grownups, conversation, romance, sex. The possibility of a relationship, even the very remote possibility of marrying again – though you can’t decide if remarriage is the worst idea in the world or something you owe your kids.

Maybe you’re even dating more for your children than you are for yourself.

But before any crazy ideas like relationship or marriage?

You need a first date to lead to a second and a third, and that string of dates needs to become a relationship. And relationships aren’t simple when there are kids in the picture and they’re shuffling between two homes, or hurting from missing another parent, or struggling with emotional issues that remain from the marital breakup; you need to survive the usual and exceptional parenting chaos that has nothing to do with you at all.

Uh… How Old Are Your Kids?

It took me years to figure this out.

My dating issues weren’t so much a matter of my age, but the age of my children relative to my age or someone I might be dating.

As a 45-year old woman, you may be asked out by a man who is 50 to 55. His kids? Grown or in college, and in my experience, the last thing many middle-aged men want is more children to raise, especially when they’re not their own.

I dated a widower in his 50s for a while who thought my kids were great and vice versa. But he had already raised one child alone, the son of his deceased wife by her first marriage. When he broke things off with me, as nicely as possible, he let me know he just couldn’t go through it again – another six or seven years of dealing with teenagers. And I got it, even then.

Dating a Person With Young Children

A few years later I was dating a man with children much younger than my own. He wanted to take our relationship to a more serious level, and I was considering it. He had primary custody of his kids, and they were a full 10 years younger than mine. Though he and I were the same age, he’d become a father in his mid-forties.

I thought about the four years remaining until my boys would leave for college. Could I really take on 14 more years of parenting, rather than four?

By that time, I was pretty wrung out and worn out. My answer was no.

In contrast, his last girlfriend was in her 30s. She had the energy and willingness to care for his kids, but she also wanted more children, and for him I suspect that was a no.

Dating Divorced Dads – Thumbs Up!

Don’t have kids?

We’re unlikely to fully understand the other’s world, which explains why eventually I dated divorced dads exclusively. Their issues, constraints, and joys were similar to my own: they understood the irritation when the other parent pulls a fast one; they listened when their children expressed confusion in the years following divorce; they understood the financial pressures and compromises after splitting households; they were happy to share in the moments of a child’s latest accomplishment.

They knew from experience that children require very different things from us at each stage of their development. And, if I responded to each child’s needs differently, they understood that, too.

Kids Grown, Mine Home?

What about a parent with kids who are already grown?

For me, on those occasions when I dated someone my age (or slightly older) whose children were grown, they did not choose to pursue. Likewise, when I met a man with children and the “how old are your kids” question revealed they were much younger than mine, I did not choose to pursue.

Adding another four years, five years, eight years to the parenting gig? I couldn’t conceive of it. I didn’t want it. I understood the guys that walked away, and I myself stepped back if it meant I’d take on additional years of parenting.

Kudos to Parents of All Configurations

To those who manage to raise decent kids under any circumstances – congratulations!

To those who blend their families, who take on responsibility for more children and more years of parenting, my hat’s off to you.

To the good man who recently said to me that if he’d met me when my boys were younger he would’ve stuck around, I say thank you. I recognize the depth of feeling from which that remark stems.

To the sons I’ve raised, though I still fight to regain my footing, let me say: You were worth every moment, and I would do it all again – in a heartbeat.