Dating as a single parent can be a complicated process. It is nerve-wracking putting yourself out there again and there is the worry that you will find someone who will accept the fact that you have kids. Then there are also those logistical issues of getting a babysitter so you can even leave the house!
However, when the day finally comes that you meet someone you click with and things start to get serious, you are faced with a whole new issue:
When do you introduce your new love to the kids?
Like everything in life, it would be great if there were step by step, foolproof instructions. However, life doesn’t come in a flatpack and life with children is definitely never straightforward. There are no simple answers to when you should introduce your kids to your new partner, because every situation is different. Every child is different and every family dynamic is different.
It would be easy to say: “It is right to introduce your kids after 6 months in a serious relationship” (which is what some experts recommend BTW) but that won’t suit everyone’s circumstances.
You might be a sole parent who doesn’t get much time without the kids or your kids may not be coping with the breakdown of your relationship with their other parent. Or you might have teenagers who have been trying to set you up with every eligible human around!
When it comes to this sensitive time, psychologist and parenting expert, Dr Vanessa La Pointe stresses that it important to think about how everyone involved will cope with the change in dynamics. She says it is important to be respectful of the feelings of not only your children, but also your co-parent, your new partner and, of course, yourself.
Obviously, it is a complex situation and even though there are no hard and fast rules, there are some things you really need to consider before you introduce your new partner to your children. Experts and psychologists recommend you think about the following:
1. How serious is the relationship?
Obviously, this is a big deciding factor in introducing a new partner. If you are just dating casually, it is best to wait until you are sure the relationship has a future before introducing your kids. Children need stability and security. Meeting every potential partner will become confusing and overwhelming for them, particularly if they become attached then the relationship doesn’t progress.
Conversely, don’t wait until your relationship is so serious that you are engaged or ready to move in with your new partner before introducing your children. They will feel blindsided by the fact they have been excluded from such a significant part of your life.
As a general rule, the point when you both feel ready to be in a committed relationship (and are past that initial “honeymoon” period) is a good time to see if your kids adjust well and that your new partner is a good fit with your family. However, the below points also need to be taken into consideration.
2. What are the individual needs of the children?
Every child is different and some will cope with the news of a new person in their parent’s life better than others. Their age and temperament will play a big part in how they manage this next change. Also, consider how long it has been since you split with their other parent and how they are coping with that. It is important that they have had time to heal and adjust before introducing a new person on the scene. Be prepared to take it at their pace.
Some may see a new partner in your life as a rival for your love, time and affection, particularly if it has been just you and them for a long time. They may also feel accepting someone new as a betrayal to their other parent.
Conversely, some children may encourage your new relationship. Most children just want their parents to be happy after all.
3. Consider co-parenting dynamics
Depending on your relationship with your child’s other parent, it is usually a good idea to give them a heads up on any impending introductions. Your child is likely to tell them about it anyway and if you have a good co-parenting relationship, they can help reassure your child if they have any concerns.
4. How, where, when
Springing a new partner on your children is never a good idea. Drop their name a bit before introductions so they are familiar with the concept of a new person in your life.
For the first meeting, choose neutral ground with some age-appropriate activity to engage everyone, such as a park, bowling or the zoo. This will help avoid awkward moments or stilted conversation. It is also important to avoid personal displays of affection with your partner and consider introducing them as your “friend” at first, particularly for young kids. This will make the process less threatening.
If your children are older, consider getting them involved in planning that first outing or subsequent outings so they feel they are actively involved in the process of getting to know the new person in your life. They will appreciate that you value their input and want them to be involved.
Regardless of when you introduce your new partner to your kids, it is imperative that your focus always remains on the wellbeing of your children. Reassure them that they are your first priority and that they will always have your love and attention.