Introducing a Significant Other to Your Child
The Right Way and the Right Time
As a single parent, when you're fortunate enough to develop a meaningful relationship with a great boyfriend or girlfriend, you want to connect that significant other with your children. You want to see the people you care about together and happy. But, let's face it, single parenting is challenging, and dating is risky. Do you really want to mix the two?
There is a right way and a right time to introduce your significant other to your kids. You'll want to give this introduction some thought because it can set the stage for your future together. If you're not yet in a relationship, it's a good idea to write down a plan for the introduction. Making your plans before the emotions are involved is sensible. If you're already in a relationship, it's not too late to write out a smart plan for getting everyone together.
There is no standardized "right" time for the introduction. The beauty and depth of people and relationships varies widely.
A few questions to answer...
How long have you and your significant other known each other?
How long have you had an exclusive, committed relationship?
How old are your kids?
Is a wedding planned? If so, how long will it be until the wedding?
How long has it been since the loss of or divorce from the other parent?
Have you said and been told, "I love you"?
Does your significant other have children you'll be meeting? Can you agree on a right time to meet children?
Are you ready to introduce him to your ex?
This combination of answers can guide you to setting the right time for the introduction. As a general rule, during the courtship and dating season, kids are off limits. Children should be protected from becoming attached to a parent's boyfriend/girlfriend and then losing that relationship. Life has enough losses without subjecting kids to the world of single parent dating. Dating can be a great adult activity that brings fun and balance to your life. Keep it as an adult activity until it's something more.
If your ex has regular contact with the children, it is appropriate to wait to introduce the children until after you've introduced your ex. The parent of your children should be aware of a new significant relationship.
A few laws of introductions...
Wait until it's an exclusive, committed relationship.
Wait until you're ready to handle, "I don't like..."
Wait until you've fulfilled the time standard you set.
Wait until a divorce is final. No introductions while you're still married.
No PDA (public display of affection). Treat him as you would a relative.
Choose a time after the relationship is serious but in time to get everyone comfortable with each other. There are situations that just won't work. You'll need get everyone together different times in different settings over a period of months and figure out how your blended family will work. If he cannot tolerate the kids or the kids cannot tolerate him or if it becomes blatantly obvious that there will not be a moment of peace with this combination of personalities and attachments together, the relationship has to end (unless you all thrive in conflict).
Assuming that given some time and boundaries that the relationship will work, you want everyone to have the opportunity to settle into the relationship before it goes 24/7. You want to avoid feeling desperate and pressured to make everyone "happy" in time for your big day.
Until you're confident that this guy is going to be part of your life for a long time--until this is a permanent relationship--hold off on introducing a romantic interest. You want your children to grow up with strong, healthy boundaries for relationships. Your life sets an example for them.
It's time. You know it's time. Now, how do you make this introduction memorable and positive?
First, you can introduce him just through conversation. Begin mentioning his name. When your children ask, have your answer ready. "Josh is a man that cares about me. I'd like for you to meet him soon." Or... "Jamie and I enjoy a lot of the same things. We've spent a lot of time together over the last couple years. Maybe you'd like to meet him."
For the actual meeting, you'll want to err on the side of the kids. Your significant other is a mature adult. He should be ready and able to handle even the most disastrous introduction. Your children, on the other hand, need this introduction to go well. A kid-friendly venue is typically a winner--a movie, bowling, a sporting event, something that offers some entertainment so you can avoid awkwardly maneuvering lengthy conversation, and something that lasts less than 2 hours.
While a small gift or special treat is appropriate, you'll want to avoid anything that is too extravagant or contrary to normal family routine. "Ice cream? Cool! Mom said I couldn't have treats until I got my room cleaned, and you're going to get me ice cream? I like your style!" He needs to keep you as the family hero not swoop in on the kids' side.
After the first few meetings, you can move on to dinner, a short fishing trip, or a less structured activity. Most single parent homes are stretched. Everyone appreciates a helping hand. Your significant one can help out with household chores, homework, errands, some tips for playing a sport, or a hobby. Look for that common activity that can bring everyone together.
Most importantly, keep the relationship respectful from the start. Children respect your companion. Companion respects the children. Everyone respects you and the children's other parent.
Think about why you want this introduction to happen.
Is it mostly about your children? You know their lives will be enriched by your companion.
Is it mostly about your boyfriend/girlfriend? Hounding from your girlfriend to meet the kids is not a good reason. It's got to be because you're ready to commit to being a family.
Is it mostly about your ex? You want him to know you've found someone.
Is it mostly about you? You've been lonely and overextended for a long time. You want someone there to share life and support your journey.
Is it right for everyone? You know you all belong together and it's time to make it happen.
Loyalties run deep in children, parents, and committed relationships. Introducing someone new can challenge these tight bonds. Everyone involved has experienced the beauty of love and the devastation of loss. Your courage to love again changes everything.