Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a divorced mom and am thinking about dipping my toes back into the dating world. My biggest concern is how my dating life will affect my children (ages 5 and 8), so I want to do this the right way. How long after a divorce should I wait? How long should I wait before letting my kids meet someone I’m going out with? And on the other side, what do you suggest that I tell (or don’t tell) someone I’m dating about my having kids?

A: I’m sure that your friends and family are itching to fix you up, but if you’re not ready, there’s no law that says you can’t hang out by yourself or with people you have no romantic interest in. As far as timing, I often hear from single parents that they’re ready to “jump back into dating.” Your dipping-your-toes approach is a much better way to go. Dating can be overwhelming and stressful, so take it easy. You might want to start with some group singles events—particularly those aimed at single parents with kids. You can probably find one near you through a local church, synagogue, or one of the online dating services. In the meantime, here are some important Dos and Don’ts:

Do Keep Your Kids and Your Dates Separate

Schedule your dates for times when your kids aren’t with you. Or at least arrange to meet your dates someplace else besides your house (which is a smart thing to do whether you have kids or not).

Don’t Intro Introduce Your Kids and Your Dates Too Soon

Wait until you’re confident that you’re heading toward a long-term relationship. If introducing them is unavoidable (say you bump into each other somewhere), once you’ve stopped blushing and have regained your composure, tell the kids he’s a friend. You don’t need to go into much more detail than that. If you’re dating a lot of different guys and your kids meet every one of them, they’ll get confused.

Do Have a Little Variety

Do yourself a favor and don’t get into a long-term relationship with the first man you go out with. He may make you feel loved and appreciated in a way you haven’t experienced for years, but resist the urge to jump and stay in the toe-dipping stage for a while longer.

Do Talk about Your Kids (a Little)

If you’re going out with someone who has kids, this probably won’t be an issue. But if that childless man you’re having romantic dinners with doesn’t like children, he may not be too happy when the truth comes out. And if he does like kids, he’s going to wonder what kind of woman doesn’t care for her children enough to even mention them. So talk about them—but not too much. Your dates want to know that you’re interested in them too.

Don’t Talk about Your Ex (Or Other Men in Your Life)

If you’re widowed, your dates and prospective boyfriends have a right to know. But if you talk about your deceased husband constantly, they’ll feel intimidated. And if you have an ex, talking about what a great relationship you have with each other could make your date think the two of you are getting back together. Don’t spend the evening badmouthing him either. A new boyfriend is naturally going to side with you against your ex, but your relationship should be built on something more than a mutual dislike of someone. And skip the stories about any unpleasant dates you’ve been on—unless you want to hear his dating horror stories too.

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