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Single moms shouldn’t wait to introduce their boyfriends to the kids

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My BFF SMILF Morghan Richardson and I both had a bad reaction to a recent Huffington Post article discouraging single parents from rushing into introducing a potential mate to the kids. She is a fellow single mom to two preschoolers, and a divorce lawyer and mediator.

Last night we IM’d about the article and when to introduce a boyfriend to the kids:

Me: So what was the one thing about that HuffPo article that really ticked you off?

Morghan: It bothered me that somehow mom isn’t allowed to have a sexual side because that might make her teenage kid uncomfortable. Like parents should hide the fact that they are full people, and that kids should be sheltered from that part of their lives. Which renders their personal lives as unseemly.

Me: I totally agree. It shames the whole idea of a parent as a sexual, dating person. Puts a negative spin on it for all parties, including – especially — the kids.

Morghan: We aren’t afraid to give our kids Xbox360 and blast-your-head-off war games, but they’re not allowed to see mom date.

Me: Ha! Excellent point.

Morghan: I’m not saying every Tom, Dick and Harry need to have dinner at the house, but seems like the kids may be better adjusted in the long run if they aren’t kept in the dark.

Me: Of course we are all concerned about hurting our kids. But I agree that that making dating a normal part of life — not some colossal deal just because our kids meet someone we’re involved with — lessens the blow if and when those relationships should end.

Morghan: Well put.

Me: But what do we say to the status quo which says, “It’s normal for you to have several relationships after your divorce, and it hurts so much for the parent when those ends. It’s not fair to subject your kids to that same pain”?

Morghan: To them I’d say: Kids need to see how we recover from the blow of relationships ending. Why isn’t that healthy? I tend to wonder if the people screaming the loudest about this aren’t shifting fire from their own overly bitter divorce that most like served to hurt their children more than some light dating ever could.

Me: We won’t throw stones at those miserable assholes. But to your point – I think there is huge value in teaching our kids that life is about loving, then loosing, then picking ourselves up and forgiving and learning to love and trust again.

Morghan: I don’t think it serves them well to shield them from that.

Me: I mean, love always ends. Always. Divorce, breakups, death, or love just dies in a regular, old unhappy marriage. Plus, by embracing dating — it embraces the fact that half of people have been divorcing for 40 YEARS! OUR CHILDREN WILL DIVORCE! They will have multiple long-term relationships! THAT IS LIFE TODAY!

Morghan: Call me a romantic but I still believe in marriage and love. Divorce is not akin to death and taxes. But I guess that is where we part ways.

Me: I’m also incredibly romantic. I totally believe in marriage and love. I also believe that we have no choice but to accept that they both end. They just do. That is why we’re having this convo :)

Morghan: And honestly, I hope my children learn from my mistakes and don’t have to suffer through a divorce. But they will most definitely suffer through break-ups, heart breaks and failure.

Me: There is another side of this. I’ll share a personal story. I was involved with this guy Larry for a year, and he definitely knew the kids and saw them regularly. But it was also clear that there were limits to how much he was willing to be involved. And one day the kids and I were in Brooklyn for some family event, and Helena asks where we are, and I tell her, and she says, “Larry lives in Brooklyn! Can we go to his house?!” They had never been to his house. And it was like a stab to the gut – it was clear that I was participating in a big party that they were not invited to.

Morghan: To a certain extent, isn’t some of that party just for you?

Me: Well, yes. That was the extent of that particular relationship. But that is not how I want to raise my kids. Or the relationship I want with them – I don’t want that distance that having two separate lives creates.

Morghan: I think it is hard to just set a marker for everyone because every relationship is different.

Me: Of course.

Morghan: But I don’t think that means we should be hiding anything. Plus, the fact that our kids are so young makes it easier. They seem so accepting of things.

Me: I totally agree (both our kids are almost 3 and 5). But what about people who say, “Determine the time to introduce depending on how your kid will react”? I say – fuck that. We are the parents and we decide. If we feel our partners should be part of the family in some way, that is what goes. We don’t cower to a kid’s tantrum!

Morghan: Yes, agreed. And as a parent you have to address however your kid reacts – because that is your job as a parent to help them work through it, not avoid it.

On one board, a mom pointed out that her ex’s girlfriend broke up with him after meeting the kids (at the six month mark) and that was even harder because the kids felt guilty.

Me: That is too bad. It’s the parent’s job to make sure they understand that it is NOT their fault (again, it’s not all about the kids!) and here is how we face that adversity.

Morghan: Agreed. I said this earlier: I’d rather know that I taught them to face adversity than to just be in constant search for happiness. Happiness changes. How you face the difficulties of life is a skill that is being ignored because it doesn’t make kids happy.

Me: I more or less agree, but those things go hand-in-hand. You have to be strong to get through all the lousy stuff that happens in life and believe that happiness exists on the other side.

Morghan: I think happiness is within – not out there.

Me: OK, Yoda.

Morghan: I was being serious.

Me: On one board I heard a mom say something like, “If I want to actually build a relationship, I need to spend time with a man, and that means that he has to come and hang out at my house. We can’t build something by seeing each other once every two weeks because we have kids.” It often comes down to schedules and practicality. Which is life.

Morghan: Exactly.

Me: This was super-stupid in the article: However, remember that you have children now so it isn’t quite the same as it was before. Children often become embarrassed and confused when seeing their parents act like adolescents.

Morghan: That totally pissed me off. Like we shouldn’t let our kids see us experience life. Whomever wrote that needs a bitch slap.

Me: Or get laid!

Morghan: Maybe that is why this experience of dating now is so much like middle school. That is how middle schoolers react – “Oh, don’t let anyone know so and so is growing arm hair!”

Me: HAHAH!

Morghan: Parents falter, and kids need to see it.

Me: So true.

Morghan: So maybe if we’re open about our relationships our kids will have an easier time in middle school. LOL

Me: LOL. Also, it’s about owning this as normal adult human behavior: People need companionship, and it is hard to find good mates, and we get our hearts broken and act foolish, but also find great love that can bleed into the rest of the family.

Morghan: Yes, I definitely agree. Great love that should bleed into the family. I say, there is no limit on how many people can or should love my kids.

Me: I so agree! Another thought:

Why are we so opposed to our kids becoming attached, and that person leaving? For example, Helena’s BFF at school Eleanor is moving in the summer. Hopefully we’ll stay in touch, but let’s get real- that likely won’t happen, even though I’m very fond of her mom who is my friend.

That doesn’t mean we hang out with them any less, or discourage the girls’ closeness. Truly caring for someone is a precious thing, and should not be avoided just because it might hurt one day.

Morghan: Right, people lose people and it fucking hurts. But it happens.

Me: Shit happens, kids!

Morghan: And we have to model for our kids to learn how to cope.

Me: Yes, coping. But I also think a lot about how I want my kids to see me in loving relationships with other people – men, friends, etc.

Morghan: Right.

Me: Growing up, my mom dated a bunch at various times, and I loved that. But she never had any serious relationships, and that was way worse — I didn’t have ANY model for relationships, good or bad. I saw that she never got over her divorce and saw that as a huge fail.

Morghan: Ouch.

Me: I want my kids to see resilience, and to me resilience means loving again. Not just coping with loss. Which brings us again back to the when.

Morghan: Kids do have to be in the mix to see if the relationship is going to work. In my case, I thought I didn’t want anything serious, and so I brought my kids around my new boyfriend as a deterrent – and then watched in awe as this guy threw himself into the mix with them. Then I realized that was something worth exploring.

Me: You tried to sabotage the relationship with your kids, but they just sweetened the deal.

Morghan. Exactly! But I really don’t see why bringing a potential mate around the kids is shameful.

Me: Word to your mother! Or, Word to you, mother!

Morghan: LOL

Me: LOL. One thing that I feel strongly about is people who (and this is you, sorry) say, “Oh we’ll just tell the kids we’re friends hanging out.” Kids know everything.

Morghan: They do – but I have a hard time finding where to draw the line between what is age appropriate information.

Me: I think the general rule should be THEY ALL UNDERSTAND EVERYHTHING . Lucas was tiny — not even 2 — and we were reading the Dinosaurs Divorce book and he pointed out that, “Mommy kisses Larry.” It wasn’t like we were making out in front of the kids! Just a hello peck. And even though he was 1, Lucas understood there was something different there.

Morghan: Right – so at what point are we to give them the tools to articulate dating?

Me: It depends on the kid, of course, but the same rules apply no matter what — we do what we think is right, address their concerns, keep things real.

Morghan: So my story ends with my “friend” playing with Ozzie at the dining table, while my ex has come over and is packing lunches. I’m furiously blow-drying my hair to get ready for work.

Me: That’s a good story!

Morghan: Then it hit me: I’m in the Twilight Zone. I don’t think most people experience that.

Me: And you also got sex and a homemade breakfast in the Twilight Zone, correct? Not to mention unpaid childcare. I think I just had an orgasm typing that.

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  1. Honoree Corder
    Honoree Corder02-25-2013

    You two are hilarious — and spot on! Kids are smart and savvy and perceptive. And, they want to see their parents happy. They don’t need details, but they pretty much figure out the rest anyway (and sometimes figure it out wrong, without the right info). I say introduce those people you think are great to the other people you think are great (your kids) whenever it feels right to you.

  2. faiza akhtar
    faiza akhtar02-25-2013

    I’ve led my life letting my 4 kids know that mommy has a life, many needs, and doesn’t just live for them. I’ve done it so my kids have a healthy sense of self, so they see how they can’t forget about themselves when they become parents, and they aren’t afraid of heartbreak when a break up is the right decision.

    Along the way, two of my kids have become teens and their reaction of what I subjected them to are polar opposites. My 14 year old son takes after me and understands that each attempt at a relationship means I get closer to finding the right person for me. My 13 year old daughter however, has anxiety about who will leave next. At first I blamed myself for her woes but then I realized her personality is the anxious type like her father and it is my job to take these opportunities to teach her about healthy coping mechanisms she can use to face heartbreak, challenges, and adversity – all of which are guaranteed in life.

  3. Emma
    Emma02-25-2013

    These are both really thoughtful insights. I like Faiza’s perspective of showing our kids’ the importance of self.

  4. Andrea
    Andrea02-25-2013

    What a great article! This is something I struggle with as I struggle to date. I was recently dating a guy both my son and I adored. And then he broke up with me. I’ve tried to be very clear with my son about how WE are “looking for the right guy”, so the one that just left we agreed was almost the right guy. … and the search continues. Not to say that I’m super proud about traipsing a series of guys through the house during his adolescence. I’d really rather his memories of his childhood didn’t include mom’s various boyfriends, but this is the life I’m living, so I’ll just try to do it as gracefully as possible.

    I wish you two lived near me! All my girl friends are married. I’d LOVE to have a conversation like this!!

  5. Emma
    Emma02-25-2013

    Andrea, this is great, thanks. However, I do take issue with one point — I understand the sentiment behind the “WE are looking for the right guy” — but that places your son in the position of being your partner. He is not your partner, and he is not dating and he is not responsible for finding a partner for YOU. I plan to write a future post about single moms inadvertently putting their kids in the position of being their partner, which is not their job.

  6. Andrea
    Andrea02-26-2013

    In response, you’re absolutely right in many regards, Emma. My son is not responsible for finding (or approving) a boyfriend for me, but this conversation was at a time when we were discussing the breakup. Not only did I lose a partner when he left, I found it important to acknowledge that my son lost a friend he really liked. I believe that the right guy for me (partner, lover, confidant) will also be the right guy for my son (friend, role model, perhaps a father figure)….. hence the right guy for us.

  7. Morghan
    Morghan02-27-2013

    I think that sounds like a considerate way to approach your son Andrea. On the other hand, I’m sure Emma will wonder how much is your son in the drivers seat as far as his opinion? If he didn’t like someone you were dating, would that be the end of the story? (And I wonder that about myself so I don’t have any answers, nor am I passing judgment!)

  8. Raymond Cushing
    Raymond Cushing10-27-2013

    I have two boys 8 and 10 years old who live with their mother. She cycles though relationships with men at the rate of one every three months. This adds up to a lot of men in the boys’ lives. There have already been two police investigations of her boyfriends for molesting the kids. The problem with your article and the comments, as I see it, is that none of you imply, suggest, or state outright that there might be limits to how much exposure to boyfriends is OK for little boys, and adolescent ones. And if there are limits, then who should set them? If a woman thinks it’s OK to expose her sons to four different steady boyfriends a year, which adds up to 40 different men over ten years, then who is to tell her that she’s wrong? Certainly not me, or I would be considered “abusive and controlling”, no? And please don’t suggest child protective services as an intermediary to instruct my ex-wife on the proper etiquette for introducing boyfriends into her sons’ lives. That’s not CPS’ business. The only reliable control is the mother’s own common sense, and if she doesn’t have any, then it’s the kids who inevitably pay the price.

    • Emma
      Emma10-28-2013

      Hi Raymond – Sounds like your ex has some issues going on and those are having a terrible affect on your kids. I’m so sorry.

      However, cases like these are extreme and rare. We should not all be pressured to structure our own family guidelies based on the lowest- and worst – common denominator.

      I agree – your ex should be more responsible about her behavior. But she is not responsible so you must step in. Who cares how she considers you? Step up and do what you can to protect your kids. And if things are indeed so inappropriate that the state has investigated twice you should have a good case for custody, no? Have you sought it?

  9. chd
    chd12-03-2013

    Oh my god! I am printing this out and showing it to all of the naysayers in my life! Thank you guys for being thoughtful, for being brave, and for modeling that to your kids. I was divorced about a year ago and have recently begun dating. To my surprise, almost right away I’ve met someone I really like. I have no idea what type or duration of relationship might result from that feeling, but it’s so much fun nonetheless! I am so busy as a single mother, it is so hard to find time away from my son to date. I have been struggling with all of the advice to wait to introduce my new love interest. You guys have articulated so much of my inner dialogue. You rock!

  10. JCL
    JCL01-01-2014

    Your article just saved me. After more than a year of dating, I’ve met a man I really like. He’s the first person I have found myself even thinking about when I’m with my kids. We’ve only been on 3 dates, and he has a child the same age as my middle child. We are both devoted parents and enjoy many of the same family activities. We’ve talked about meeting each other’s kids as “someday”. We talk and text many times a day. He surprised me last night by suggesting he come to dinner with me and my kids. I’ve heard all the “rules” for introducing. I once dated someone for 6 months and never dreamed of introducing my kids… But when my new guy suggested it, it seemed to make sense. So I took to the internet for more “rules”, of course. Discouraged, I decided… Well to wait. Then I came across this.

    It occurred to me… Our kids are going to date one day, how does someone magically appearing as your significant other teach them how to date successfully? How do we teach them love takes time and work if they don’t see that part? I know my kids imagine I cease to exist when they’re not with me. What does that teach them?

    Thank you for this… I like him… Time to see if he’s worth it!

    • Emma
      Emma01-01-2014

      JLC – Thanks so much for writing! Good on you for listening to your instincts, and congrats on finding a great guy! Keep us posted.

  11. matt
    matt03-24-2014

    Hi I just stumbled upon your article. After carefully reading the passage, I’ve determined a few things. First off, you’re selfish. Secondly, you’re kidding yourself if you think your children are unaffected. Thirdly, you seem to be advocating a lifestyle of promiscuity and deliberately subjecting your children to this behavior. Do you think boys won’t pick up on that? That they won’t view ALL women that way? In any case, I am a single FATHER. I have full custody of my 2.5 year old son, and I refuse to ALLOW his mother to keep him overnight. She is living with a guy she’s known for 6 weeks. I still date. I have seen several women even within the last month. I see women while he’s at daycare, and I have a nanny for him if I need for after-hours or on the weekend. This type of thing your advocating is not and never will be acceptable by any logical and unselfish person. Cancel that… not person, PARENT. The conversation basically comes off as a snooty OMG convo between 2 overgrown 20 year-old children that got knocked up before they fulfilled their dreams. Now it’s “OMG can you believe people judge me for dating?!?” and “ugh, I know, right?”
    Forgive me if what I post is hurtful and to-the-point, but I believe that MOST people (especially men) would agree with this point.

  12. Emma
    Emma03-24-2014

    Whoah, Matt!

    First, I doubt you have legal rights to prohibit your kid from seeing his mom, and even if you did why would any responsible dad do that? Just because you don’t approve of his mom having a relationship? Or do you have specific qualms with the man? That scenario sounds really harmful to your poor son who must really miss his mother.

    Second, what is the difference between dating when my kids are with their dad or an evening babysitter (which I hire no more than twice per month, including for professional reasons) and you dating when your kid is at daycare or with the nanny? Sounds like semantics, but maybe I’m missing something?

    Finally, promiscuity – well, that is in the eyes of the beholder, but the only difference I can tell between your dating and mine is that I am not ashamed and you seem to be terrified of your sexuality and that of your ex. You kid certainly picks up on that, and to negative affects.

  13. matt
    matt03-24-2014

    Actually, I legally do have full custody via a protective order. That is a whole other issue. I choose to let his mother spend time with him because I believe that it benefits both of them.
    I don’t see any difference between what you said in your second paragraph. I take issue with introducing x number of men to a child, regardless of age.
    I don’t understand why you say that I am ashamed of my sexuality. I could care less about that of my ex as well. You completely miss the point of my original post, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. It has nothing to do with my sex life or hers. It has everything to do with what you choose to expose your children to. I don’t think I would have much respect if my mother had brought home a different guy every month or so. How could this behavior possibly have any positive effects on your children’s perception of acceptable relationships?
    I know what my kid picks up on. He is extremely intelligent. That’s why I choose to protect him from situations that will affect him adversely.

  14. Emma
    Emma03-24-2014

    Matt, if you lead a healthy, normal dating life — casually meeting different people, figuring out what you want and need and spending time with the opposite sex, that sounds normal and healthy. That is what single adults do until they find a serious relationship. Why would that negatively affect your kid? And I agree – your son picks up on EVERYTHING. If you are hiding this very important part of your life, he understands something is amiss. That affects his ability to trust you and others.

    From personal experience, I will share: When I was young my mom dated a lot. Many of these guys would come and pick my mom up at the house (old-school style), shake our hands and say hello. Some would come for dinner and handfull who were more serious boyfriends would spend more time with our family — as well as the man’s kids if he had them. Lord knows I am quite critical about a LOT of my parents habits, but I have really positive memories of my mom’s dating. They guys were all nice, my mom was happy around them, and she was doing exactly what she should have been doing at that phase of her life: dating.

    What do you worry you’re protecting your son from? What are you doing that is so shameful that he should not know about? Do you hope he will marryhis first sweetheart? Or do you expect he will date a bunch before settling down? Why not show him a positive rolemodel for what is likely to be a serious of relationships he will have in his life?

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