You are a single parent and feel ready to start dating. More than likely, you have a lot of questions such as How long should I wait? When is the right time to introduce my child to someone I am dating? Here you will find some of the recommended guidelines on how best to involve another adult into your child’s life. In addition to the guidelines, you will also need to consider your unique situation, the current age of your child, and any restrictions outlined in your divorce settlement.
(Note: Do not make the dangerous mistake of promising your child you will never date or that you will never remarry. Also do not let your child sleep with you as they will dislike any new partner who, over-time takes their place in your bed.)
Ideally you will give both yourself and your child at the full recommended two years to grieve/adjust. If you are like most this may not be a realistic expectation. If so take at least a minimum of 6-12 months living apart to adjust to life in the new household. When you start dating do so on your own time, when your child/ren are with the other parent. This allows you adequate time to learn more about who you might be dating before they are even brought up with your child. Do not expose your children to anyone you are dating unless you believe this is a potentially serious relationship. Take as much time as needed while leaving your child out of the dynamics. This is an appropriate adult boundary.
When it is are clear that you are in a serious monogamous relationship, mention that you are dating to your child in a casual manner. “I have met a really nice gentleman named Chris and we have been spending time together (dating)”. That is all that is necessary. Leave the topic alone for a period of time. Most likely, the children will be curious and ask basic questions. It should be noted that children can become very jealous of your significant other even before they meet them. Do not spend time texting and emailing your significant other while with your child (ren). You can communicate with your significant other (S.O.) after your child has gone to bed or while they are in school.
Introductions with your Significant Other:
When you first introduce the children, you may want to have your date come pick you up while you have a sitter stay with the children. The ideal introduction is brief rather than as an outing together. Be sure to mention the introduction to your child’s other parent before they return to the other home. Otherwise, your child may worry about reactions from the other household. After the initial introduction, plan a followup opportunity for all to go out to dinner together, or for the SO to come to your place while you have the children. If your S.O. has children, do not bring them into this relationship at this point. Let your children have time to get to know this new adult. This is also a way for you to observe their interactions. Look at the situation from your child’s position and do not demonstrate much affection between you and the SO. This makes children uncomfortable especially for adolescents. A hug and quick kiss when they leave is a good place to start. Over time holding hands or sitting together on the sofa will become a natural progression. Remember your children are watching and they will become anxious about their place in your heart and/or loyalty to the other parent. Grabbing body parts and intense kissing has no place around the children. If your child/ren are pre-teens or adolescents, they will become angry about any show of affection because it will trigger their awareness of sexual intent which is very difficult to accept at any age.
Introductions to the Families:
Introduce your children to your SO’s children on neutral ground such as the park or other location. Although many children are excited about meeting new children or even the possibility of having a step-sibling, the issue of sharing you, sharing toys, changes in their position in the family and other factors have a huge impact on the long term adjustment.
Spending Time Together:
When the introductions seem to go well, do not get carried away and start spending all of your time together. This seems natural and positive but moves things too quickly for the long term adjustment. Start with a weekend that might involve you and your children with the SO and their children for say Saturday afternoon; however, if the ages of the children are not compatible, this may not be planned this far in advance. Slowly expand the shared time allowing the children to have you all to themselves for a section of time each weekend. Do this even if your children ask for more time with the S.O. or their children.
Make sure you watch not to focus too much on your SO or their children. You will need to give your child some one on one AND share your attention with the newcomers.
If you allow the significant other to spend the night when your children are present, the older child will know and be grossed out by this fact because even if you do not have intimate relationships, they will assume you are. Younger children are less impacted by an overnight stay, especially prior to learning about sex. Be careful to lock your bedroom door when first having someone spend the night so that your child/ren do not make the mistake of entering your room in the middle of the night. Shielding your children should always take priority.
Before having someone spend the night, it is very helpful to start teaching your children that everyone in the home must respect a closed door, if it has not been done already. No one should come in when you are using the bathroom or when changing. If your child does come in unexpectedly do not make a big shameful reaction- just ask them to leave and wait for you to tell them they may enter. Teaching boundaries and privacy is important to have established long before bringing others into your life.
Preparing Your Children and Household:
The children will automatically hold the SO responsible even when the change comes from you. This is natural, so be aware that the children will not like this new adult if they experience too many changes around the same time. Likewise, if you have made the mistake of allowing your child to sleep with you every night, they will feel displaced when you no longer allow them to do so because of your new partner. Do not set your children up to blame this person for your changes. Try to arrange these changes long before your bring someone into your home and into their life. This will make their adjustment better as well as the outcome for all involved.
If you get serious and consider remarriage do yourself and your children an important favor by seeking step-family therapy to clarify expectations between the two adults. Then do a few step-family sessions with the children so they will understand how the blending of the families will work. This gives them an opportunity to voice any discomfort or concerns on neutral ground. Look for additional information regarding dos and don’ts when blending families in future issues of our blog.The next blog will address dos and don’ts for blending families.