So, you are divorced. Or simply a single parent. And you are dating. And juggling kids.
And you Google “when to introduce my new partner to my kids” and you are now both confused and terrified.
“Date for at least a year before introducing your kids!”
“Don’t ever let your kids know you are dating at all!”
“Kids are too fragile after a divorce to tell them you are dating!”
“Kids can’t handle parents dating!”
I happen to think kids are really able to tackle life just like we are. That dating is a normal part of life for single parents and that kids should see normal life.
Now, that said, they certainly don’t need all the dirty details of dating, and they don’t need to see or be aware of EVERY date you go on. But, they do need the truth.
- First, DEFINE DATING FOR YOUR KIDS (yep, even preschoolers can understand this)
Dating is for teenagers and adults.
It means that you make plans to spend time with someone that you have romantic/crushy feelings for, or believe you might.
Sometimes that means one date, and you decide that you don’t have romantic/crushy feelings for that person, so you don’t go out again.
Sometimes that means that you DO have romantic/crushy feelings for that person and you go out more.
At some point, you may decide to not date anyone else because you want to get to know that person more and more. You enjoy spending time with that person and they become a special person in your life.
That is then a relationship. It means that you begin to have that person meet other special people in your life like friends and family. You may hold hands or kiss that person. You may have sleep overs with that person because you enjoy being close to them.
Some relationships last a long long time, and others last just a few months. Both types are worthwhile because they help you have new experiences and learn about yourself and other people.
- Next, LET YOUR CHILDREN KNOW THAT, YES, YOU DATE
Yep, kids do best with the truth. They also do best with healthy, happy parents who have lives outside of them.
They also need models of healthy dating. Because, yes, they will date too. Sooner than you think.
Let’s show them how its done. Because when we are transparent and honest with them, we open the door for them to be transparent and honest with us. Even with this most vulnerable and often awkward topic.
Yes, it might lead to a conversation about sex. Yes, that is a good thing. Yes, parents have sex. Even single parents. Hopefully….
Let’s model for them how to talk about that with healthy boundaries and openness (an art that you can practice!!). Let’s let them see and know that a healthy relationship involves physical affection and sex. Because, yes, we really do want that for them one day too. And we want them to see us hold hands, and touch, and be affectionate with a partner. EVEN IF THAT PERSON IS NOT IN THIER LIVES FOREVER.
Yes, we can let them see us TRY a relationship. And, have it not work in the long term. And they will see us in pain. And they will see us heal. And they will see us try again. Because it is worthwhile.
Your children may see you have more than one significant relationship over the course of their lives and yours. THAT IS OK.
THAT IS LIFE.
THEY will date more than one person too. We hope.
- YOU are dating, NOT them
Introducing a partner to your children doesn’t mean that your children are now involved in your entire dating life, or that you are all now one big happy family. Or that this person is a parent in their world.
Nope. It simply means that your dating life and your parenting life are not completely separate. That your children know this other person you spend time with, and that, occasionally, they spend time with him/her too. It allows your life to be more fluid. It allows you to talk openly to your children about this other special person, much like you do friends you spend time with.
“Mom, what did you do this weekend while we were with dad?”
“I had dinner with Susie (friend) and went to a show with Joe (boyfriend).”
“Cool, that sounds like fun.”
As opposed to lying to them about where you spent your time. They know when you are lying and it is concerning to them. They know you well and it feels off when you are not truthful.
AND THERE IS NO REASON NOT TO BE TRUTHFUL ABOUT YOUR DATING LIFE. NONE. ZIP. ZERO.
AND, it will be interesting to see what your children think of your new partner….
“Hey, so, you know I have talked about Joe, the guy I have been seeing. He has become someone pretty special in my life in the last couple months and I would like you to meet him. I invited him over for dinner tomorrow night. What do you guys think of that?”
“Cool mom. What are we having? And does he like games?”
“Wait, what if we don’t like him?”
“Well, I haven’t figured out dinner yet, yes, he likes games, and you don’t have to like him. I like him. And I think you will get along well, but you can tell me what you think after you meet him. I’ll be curious what you think.”
NOTICE…. there was NO pressure for the kids to like the new partner. NONE. Because THEY are not dating him/her. YOU are.
If your children do NOT like him/her, that is worth being curious about….
Was everyone nervous?
Did they have expectations that were not met?
Were they showing off?
Do they feel disloyal to the other parent if they like this person?
Did they simply not like that he/she won the game?
Did they not like sharing your attention?
Was your new partner enjoyable with your kids?
These are all worthwhile questions for you to ponder. And ask them. And your new partner. All while giving everyone space to get used to each other.
It can take 100 tries of a new food for children to accept the new food as palatable. It can be the same for a new person. Give them room to adjust if they need it. No need to freak out if they aren’t one hundred percent on board right away.
Remember, YOU are dating this person, not your children.
- WHEN IT GETS MORE SERIOUS
As you date someone longer, your lives intertwine more and more. This is natural and healthy.
This will naturally involve your children more and more.
With this incremental approach to involving your children in your dating experience, they get to slowly and steadily know this person and trust them. This allows the relationship between your new partner and your children to grow alongside your own relationship. This will help greatly as the relationship evolves and grows.
This will help you and your new partner make decisions that work for everyone involved. And it will help set a foundation for healthy and open communication between all of you, including the children.
And THAT is good for the whole crew.
Honesty is the best policy with your children.
Incrementally increasing contact between a new partner and your children as your relationship develops can be healthy for everyone involved.
Make sure there is no pressure for your children to like your new partner, or your new partner to like your children.
Trust yourself. And trust your children and your relationship with them. Open conversations create trust and a connection that will last a lifetime.
Show your children that they can talk to you about anything. That you are a team in this life and that you all have needs and wants that need to be addressed.
You are a parent. You are dating. Which means that you have to balance your children’s needs/wants with your own.
It is not easy.
But it IS doable. And it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Really.
Just talk to each other. Be honest. And be real.
The good stuff will follow from there.