Kids Versus The New Relationship

One of the greatest challenges for fathers who have switched from “husband” to “single dad” is figuring out the tricky mix of new love interest — or sometimes just new intimate partner — and your children. I’ve experienced the gamut myself as a single dad for almost five years, and I have my own rules and “best practices” for introducing my children to someone that I am dating. I’ve certainly had a range of experiences, including one time when I finished a first date at a gal’s place and her 10yo son sat across the patio talking to us while she snuggled up to me and kissed me on the cheek. A little uncomfortable, to say the least.

There are a couple of issues to think about, of course, the most important of which is ‘what’s in the best interest of your children?’

Whether you’re newly divorced or it’s been a few years, your kids are still trying to wrap their brains around why mommy and daddy aren’t in the same house. Was it something they did? Is mom/dad really a bad person, as the other partner all-too-commonly tells them? Any new woman who shows up is inevitably going to be seen as “substitute mommy at daddy’s house” and any new man at her place? Same thing. This is darn confusing for a child, whether they’re 3yo or 13. They’ve already had one parent tear away from their other, do you need to risk that happening to them again? Further, if they’re teens, you need to start worrying about what you’re modeling, demonstrating by example, to them about the components of a healthy, adult relationship.

My rule of thumb is waiting six months. For six months my kids hear nothing about someone I’m seeing, don’t meet her, don’t get to view pictures of her, don’t hear stories of dates we’ve gone on. If it’s something notable like a trip they know I’m on, she’s “a friend” and I change the subject. After six months you should be able to assess whether the relationship has a future or is just mutual fun but not really going anywhere. If the latter, that’s fine, but she doesn’t need to be part of your family, your kids don’t need to go through the dance of learning who she is and building a relationship with her just to have you break up and her vanish *poof* in a puff of smoke, never to be seen, heard from or mentioned again.

Children of divorce already have the heart-breaking experience of having a parent who is missing, and if you’ve got minimal custody (or none) then it’s probably you who has vanished from their lives. That’s tough. But now’s not the time to worry more about your bed partner than your children. It’s time to step it up and behave honorably, for your sake, for your children’s sake, and, yes, for the sake of your new significant other. It’s smart for everyone involved to take it slowly and delaying having your children meet your new love interest.

Just like good foreplay, take your time, go slowly, and keep the other people’s needs in mind. It’s at least as much about them as it is about you, after all.

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