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When Mom or Dad wades back in the dating pool
September 29th, 2011
07:34 AM ET

When Mom or Dad wades back in the dating pool

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

When my mother’s long-term boyfriend passed away, I was worried that she might be wary of taking another chance on romance. So when I learned that she’d rekindled an old flame and had fallen in love again, I felt relieved.

I was happy that she had found a partner and companion - someone to go on dinner and movie dates with, to take to family functions, and yes, even to enjoy physical intimacy with again.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic about one parent dating again after the other parent has died, however. In fact, many people feel confused, disappointed, and even angry when Mom or Dad steps back into the dating scene.

Like it or not, these adult children find themselves thrown back into unhealthy childhood dynamics: They may feel hurt and even abandoned by their parent’s actions but are powerless to do anything about them.

There are many reasons why you might disagree with a parent’s decision to begin dating after his or her spouse has passed away - and they’re all legitimate emotions. Maybe you worry that your mother hasn’t fully grieved the death of her husband, or you feel betrayed that your father has started looking for a new partner.

“My mother started seeing a new man just eight months after my dad died,” Kate told me. “Doesn’t it take a full year to work through grief? At the time, I felt like it was disrespectful to my father’s memory, and to me and my siblings.”

It’s also natural to feel protective of your widowed parent.

“My father was crushed when my mother passed away,” said Mark. “He got started on online dating and I was really protective of him. What if nothing works out? I just didn’t want to see him get his heart broken again.”

Some adult children are worried about how a new relationship will affect their own financial standing in the family.

“Sure,” Patty told me of her mom’s recent dive back into the dating pool. “I want my mom to be happy, but how do I know that her suitors don’t have ulterior motives? I’m concerned that she’ll jump into another marriage and her second husband will take advantage of her financially.”

Others are even more blunt. “Look,” said Jeff. “My brother and I had been there for my father our whole lives. Then he started seeing a much younger woman. I didn’t want her to replace us in his will.”

These are all valid concerns, but should you voice them to your surviving parent? I recommend proceeding with caution. Your mother or father likely knows that this can be a thorny issue and may initiate a conversation about it. They may want your approval, but they certainly don’t need it.

Giving a parent a guilt trip about dating again isn’t going to help either of you. Instead, deal with the issue in a healthier way, by working through your thoughts before you address things with your parent:

Recognize the differences. We all grieve differently. Although you may still find yourself devastated long after a parent’s death, your surviving parent may well have worked through this or her emotions already, especially if it involved a lengthy period of caregiving before your other parent died. It’s fine to express your own sad feelings to your parent, but don’t place your own expectations of grief on them.

Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine that own your spouse has passed away (sadly, this will likely someday be the case). Would you want others to simply label you a “widow” or “widower”? Would you want to be alone for the rest of your life? How would you feel if a loved one told you that you shouldn’t want to enjoy companionship or intimacy?

Give your parent credit for enduring a major stressful life change, and understand that they deserve happiness, too - whether that comes in the form of friendship, casual dating, sexual intimacy, a committed relationship, or a marriage. Whether your parent experiences heartbreak again can’t be avoided. Risk always accompanies love.

Don’t make it about money. It can be difficult to bite your tongue when you suspect your parent may be making poor financial decisions. If you think they are truly being taken advantage of, speak up - gently.

When it comes to their will, however, it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself. Your parent’s money is your parent’s money, and an inheritance is a gift, not an entitlement.

Plunging back into the dating pool after the death of a spouse can be tough for anyone. Help make it easier for your parent by giving them support and understanding, not grief.


soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Cass

    It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to watch my Dad get re-married. It is nice to see him so happy again.

    September 29, 2011 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • teresa

      ADULT STEM CELLS CURE'S AIDS / HIV and A NUMBER OF OTHER THINGS BUT WHY????? IS AMERICA BEING HELD BACK FROM THE MAJOR LEAP IN MEDICINE DOES AMERICA WANT TOO KILL YOU ??????? OTHER COUNTRIES MAKING MAJOR LEAPS INTO MEDICINE BUT AMERICA IS STILL IN THE STONE AGE WHY????? WHO BENEFITS THE FDA BIG CORPORATIONS .......???

      October 17, 2011 at 22:59 | Report abuse |
  2. Sara Bean

    This sounds like a potentially Hollywood rom-com waiting to happen

    September 29, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lara

      HOW dare you sara!

      September 29, 2011 at 13:25 | Report abuse |
  3. Flora

    All sound advice, when talking about adult children. But if you're a parent with childen who are still, well, children, I suggest you wait a while. As a child of a single parent, I thank God every day she refrained from dating. You never know who you're bringing around your kids, in your house, so unless you've known this person for a LONG time and would trust them with your life, I wouldn't date until your kids are at least in high school. (And even then, give them each a can of mace & tell them they have your full permission to use it.)

    September 29, 2011 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr.Science

      I love your suggestion about a can of mace! My husband and I have a small child and that was the same thing we talked about....I wouldn't trust another man around my little guy. Yes, being alone is very hard, but if you do have small children, I agree that the best thing to do is wait!

      September 30, 2011 at 09:46 | Report abuse |
  4. StlMelz

    As a new spouse to a former widower, I whole heartedly agree with this article! My husband's middle daughter is all over the map emotionally and it has been a HUGE challenge!!! In her last little tirade she butted in with her "concerns" about the estate, so her dad finally put his foot down and told her, very nicely and as gently as possible, it was simply none of her conern. We are married and OUR estate is OUR estate.

    September 29, 2011 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • matureteen17

      I understand how it can be difficult to deal with her, but at the same time you have to realize what she has been through. Not only has she lost one of her parents but now she was thrown into a situation which she is forced to accept another women into her life. As for the estate part, I do agree with you but you also have to understand that she is only trying to look out for her father. Espcially in our society today many people are only after money and she does not want to her father to be played. I have been through this myself and trust me it was the hardest most emotional thing I have ever been through. My step-mom and I did not get along at first but after realizing how considerate she was and how happy my father is with her, we have gotten really close. Just try to give her a little time ans she will slowly warm up to you, just like i did to my step-mom 🙂

      September 29, 2011 at 19:38 | Report abuse |
    • Lacey

      So in your last line, she solidify every concern she has about the estate and her place in it. It's now YOUR estate and his and judging from your letter here, she can just say goodbye to whatever her own mother helped build in that family unit. Stay Classy.

      August 3, 2014 at 16:40 | Report abuse |
  5. SilentBoy741

    "When my mother’s long-term boyfriend passed away, I was worried that she might be wary of taking another chance on romance."

    First of all, what was she *doing* to this guy, that would make her wary that she would kill the next one too? And, could you e-mail instructions to my girlfirend, with diagrams?

    September 29, 2011 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Schmedley

    “Look,” said Jeff. “My brother and I had been there for my father our whole lives. Then he started seeing a much younger woman. I didn’t want her to replace us in his will.”

    To "Jeff":

    It ain't your money and he can do whatever he wants with it. So you're saying that you've been there for your father your whole lives... What, and he hasn't been there for yours? If you were a parent, you'd know what it's like to bring up kids and get through all the trials and tribulations. If you are a parent and this is still all you care about, then you're pathetic.

    If my parents spend every last dime of their retirement money on travel and enjoying themselves and leave me and my brother nothing, I'll be happy for them. They got a chance to enjoy everything they worked for and did for us to raise us well.

    If all you and your brother care about is your inheritance, you don't deserve to get anything. I hope he does give it to his new wife or to charity. Ingrates.

    September 29, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • matureteen17

      I completly agree with this.

      September 29, 2011 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
    • ZZZ

      Schmedley... You sound like a money grubbing second wife bich who doesnt really care about the current sugar daddy / future meal ticket!!! Why should the new wife get anything !!! I dont care about the money, never have never will, but Ill be dammed if some new pc tries to bleed my parents dry. I hope my parent spend every last dollar they have and bounce their last check. I dont need their money! Never will!

      September 29, 2011 at 20:15 | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      Anyone a situation with a parent who has spent many years building an estate with one person, clearly can understand "Jeff's" position. When my mom and dad have spent 35 years saving and struggling to put money away, and my mom dies, (her life insurance is a nice amount), I have every right to be concerned that a new wife with a relatively short relationship with my dad, might not deserve rights to the estate that my mother made sacrafices to build.

      January 31, 2013 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
  7. slogreport

    As a parent, it is hard to imagine being able to jump back in that scene, but it is possible and likely for most people as they too need something to hold on. they want to slog, enjoy intimacy, and personal touch. i am sure many divorce or seperated people have slogged at slogreport

    September 30, 2011 at 06:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Santa Claus

    When Mrs. Claus died after that horrible Lite-Brite tragedy, the elves did everything they could to keep me from seeing other people.

    One Christmas Eve night, I came down a chimney and saw a pretty hot momma laying on the couch, naked and sleeping. After giving her a special "present", I took off and finished my present giving duties. The next year, I came down the same Chimney of the hot momma and found myself on the set of the Maury Show with that money grubbing momma trying to prove that I was the father!

    That's bull! Luckily, do to all the lead based toys from China I end up having to handle, I've been rendered sterile, so my bro Maury read "You are NOT the father!" and I moonwalked to stage left while throwing a wad of cash into the air.

    Suck on that hot momma, you ain't getting my money!

    September 30, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. been there

    I gave up on this scenario long ago. My parents almost gave me up for adoption but luckily my grandmother and grandfather raised me. Parents divorced Parent remarried and I was forced to live with the new spouse who actually told me she hadn't expected to take care of me and wasn't at all thrilled about it. Always made certain that her children with my father were hers and I was an unexpected inconvenience. My grandmother left me what little she had in her will but my father and stepmother made her change it over to them and i was told by my stepmother that she wanted to make sure her children were taken care of .....well all of that pretty well knocked the wind out of my sails..so when my stepmother died and my father found a new partner I really didn't care...but I see my stepsisters going through all of this now. But it is sort of a freeing experience in that you realize your parents are free to do as they please with their time and money....and someday the shoe may be on the other foot and you will be just as free....bitter much??? ok just a little but working through it. Point is ...it is not an easy situation to deal with.

    September 30, 2011 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. ELISSA

    WHEN MY MOTHER PASSED AWAY I TOLD MY FATHER IF HE CHOSETO DATE OR REMARRY IT WAS FINE WITH ME. HE CHOSE NOT TO. WHEN I GOT DIVORSED I TOLD MY CREW I WOULD BE ADDING NEW FRIENDS INCLUDING MALES. I ASKED MY 2 OLDEST BOYS TO FIND ME A NEW PARTNER AND THAT IF THEY WERE SMART THEY WOULDN'T WIND UP TAKING CARE OF AN OLD LADY, SINCE I PLANNED TO LIVE TO 105! AND NOT TO WAIT FOR THEIR INHERITANCE EITHER!!!

    October 9, 2011 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dartha

    This is all well and good, but when the parent has dementia, and the women start circling dad before mom is even cold in her grave (less than 48 hours), it is scary. I'm worried these women are going to clean him out and leave him high and dry, and unable to pay for his care.

    October 13, 2011 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Krissi

    I find the article insulting and the comments beyond ridiculous. As a mom who recently lost her mom, I would hope that the surviving parent's primary concern would be for the children, regardless of how old they are. My mom died last spring and my dad started dating after less than 6 months. My sister and I are grown with our own families, but this feels like the worst kind of betrayal to us. Are we entering into a childhood state of emotion? Of course we are! Wouldn't anyone? But, I feel that any parent should recognize this and approach dating after the loss of a spouse (and parent of your child or children) in a manner that is respectful to the grieving process of his or her children. After all, parenthood is a job that is yours for life, not just 18 years. This article presents a ridiculously shallow glimpse into an extremely complicated phenomenon. Regardless of age, children are children, and parents are parents. And regardless of age, a parent's responsbility should be to protect and nurture the child, especially when those children are facing a life-altering loss If I happen to be the one to survive my husband, I vow to make my children, be they 5 or 50 the top priority in any decision I make. That is (or should be) what a parent does!

    March 3, 2012 at 00:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • grievingdaughter

      Thank you for understanding. I think people see you as selfish and stating your parent has the right to be happy. But when it has been not even a year since the death of your mom (or dad), it is just too fresh for most involved. I had to find out from my husband. My dad made no real effort to contact me. He told everyone else. He knows I was closest to her, and that this would be devastating. I'm also angry with some strange woman trying to cruise in and get involved. My dad has a good income and a nice home and is grieving. What would he ultimately offer her? His badly needing mending heart or his money and security? Vultures. I'm tired of feeling so sad and alone. He never comes by anymore. I stay busy, but I grieve my mom deeply every day. I tried to talk to him but got anger...likely I hit a nerve when I said I did not want her around me or my kids. My mom's memory is being disrespected. Parents need to look not just for themselves but their children's loss as well. Talk to them. Let them know how you feel. Let them tell you how they feel. The sadness is the heart of it all. That is where the healing would start. Instead, it's anger and tears.

      July 29, 2013 at 22:21 | Report abuse |
  13. Christina

    My father died of colon cancer and after helping him a bit, my mother got a pretentious job and started dating several men at a time. The day of his funeral and memorial she left earlier than her guests to be at her boyfriends house. She has three kids, two girls and a boy under 18. And frankly, the selfish lady that she is, doesn't care. I dont know if shes dealing with grief so strong that she cant think straight but I feel shes so happy that she has the inheritance and a million men around her and of course all those guys are telling her to keep the money for herself and forget about the kids for her own best interest, and she is listening to them. I am a child of hers and it sucks.

    October 16, 2012 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jenny

      lifes a beach

      October 16, 2012 at 19:11 | Report abuse |
  14. chattips

    After five and a half years of marriage, my friends husband passed away from cancer. At first, she didn’t know what to do or how to act. To her, their lives together were just beginning. Couple of years later I suggested her dating site I’ve heard about. Everyone wants to fall in love and have their fairytale come true and there is nothing wrong with that or dating a widower and with this service that was possible, but as a newcomer I told her you need to make sure to manage your expectations – meaning that you state what you want and know what the other wants as well, leaving very little room for disappointment.

    November 23, 2016 at 12:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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