Dear Ethel-Mae,

I’ve been divorced about 6 months now. My sons dislike the fact that I’m online dating, even though I’ve never introduced them to any of my dates. My oldest son, a 6th grader, is leading the charge and says that if he ever gets the chance to meet one of my “girlfriends”, that he’s going to tell her that I’m a bad person so that she’ll be scared away.

I’ve told him that I deserve a companion and that it’s a natural part of life, but he’ll hear nothing about it. What confuses me is that he wants his mom to date. She tells me that he’s always asking her if she’ll ever get a boyfriend. The boys spend more time with their mom than with me; however, I’m responsible and consistent and see them 35% of the time. And to make things clear, I never cheated on their mom and they know that.

—Concerned Dad in North Carolina

Dear Concerned Dad in North Carolina,

It’s typical that the same-sex-child has difficulty with you moving on. Your son has taken on more of the male role at his mom’s household and feels responsible and protective of mom… the best thing you can do is NOT make it a power struggle and look beyond his anger to his true vulnerabilities.

Validate him. Let him know that you understand that this may be difficult for him. Look and listen to really hear what he is saying beneath the surface. Be respectful of what he is experiencing… if he is saying things like you are a “bad person,” ask him what he means by that? Take some quiet time with him and always let him know how much you love him. He’s already lost you 100% of the time so the 35% of the time that you see him may be the issue here. He might be scared that a girlfriend could intrude on the reduced time he and his brother have with you.

You may consider taking a hiatus from dating until you and your sons are on a better footing. Or, if you do date, keep your dates to yourself and only date when you don’t have your sons with you until they get into a better place with the divorce and their new routine.

If you bring a third person into the equation without a solid foundation in place with your sons, things can get worse. It’s not about letting your son manipulate you. It’s about making fatherhood a priority. Remember, as hard as the divorce is on you, their worlds have completely changed. Not only are they going back and forth between households, but they’re trying to get a grip on understanding new family dynamics.

Give your sons understanding and love. Your consistency will be healing for them and then take a look at dating or introducing a date to your sons after you and your sons are in a better place.

Ethel-Mae