Question of the Week submitted by Hilary of St. Louis, Missouri:
“I’m a single parent. How soon should I introduce my children to the person I’m dating? Is it okay to allow the person I’m dating to come over after my children have gone to bed if I haven’t introduced them yet?”
That’s a great question, Hillary, and it’s one which I think many people are facing right now. Throughout the divorces and child separations that I’ve gone through, I’ve learned that most courts insist on six months: They maintain that you should be dating someone for at least 6 months before you can introduce them to your children.
The reality of it is, and my father told me this a very, very long time ago, is that at the six month mark you really begin learning who one another are. In the first six months you’re opening doors, watching when you pass gas or burp, eating right at the table, and saying please and thank you. Then, right around six months, you get to really see who the other person is, and you start learning how to deal with that real person.
When my parents were going through a divorce when I was young, my dad was really good about making sure we were never introduced to anyone until they were significant and had well passed that mark. For all the girlfriends that my father had, I only met two, and one was my step-mom and they ended up married for 15 years. That is the best advice I have.
In that sense the courts are pretty correct in the idea of waiting six months before you enter into this situation of showing someone new to your kids. Further, I would definitely insist that you don’t want to have anyone coming over late or spending the night, because it’s always going to be awkward when your kids come running in the room at 3 a.m. in the morning, or the guy’s going to the bathroom and your daughter’s trying to get in the bathroom too.
This is such a huge question and a big step in a relationship. When you are ready, I encourage you to address some specifics beforehand. Introducing a new partner to your children opens up a whole new can of worms. It’s important to think it through ahead of time and plan out how to do it based on the nature of the first introduction. Then, of course, you have to remember that if their father is still in the picture you need to keep his feelings in mind as well.
You still have to be communicative with your former partner, lay the groundwork for how decisions will be made and how discipline will be carried out, and, in the meantime, how to respect the new person entering the picture. It’s important to include them as well, and find that balance so that they don’t feel second tiered.
Nonetheless, it is understood that these are your children and you have the final say. This will be an important part of the relationship to navigate from the beginning as a dating situation and further along if it moves on into marriage. Hopefully this helps. Thank you for submitting such a great question!
Also weighing in on this question is Jen Gargotto, author of MsMorphosis.com, a self-improvement blog for modern women and author of the e-book, Navigating Dating: A Single Woman’s Guide to Dating Without Losing Herself.
Below Gargotto gives her perspective on this week’s question:
Frank asked me to approach this question as a woman without children entering into a relationship with a man that does have children – how this would make me feel, and the role I would want to play in that family structure.
First of all, after college I worked for a long time in a preschool and as a nanny, and if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that even when there are children that you absolutely adore – would-adopt-if-you-could you adore them so much – it still just isn’t the same when they aren’t your children.
And, when you have to deal with the moment-to-moment frustrations of watching them and caring for them, it can be hard to know how to act or what to do. The truth is, it’s impossible to know exactly how their parents would want you to handle things all the time, and it’s important to use your best judgment.
So the first thing I would say to someone entering into someone else’s family is this: Be sure that you have found someone that trusts you enough to allow you to use your best judgment with their children, and cultivate a relationship close enough that you’re able to make judgment calls that don’t stray too far from how they themselves would have handled various situations.
The second thing I would say is that parenting is hard. And, I would imagine, as a single parent that’s found a partner to “help,” it could be tempting and easy to throw them into the role of “other parent,” and forget to stop treating them as a date, a lover and friend.
I would argue that the most important way to keep resentment from building (between you and your partner, or your children and your partner) is to work hard to cultivate loving relationships with both your children and your partner, so that your love and attention is never something that brings those two parties against one another.
If you openly side with your children when your partner has done something you disagree with, you create a rift and power struggle between this new person that’s entered your home and is trying to belong, and the children that know they have your unconditional love.
This, definitely, is a balancing act. I would imagine that 6 months is a good amount of time to wait before introducing them to someone new, if for no other reason than this guarantees that at the absolute most your children would be meeting up to two new people a year.
There are a range of emotions and dynamics that children need to sort through when seeing their parent with a new partner – ranging from fear of the changes that might happen in their family structure, to coping with the idea of their other parent being “replaced” by someone new. A six month interval gives children time to process and cope with these emotions in a healthy, appropriate way.
One of MMA’s most recognized personalities dishes on love and the male psyche in “Ask Trigg – A Dating and Relationship Blog for Women” featured exclusively on ProMMANow.com. Each week the mixed martial arts fighter, color commentator and MMA spokesman gives advice to female readers based on questions they have submitted. Ladies can send their dating and relationship questions to [email protected].