“So, tell me about your kids…” Well, there’s a phrase I have nervously giggled at (and broken a sweat over) on every first date since my divorce. I’ve been testing the dating waters over the past year and talking about my kids always made me feel a little uneasy. Thoughts of ‘how much does this person really want to hear about this part of my life? When do I even bring them up?’ were always coursing through my mind.
While I have gotten more comfortable talking about all these parts of my life and have (to my complete surprise) gotten more serious with someone over the last several months, I’m still not considering crossing the thresholds of involving him with my children anytime soon and here’s why I’m not taking this step lightly.
Everyone benefits from going slow
Many children-of-divorce studies show that introducing a parent’s significant other too soon is a great way to bring both confusion to your children and also an end to an otherwise healthy relationship. When it comes to taking this big step, everyone benefits from going slow.
If you are recently divorced or separated from their other parent, time is a sensitive matter. Younger children (but really, any age child) might hope for their parents to reunite regardless of how unhappy the family unit might have been. If your separation was in the past year or two, your child is still processing the change and most likely is not ready to meet your new partner. Two years might sound like an unreasonable amount of time, but allowing children enough time to process the big life change will benefit everyone in the long term.
Also, consider the seriousness of the relationship. If you are newly dating, it is inappropriate to bring new partners into your child’s life. Once the relationship has been established as something more permanent, then you can consider beginning some introductions.
Your kids’ age(s) matter
One of the biggest factors to consider is your children’s age. Younger children like mine (under 10 years old) have a harder time understanding their place in the family when a new adult has come into their lives. Perhaps your child was used to having all of your attention? Now it might feel to them that your affection is unintentionally spread thin to include your new partner.
If your child is still grieving or adjusting to their new family arrangements, introducing a new partner can be a major setback. Younger children tend to find their parent’s romantic life more foreign and confusing than an older child and it is part of our job as a newly single person to help shepherd our children through the family changes as well.
Home is a “safe space” for your kid(s)
I also consider the energy of the home as an important factor. Your home is your child’s safe place. It’s where they are free to be themselves and don’t feel they have to act a certain way to be accepted. When a new person is introduced into this space (even for an occasional afternoon or dinner), your child’s comfort level can change.
Your child is attuned to your emotions. If you feel nervous about managing the energy in the home or your child’s behavior, your child will also feel on edge. When you do feel ready to introduce your new partner to your children, I recommend a very casual, short meeting outside of the home. Perhaps everyone could meet at a playground or for a coffee/hot chocolate at a neutral location. Protecting your child’s safe space to be themselves in their home should be a top priority.
When you feel the time is right
So there are a lot of points of caution, and understandably so, it is much better to be patient than overly eager to integrate your dating and family life. But when everyone feels ready, introducing your new partner is an important time to reassure your children of your steady love for them. Make sure they know that their thoughts on the relationship truly matter to you.
Perhaps they can pick the meeting place or be in charge of how long they want it to last? This is a big-time for your entire family and it’s important that your children know their feelings and happiness are at the forefront of your mind. There is so much nuance as new relationships form and each family situation is different, but your steady and unchanging love for your children can always be the grounding factor for all family decisions.