Dating after divorce can be exciting but confusing when you have children. You may wonder: When is it a good time to introduce my new love interest to my kids? While it’s normal to seek solace, companionship, and a sexual relationship after a breakup, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether this relationship is casual or might be permanent.
Ask yourself: Is your new love interest a good fit for your family? After all, you might have great chemistry with someone, but they might not be best suited to become part of your family.
I’ve witnessed many new relationships go south when a partner is introduced to children too quickly. It can cause anguish for everyone – especially children who are probably holding on to the idea that their parents will eventually get back together. It may take them time to accept a new person in their life.
During our first counseling session, Alicia, an attractive newly divorced 43 year old nurse, described her new partner Keith as a breath of fresh air, sexy, fun, and the complete opposite of her ex-husband Daniel. They had been dating for a little over two months and she was head over heels in love with him.
As Alicia spoke, excitement welled up in her voice: “Keith’s just so different from Daniel and I can really be myself with him. He has two boys and is a great dad. I figure my daughter, Kyla, will like him because he’s a lot of fun and likes kids.”
During our second session, I asked Alicia if she had thought through any disadvantages of introducing her daughter Kyla to Keith too soon. She paused and said “not really” and so I asked her to write down a list of pros and cons for her homework assignment. This is a common assignment that I give to newly divorced clients who are dating.
When Alicia arrived for her next session, two weeks later, she was feeling distraught and disappointed. The meeting between Keith, his sons, and Kayla had gone badly and Keith broke up with her. In fact, Keith told Alicia that he didn’t feel that Kayla and his boys got along well and he just wasn’t ready for an instant family.
What is the best time to introduce a new love interest to your children?
The number one thing to keep in mind is timing after your divorce. What’s the hurry? Even if both of you are in love and seem to have a lot in common, breakups are common and kids get caught in the crossfire. Next, the setting and timing of an introduction is crucial to success. Rather than planning a long visit, it’s best to have a brief, casual meeting with few expectations.
Keep in mind the age of your children when introducing them to a new love interest, because younger children (under age 10) may feel confused, angry, or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Renowned researcher Constance Ahrons, who conducted a 20 year study of children of divorce, concluded that most children find their parent’s courtship behaviors confusing and strange.
While adolescents may appear more accepting of your new partner than younger children, they may still perceive that person as a threat to your relationship. Ahrons also found that teenagers may find open affection between their parent and a partner troubling – so go easy on physical contact in front of them. Do you want your teenager to model their behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships thoughtfully.
8 reasons not to introduce your new love to your kids too soon:
- Just because you are smitten with your new love, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interest –especially the first few years after the divorce.
- Children need time to adjust to their parents’ split and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions.
- Introducing your new lover to your kids can increase stress in the house and take energy away your kid’s ability to grieve the loss of their intact family.
- The tension between your kids and partner might put more pressure on your relationship and increase the chance of a breakup.
- If you introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually, this may create uncertainty and ambivalence for them about intimacy if things don’t work out.
- Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships. Do you want them to feel pessimistic about lasting love?
- Consider that you are a role model for your kids and exposing them to casual partners may not set an example for responsible dating.
- The key to successful parenting post-divorce is healing and introducing a new love interest too soon might complicate, delay, or damage this process.
If you’ve been dating someone for a while (at least 4-5 months) and feel relatively confident that you are heading toward commitment, talk to your children and explain that you are dating someone who you care about and that you’d like to introduce to them. Ask them if they have any questions. Keep the first meeting short and low key. Going to a restaurant or neutral spot for the first meeting is best. Ask your kids where they’d like to go and don’t invite your partner’s children to join you on the first few visits.
Be sure not to plan an overnight with your new love interest in your home right away. If you have shared custody, it should be easy to spend an overnight with them when your children are with your ex. Having your new partner spend the night should only be an option once you are fairly sure that your relationship is permanent or you are engaged.
It’s important to assure your kids that your partner will not replace their other parent or change your relationship with them. Most young children view their parent’s dating behaviors as confusing – they may feel threatened or resentful about having to share you with another person. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm.
In closing, waiting to introduce your kids to a love interest will pay off for everyone. Consider the amount of time since your divorce, the age of your children, and the level of commitment with your partner. Don’t introduce your children to new partners who you are dating casually. You can inform your kids that you are going out with friends and that’s enough information. Talking to a relationship coach or therapist may help you to make a smooth transition into this next phase of your life.