So your parents have gone from “Catholic parents married” to “Catholic single parents dating”, and you’re not sure how to deal with it. We’ve got you covered.
We’re here to help you navigate the hurdles involved when your Catholic single parents start dating. Let’s talk about:
- Why Catholic marriages end.
- Why dating can be a good thing for your single parent(s).
- Five things you can do when your parents start dating again.
Unfortunately, marriages can come to an end
No one expects their marriage to fracture. When someone promises their life to another, they hope their relationship will last an actual lifetime. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Marriages end for a variety of reasons and each one is accompanied by a web of painful emotions. Chances are you’ve been caught up in this web and you’re struggling to navigate your own grief as well as support your parent through theirs.
Perhaps one of your parents passed away. You’re mourning and helping your remaining parent grieve. As soon as you find peace in this dynamic (or maybe before), someone new shows up and makes themselves at home in your family. How do you cope?
Or maybe you’re the child of divorced parents. Even when the split is amicable, the process of divorce can lead to hurt feelings. Due to the many misconceptions surrounding Catholic divorce, Church members and their families often have to deal with judgment from peers on top of existing emotional trauma.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense (CCC 2383).” That means that divorce is not only permitted, it may be absolutely necessary in some circumstances.
Sometimes good and holy people are pressured into divorce by a partner who’s unwilling to reconcile. Other times, a split is necessary in order to escape an abusive situation. Whatever the case, the Church understands that divorce happens, and that it often affects the children just as acutely as the parents.
That doesn’t mean that your parents can’t be happy anymore
Despite past hurts, we imagine you desire happiness for your parents. It may take some digging, but at the core of your being you know they deserve to find fulfillment just like anyone else.
How can you help them get there? The most important first step is to pursue your own healing. Open wounds may cause you to close yourself off to new opportunities. Like it or not, your single parent likely cares about your opinion and will try to please you, consciously or subconsciously. If you’re not OK with them moving on, then they won’t be OK with it either. You don’t want to be the thing that holds them back.
Even if you don’t like their new interest at first, it may be worth it to see how the relationship plays out. Your parent may be more skilled at relationships than you realize, and may have a better idea of what they want in life than they did when they first hit the dating scene.
One or both of them are dating and you don’t know what to do
Even if you saw this coming down the line, you can never be fully prepared when it happens for real. “Oh, I know Mom will start dating again someday…” Well that day is now, and chances are you’re feeling, well a little bit of everything.
You may feel like a new relationship will set the separation in stone, eliminating all hope for reconciliation between your parents. You may feel a little resentment: “How can they move on so fast?” You may also feel genuine happiness for them. It’s possible, and 100% normal, to experience all of these emotions at the same time.
Beyond your emotional response, you may feel a little off balance as you navigate this role reversal. That’s OK, too.
Your life experiences haven’t given you a script for a divorced dating parent situation. Remember, whatever awkwardness you’re feeling, your single parent is experiencing it too. On top of the hurt, shame and embarrassment they might be dealing with, they’re probably feeling out of place and out of practice in the dating realm.
Walk a mile in their shoes, consider their point of view, and remember that they deserve to be happy.
1. Think about WHY they’re dating again
Are you concerned that you single parent is dating again? Maybe they are a divorced single and not yet in a place where they should be entering into a serious relationship.
Keep in mind that not all dating relationships are romantic. Being a divorced single can be extremely lonely. For many, just having companions is a welcome change.
Does it feel too soon? Love doesn’t follow a timeline and you can’t plot out healing on a timeline. Sometimes good people come into your life when you least expect it. Keep in mind that your single parent is not burdened with starting a career or figuring out their place in life. They may move faster in relationships because they know what they want and don’t feel a need for casual dating.
As with any other family situation, communication is key.
If you’re feeling torn, consider why.
Are you worried about them replacing your other parent? Worried about splitting quality time with a new person? Feeling protective?
Your parent likely cares deeply about your opinion. Be sure to voice your concerns so you can work through them together, with the goal of a future full of happiness in mind.
2. Figure out how to support them
The best way to support your single parent is to seek healing and encourage them to do so as well. They can start dating in a place of strength instead of a place of vulnerability. Counseling may help them work through their past relationship to discover what went right and what went wrong. It will also help them rebuild self confidence, which may be shaky ground after the split.
Many divorced parents also find healing in the annulment process. In order for the Church to recognize your parents’ divorce, they will have to examine their relationship in detail and write about their perception of its highs and lows. This process, while painful, is often therapeutic and allows each person to break with the past and embrace the future with greater emotional availability.
Throughout the process, be sure not to speak badly of your parents to one another, and don’t try to undermine a new relationship. If you have concerns, speak to your parent about them. Let them know you noticed some red flags, and leave it at that.
Ultimately, they are free to make their own choices.
Lastly, allow time to process new information in regards to your parent’s lifestyle. You’re used to things being a certain way and change is hard. Acting on instinct can lead to hurt feelings, or close you off to new possibilities. Take time to consider each change rationally. Recognize your feelings, but try to respond with grace. This is a difficult time for everyone.
3. Help them understand how dating works today
Dating in the digital age is light years away from what dating was even 10 or 15 years ago. Once your parents hit they playing field, they’ll need a little help to adjust to the new rules of the game. Go over online dating with them and help them learn the lingo. Then give them a few style tips to boost their confidence and help them put their best foot forward.
Most importantly, go over general safety practices with them. They may try to dismiss you, but some rules of online dating are not as common sense as you might think. Tell them to be careful what information they share online, and to plan a first date in a public place.
Help them figure out an escape plan in case the date is a dud and be ready to console them if they get ghosted.
4. You can learn a lot about relationships with them
Dating at the same time as your parents might be a little weird, but it can also be fun. Who better to dish over dates with than your own mom or dad? Share joys and anxieties, and offer advice when you can. Don’t forget to listen to your parent and take their advice to heart. This isn’t their first time on the merry-go-round.
Just be sure to set boundaries from the start so you both know which topics are on the table and which ones are off limits. Trust us, you’ll want to think ahead to save yourself from a possible TMI situation.
During the dating process, try not to compare your relationships with your parents’. Dating will always look different for different people, but especially for people from different generations and in completely different life phases. Step back and find contentment in your own relationship, then find little ways to be happy for your dating parents.
It may be easier said than done, but it will make a big difference as your single parents begin dating again.
5. Talk through faith and spiritual considerations together
After a time of suffering, some people find that their faith is stronger than ever, while others may need some spiritual CPR. Work with your parent to keep your faith alive. God is nearby to comfort your family and guide you through the first steps toward a joyful future.
Spiritual healing takes many forms, and people take to prayer differently. Talk to your parent about where you are in your faith, and listen to what they need in order to feel spiritually whole.
One of you might need support to engage in Church activities again. Try going together. Participate in ministries, share a holy hour, or attend a bible study together. Keep up with Sunday traditions, or start new ones. Mass and donuts, anyone?
Heavenly grace promotes spiritual healing, so visit the sacraments often, and pray that your single parent can find happiness, whatever that may mean.
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