Let’s say the dating thing worked out and you met someone fantastic, and you are so excited and cannot wait for everyone to meet him because he is so great! While it is true a happy parent can make for happy children, it is necessary to be conscious about how a new partner can affect the dynamics with your kids.
Deciding when and how to make an introduction between your significant other and your children must be done in a thoughtful manner where there is a balance between all concerned parties—this includes you, your children, your new man, and yes, even your ex.
Dating while Divorcing
Depending on when you last dated, the sheer idea of re-entering the dating world can be overwhelming. Then, realizing that this time around you have kids to think about can inspire some paper-bag breathing, to be sure. Yes, it could be an exciting feeling knowing you have once again found romance, and you could even be eager to introduce the new man in your life to your kids.
However, you must be aware of some major pitfalls that could be present outside the obvious concerns of will your kids like Mr. Wonderful or will Mr. Wonderful like your kids?
Should You Be Dating While Going Through A Divorce?
Going a level deeper, you might even want to consider how your ex is going to react regarding this development. And if you are still in the process of divorcing, could the legal proceedings be affected by your love life? Have you even known this new man long enough for him to be deserving of meeting your children?
Of course, another issue should be addressed first. This is so important. If you have a new man in your life but you are still wearing the wedding ring given to you by your current husband or still legally married to him, then do not (under almost any circumstance) introduce your new paramour to your kids. I realize in many affairs, the children have probably already made the acquaintance of the person you might be thinking of introducing them to—it might be a neighbor, a family friend, or even the husband of your PTA nemesis.
Regardless, never let your kids find out about this relationship before your husband does.
Timing Is Important
If you have already filed for divorce and are separated from your husband, then we are dealing with a somewhat cleaner area when it comes to your love life. While you may have some stage fright, and you might also feel you are in no way ready to think about a new relationship, the time may come when you meet someone with whom you feel you could have a future. However, there are some guidelines that must be followed.
First, I would not recommend introducing your new love to your children unless you are 1,000 percent sure it is not going to cause a firestorm with your ex. An ideal situation is if your ex-husband has already entered into a relationship and has introduced the children to his new girlfriend. In this regard, you have carte blanche to call the shots on how to handle the intro. If this is not the case, I encourage you to proceed with caution.
As discussed earlier, divorcing a spouse who is angry and hurt is challenging. Odds are he is feeling upset for many reasons— some might have to do with you and others might stem from his childhood. Ultimately, however, you do not want to instigate more resentment from him.
Depending on your situation and if the split is amicable, there is a chance your divorce is calm and mutually accepted. If this is not the case, or if there are some acrimonious factors involved in your split, introducing the idea of a new dad to your kids could easily make your ex freak out. Realize that you can even significantly destroy a relatively cordial split by making your ex feel threatened by the fact some guy is taking his place in his family.
If your ex loved your Saturday morning pancakes and now he realizes some other Joe is going to be sitting at the breakfast table—in his chair—well, just be prepared for a rocky road ahead. Parents are possessive, and I can tell you that you would probably be having the same feelings if your ex’s new bombshell was in the position to take your daughter to the mall to go back-to-school shopping or pick your son up from baseball practice.
The point is, yes, think about your children—but also think about whether or not the timing is right with your ex.
See the Situation through the Eyes of Others
No matter who was responsible for pulling the plug on your marriage, it is imperative that you take a step back and consider the situation through your children’s and your ex’s eyes. Your kids are already dealing with the fact that Mom and Dad are not together anymore.
How will they react when they see another man put his arm around you, hold your umbrella when it rains, open a car door, or even kiss you? Now, think of your ex. How will he act when he pictures another man doing all the things he used to do with you (even if he was not as great as he should have been in the chivalry department)?
The idea of a new Mr. X fling may fill a romantic void in your life could be disturbing to your ex and your children alike. Your kids have never seen you with anyone other than their father, and this could throw off their equilibrium.
In their thinking, if you have a new man in your life to replace their dad, does that mean you could have new kids someday too? In the children’s mind, you are their mom first, and anyone else should get their hands off! Remember that children can be just as possessive as your ex.
Considering your ex, it is true he might not want you anymore— but he does not want anyone else to have you either. And he especially does not like the idea of his children seeing some other man take care of you, walking the dog he trained, sitting in what used to be his space at the dinner table, or even (maybe if not today, then in the future) sleeping in the bed that he shared with you.
Making a Judgment Call
Let’s take your ex out of it for now and talk about the judgment call you must make with regard to your kids. I have mentioned that kids are very resilient. They have the ability to spring back from a variety of bad or challenging situations without suffering long-term damage.
However, also know these little humans are very perceptive and sensitive—and remember they are also narcissistic. If you are operating under the notion that your kids are simply going to be happy because they see you happy, my advice is to think long and hard about this. You are their mom first. They are going to have to process the reality that they are now seeing you with another man—one who is not their father.
Lesli Doares, LMFT, advises, “The first thing, and this is where I think a lot of parents don’t get it, is understanding that their children may be in a different place regarding the acceptance of the divorce than the parents are. And, frequently, new partners are introduced way too soon. The children aren’t ready for that.”
Depending on the age of your child, their personality, and their relationship with their dad, they could experience some threatening feelings. They could challenge this new relationship or look to undermine it.
Doares explains, “I know there’s this fantasy of ‘Oh, we’re going to form this big, happy family.’ And, unfortunately, because children were never consulted about the divorce, there’s also a strong feeling of not being consulted about this new person coming into their lives and really modifying any expectations.”
She continues, “Most children and even into the time that they’re adults, still have the fantasy of Mom and Dad getting back together again. And, once a new partner is introduced, that idea gets really challenged, and there’s usually some kind of pushback, although it’s not necessarily obvious, and especially because Mom or Dad is really happy with this new person. But the kids feel they don’t know what to do about this.”
After all, how many times has the phrase, “You are not my father!” been shouted on some TV drama featuring a blended family? Children often fantasize about their parents getting back together—and this new guy quashes that fantasy.
Also, remain aware that your children could experience feelings of abandonment, loss, or grief now that their dad is not around each day. Keep that in mind when you introduce a new love interest. You do not want your children to bond with this person, only to have him walk out on you a month later because he is not ready to commit or does not like the way you make your eggs in the morning. Ensure that the relationship is substantial before you spend your children’s time and emotions getting to know and trust someone who might not be around a few months from now.
Dr. Fran Walfsh discusses some of the risks she has witnessed with her younger patients, “The biggest risk is your kid gets attached to John or John’s kids, and if it doesn’t work out, there’s another ripping away of another attachment figure. And it’s painful, unnecessary pain for the kids. The next risk is that no matter how you slice it, every child of every age, and that includes thirty-five-year-olds, holds a secret wish that Mommy and Daddy will reconcile and be a happy family together again. Every kid, even today with the high divorce rate, still fantasizes and wants his or her parents to be together and for them to have one united family. So it’s painful when you introduce some new person. Don’t do it unless you know that person’s sticking around.”
She continues. “Never lie to your children.” Always be truthful, but less is more.
The Legalities of Dating Pre-divorce
Another consideration you need to take into account when you are thinking of blending your Saturday-night-kids-are-with-their-father life with your kid-filled life is the legalities you may face as you start to date pre-divorce. One key issue to explore is where you are with custody and if there is the possibility of a custody fight presenting itself in the future. If there is the slightest chance of a custody dispute (meaning that a parenting agreement has not already been drafted and signed), I would strongly recommend no introduction be made to the person you have started dating.
The last thing you need is your ex making it seem to a judge that you have poor judgment when introducing Mr. Rebound to your kids and letting him use the old toothbrush their father left behind.
A second consideration is specific language could be put into your separation agreement that any introduction to a significant other cannot occur unless the relationship has lasted for a certain amount of time. There can also be stipulations stating that if an introduction were to take place, the ex-spouse would be provided advance warning.
Again, this is not anything done to spite you—and it could be in everyone’s best interests. The last thing you would want to hear come out of your kid’s mouth after a weekend at her dad’s is “Mommy, I had so much fun with Daddy and his new friend Daisy. She is a professional dancer, and they met when she was dancing for Daddy.” So, a little warning is always a good thing.
Actionable Tips: How to Make the Introduction
Now let us get to the part you have been waiting for. If you have established that, yes, it is time to make the introduction between your kids and your new boyfriend, here are some suggestions:
If your child is in therapy, I recommend speaking to your child’s therapist about factors you should consider that pertain to your son’s or daughter’s needs. The therapist might have insight or best practices that could be applied to your child’s personality, moods, challenges, or other issues surrounding your divorce.
If your child is younger, have your new significant other be a tag-along person on a fun activity—like an amusement park or a trip to the zoo.
- Engage your child without overdoing it so he feels he had a really great day, and hopefully, those fun feelings can start to be associated with your new friend.
- Involve your significant other in a non-intrusive way. He does not need to be the center attraction; rather, allow your child to interact with him in a way where trust and comfort can slowly be built.
- If your children are older, the fun activity might not work with them, and they could see through what you are trying to do (and probably call you on it). Therefore, speak directly with them about your new relationship and let them dictate the terms of what would make them most comfortable when arranging this introduction.
Aida Vazin, LMFT, advises, “I would recommend phasing in a new relationship slowly and gradually. Going through a divorce and change requires an adjustment period for everyone, especially the children. A good way to approach this is to have an open dialogue about this with your children. Ask them how they feel about the whole process. Ask them how they may feel about a new person in their mother’s life. Start introducing the idea that Mom will start dating again, and allow your child to build an acceptance and comfort level with the process. recommend brief conversations, as this kind of conversation, may bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings both from Mom and the children. To go deeper into the conversation, I would recommend involving a counselor as well.”
I agree with Vazin about going slowly. Have patience. While you may be starting to recognize your new man could be a great addition or asset for your family, your child may not appreciate this just yet—it may take time. Although you are understandably enthusiastic about your new partner and all the possibilities this presents, your kid might be in a different place. Take conscious, level-headed steps that support your parent-child relationship and help enable acceptance of your new partner.
You might be ready to embrace the future, but know that your children could still be dealing with trying to achieve a balance between their new reality and what your family looked like in the past. After you get them on board, then maybe you can accomplish the same thing with your ex.