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Two weeks ago, on a night Shana was with her father, Friedman cooked dinner for the twins and the man she has been seeing exclusively for two years. "I'm very mindful and protective of their emotions."Overkill?Not to Elaine, a mother of three who asked not to be identified because she's in the midst of divorce proceedings. The first was starting to date two months after her separation."You go through a selfish stage when you split up," she says. "' As awful as that was, it was worse to see her son so miserable when the relationship ended. Children of divorce have already experienced loss, maybe trauma.It was more than a year before she was ready to date.Today, she continues to be discreet even with the twins, who are now 23, and fiercely so with Shana, who is 8. But Friedman would never kiss him in front of her children, and even though the twins are adults, she was careful they didn't see her go off to bed with him."It's still a parent-child relationship," she says.Children need to know only two things: (1) "Since your mother and I aren't living together, there will be new people in my life"; (2) "You are always the number one relationship in my life."They do need to know that much, emphasizes Tufts University psychologist Donald Wertlieb, whose practice in Wellesley Hills specializes in families coping with stress."Even preschoolers tend to intuit more than we realize," he says."It's better to be open [to that degree] than for them to feel there are secrets." He advises telling your ex-spouse that you're taking this step and, when one parent starts to date before the other, to say, "I know your dad is dating.

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Sometime after parents separate and often before they divorce, at least one begins to date.That's generally healthy for the adults; it means they're moving on to the next phase of their lives. Marilyn daughters, Shana, and twins Alison and Rachel, were 4 and 19 when she and their father split up after almost 27 years.

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