For many single parents, jumping back into the dating game is something that is both anticipated and dreaded. You want to move on from the past and find a healthy, satisfying relationship again, yet you also feel conflicted. Often, you’ve been out of the single life for many years, possibly even a decade or two, and so you feel that you no longer know the rules, what to look for, or even where to meet someone.
One of the biggest questions for most parents is: When should I introduce my new interest to my children? There is a lot of debate about this, from therapists, single parents, married parents, and others. Some feel children should not be brought into the equation until an engagement, or even the wedding, has happened – to those people, these are the only signs of commitment that make introducing the children acceptable. Others think you should involve the kids right from the start, and simply call the new love a “friend”.
There are a few things to keep in mind when trying to decide when to take this step.
Attachment and Emotions
Whether this is your first relationship since the break up with your child’s other parent, or your fiftieth, the fact is there will come a point where you will be emotionally invested. Once you are emotionally invested, any break up is going to hurt. You will find yourself debating whether it’s the right decision if you’re the one ending it, and confused and hurt if your new partner is the one ending it. You feel these feelings even though you’re the one actually in the relationship and you know all the reasons why it ended.
Children will become emotionally invested long before you do. Especially if their other parent is no longer a part of their life, they will often cling to the chance to be close to someone who, in their minds at least, can fill that void in their hearts and lives. Even if it’s not about attaching to someone they think can fill a vacant role in their life, children are simply much more open with their affection and love.
They are also much more easily hurt, and quick to feel abandoned, or even blame themselves. Though you and your partner might know that the break up was the result of an incompatibility on your parts, your children may not be able to understand that.
All of this means that if you introduce your children to a new love interest, you risk hurting your children if a break up happens. That means that you will then be forced to deal with your own emotions and confusion, and that of your children. In most cases, parents in this situation will shove their own feelings aside to help their child, and this leads to it taking much longer for the parent to deal with what’s happened and move on.
Knowledge is Power
How well do you know your date? Do you really know how he feels about children? Does he have children, and if so, is he active in their lives? Do you know if he wants to marry someday or if he is merely looking for a casual relationship, or maybe even an open relationship? What kind of job does he hold? Does he share the same morals and values that you do, and that you want to instill in your children?
These are just some of the questions that you should be able to answer about someone before you introduce him or her into your children’s lives. These are some of the important questions, the ones that a difference in answers between you and your new partner could be a dealbreaker. And if it’s a dealbreaker, then once you learn the answer, the relationship will end. It would be better to have the answers before your children are brought into the situation rather than after.
Want vs. Need
Some people mistake wanting to introduce their child to their new partner for needing to do so. A babysitter gets sick, or they begin thinking it’s too complicated or time consuming to try to keep their family life and dating life separate. So they think that means they need to merge the two.
While this may prove useful in the short term, it could prove to cause more complications in the long run. It’s important to know whether you merely want to introduce your children to your new partner or whether you need to.
You only need to when the relationship is becoming serious. When you have reached the point where you can see a future with this person, or when you have begun discussing that future with this person, that is when it becomes a need.
Some single parents find themselves being pressured into making the introductions. Often, this pressure comes from the new partner, but it can also come from the parent’s parents, siblings, friends, or even the children. Regardless of who the pressure comes from, it’s important not to give in. If you are not ready to bring your new partner into your children’s lives, then don’t.
Another important thing to note: If your new partner is the one pressuring you, consider why. While it may be entirely innocent, and he is just eager to meet your kids, it’s also possible that he has ulterior motives. Among other reason he could have, bringing children into the relationship make it more likely that you will hesitate to leave the relationship should things go south. He may want them involved in hopes that you’ll stay even if the relationship is bad, or in an effort to control you by reminding you how badly it may affect your kids if you two break up.
Your former partner has no control over whether or not you date. He or she also, theoretically, has no control over whether or not you introduce your kids to someone you’re seeing. However, your ex should be a consideration.
First, your ex may be introducing random dates to your kids. If both parents are doing this, it confuses the child, and can leave them feeling unstable and like they can’t count on either of their parents. It’s important that you be able to provide them with the security they need, just in case your ex isn’t. A key way to do this is to make sure that you only bring people into their lives that you are relatively certain are going to stick.
Second, if you introduce too many new partners to your kids, and your ex gets wind of it, he or she is likely to get very upset. Although not common, there are custody and visitation agreements that specify that new partners are not to be introduced to the children until a certain point. You risk your former partner going to court and trying to get one of these agreements. By only introducing those partners you truly feel are going to be around longterm, you reduce that risk.
What should you do when you are ready?
When you have gotten to know your partner, can see a future with him or her, and are ready to take that leap and introduce this person to your children, what is the best way to go about it? There are many options, but there are a few key things to keep in mind when making plans:
Keep it short: You, your new partner, and your children are all going to be nervous and uncomfortable with the first meeting. All of you will be worrying about what could go wrong. Keep the first meeting fairly short so that no one’s nerves overwhelm them, and to reduce the chances that something will go horribly wrong. This also ensures that if they don’t get along, they are not forced to endure each other’s company for hours or days.
Keep it fun: Don’t plan the first meeting to be your new partner helping your daughter with her (dreaded) math homework. Make it something light and fun, something that you know everyone enjoys. Mini golf, bowling at Ocala Lanes, a movie, rollerskating at Skate Mania, or a couple of hours at the park are all good options.
Keep it simple: Don’t plan mini golf, bowling, and the park all in that first meeting. Pick one simple activity and stick to it. There will be plenty of other opportunities to explore all the things that all of you enjoy in the future.
Keep it small: Do not bring all of your family and friends to meet him at once. Stick with just the children. If possible, stick with just your children. If he has children, too, plan first meetings for him to meet your kids and you to meet his separately. Introduce all the kids to each other at another time. Too many new people all at once can be overwhelming, whether it’s the kids or the adults. Stick to as few people as possible and gradually introduce others.
Keep it limited: Don’t plan several outings before that first meeting, and don’t necessarily plan the next one right away. Give everyone a bit of time to process and reflect on that first meeting. Let them all determine how they feel about each other. Talk to your new partner about what he or she thinks of your children and how that first meeting went. Ask your kids what they think of your new partner, and ask them to be honest with you. If they tell you that they don’t like him or her, or they aren’t sure how they feel, ask why and consider their reasons before planning another meeting.
Navigating the world of dating after so many years out of it can be confusing. Add in children and it’s even more so. It’s important to take it slow and be realistic. Don’t expect to become a big, happy family by Date #2. Expect a few bumps along the road. When Mr. or Ms. Right comes along, you’ll be glad you did – and so will your children.