Being both a parent and a single person in the dating world can often mean living a double life, at least at first. As involved as you are in your children’s lives, it’s best to keep them from knowing the nitty-gritty details of you putting yourself back out there. That is, until you’ve found someone actually worth meeting your kids.
But once you’ve started becoming serious with another person, what’s the best way to ease him or her into your children’s lives?
These steps will help you know when is the right time to introduce your kids to a potential new partner, and how to do so in a way that makes everyone comfortable.
1. Err on the Side of Caution
Keep things separate, at first.
“Regardless of the way your previous marriage or partnership ended, kids need time to adjust to the change in their family dynamics,” says Joan Barnard in an Ask Joan Actually column on this very topic. Your child needs time to process the upheaval before developing an attachment to a new person. “Your kids were familiar with two parents living at home. As you rebuild your romantic life, keep your kids out of the loop; they don’t need to know about the process, just the final outcome.”
Clinical psychologist Erika Martinez has a slightly different perspective on the need-to-know basis: “Mention to your kids that you’re going to start dating when you feel you’re ready to do that. Ask your kids how they feel about you dating. Make an effort to answer their questions and soothe their concerns.” If you feel comfortable enough, you could even involve them in helping you pick out clothes and do your hair. However, Martinez agrees to wait before actually making introductions.
2. Know When to Introduce
Once you’re exclusive.
“Only introduce your kids to someone that you’re serious about,” Martinez says. “That means, a relationship in which both partners have agreed to see each other exclusively, and you see as having potential longevity.”
After talking it over with your kids.
“Mention to your kids that you’ve met someone ‘nice’ that you ‘like’ and you’re getting to know better,” she adds. “Ask your kids how’d they’d feel about meeting that person. Again, make an effort to answer their questions and soothe their concerns. Tell your kids that, if all continues well with that someone, you’d like for them to meet and get to know that person, too.”
3. Consider Your Spouse/Ex
Keep your co-parent in the loop.
“If there is shared custody, the other parent may be considered and how they feel about it,”says marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar. By doing so, you’ll prevent your kids from becoming an “informant” for either side: “Best to keep children out of the triangle.”
“Try to put yourself in the other parent’s shoes,” advises divorce attorney Regina DeMeo, “and think about how it would feel if you learned that your child had been introduced to someone else without you being given any notice. Most of us would want to know first who our child is being exposed to, and we would not want them to witness any overnights for a while.”
3. Know How to Introduce
Plan a group activity.
Martinez advises that you find a way to get everyone involved: “This helps foster team-building and bonding for the introduction. Kayaking, bowling, game night, family cooking class are good examples.”
Keep it short.
“You should plan a short fun activity, like a trip to the zoo or pool followed by lunch or dinner, and then call it a day,” suggests DeMeo. “Check in with your child regularly and see how s/he is feeling. Listen to them and their needs. Sometimes, all they need is time.”