When should single moms or dads introduce a new partner to the kids?
Short answer: Whenever you want.
Growing up, my mom, who was divorced, dated a lot for a few years.
I loved it.
I loved watching her get dressed up to go out to dinner or dancing. I'd sit on her bed as she'd stand at the dresser and set her blond, permmed hair on rollers, apply makeup and a spritz of Norell, her signature fragrance. She was happy, looked like she felt pretty. Then the cool teenage babysitter arrived, and my brothers and I did everything we could do to contain our rambunctiousness before my mom left.
This was back in the 1980s, and the guys she dated grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and they would come to the house and pick her up. They often brought flowers — even on (especially?) first dates. My mom used these interactions as opportunities to teach her kids manners, and we learned about shaking hands, introducing one's self and looking the other person in the eye when you spoke.
A few of these guys turned into relationships that lasted a few months, and in those cases, if they had kids, we'd all have outings. I remember a few times everyone sleeping over at our house.
The guys were nice, the kids were nice, my mom was happy around these men and it was all very normal.
How long should you wait before you introduce your boyfriend to your child?
Today, when I hear single parents talk about dating, the most common scenario is waiting until the magical six-month mark to introduce an amour to the kids. Divorced couples even mutually agree that the kids will not lay eyes on a romantic partner until half a year has passed. Some even go as far as engagement.
This is nonsense. There is no reason that you can't introduce your kids to someone you are dating any time at all. People pass through your children's lives all the time:
- Beloved teachers are left behind every year
- Grandparents and other loved ones will die, guaranteed
- Trusted neighbors and best friends move away
Just because your kids meet someone you are dating doesn't mean they will become attached to them — especially if they are introduced as someone you are dating. NOT your new husband / their new stepdad / a huge deal.
But first you must become comfortable with dating yourself. After all, if you are determined to find a new husband / stepdad for your children, they will assume that intensity and will try to bond and be heartbroken if / when it ends.
If you have a healthy attitude about dating, then it is healthy for your kids to know about that, too.
Hiding your boyfriend from your kids
I recently heard a really great story from a newly single mom that illustrates the importance of being open about your dating life with your children, and modeling healthy life-long romance, starting young.
Facing divorce, this mom of two's own childhood loomed large as her point of reference. After all, her parents split when she was in preschool, and she was raised almost exclusively by her mother, who was a great role model in that she rose from a store clerk to a corporate executive during my friend's childhood. It's no surprise my friend has also become incredibly successful herself.
But, she never saw her mom date. At all.
Facing her own single status, she was terrified — assumed, even — that she also faced perpetual loneliness. Why wouldn't she? That was her model: You divorce. You're alone forever.
However, this new phase of life has opened a new chapter in my friend's relationship with her mother, as these things tend to do. And it turns out that her understanding of her mom's personal life was inaccurate.
“Oh I always had an active sex life,” the mom confessed recently. “I just kept that separate from my relationship with you.”
My friend was stunned. This not only TNT'd her impression of her mom, but upturned her expectations for her own sexual and romantic life — which suddenly became so much brighter.
I love this story because it serves as such great evidence for why we should all be open about our dating lives with our children. I've said it once but it needs to be said a zillion times more:
There is nothing shameful about a mother dating. You are an adult woman who has romantic, emotional and sexual needs. Embracing this fact is great for you, and great for your kids.
Those needs do not conflict with your kids' needs of you, or your relationship with your family. In fact, happily dating is the healthiest thing you can model for your children, both now — and in shaping their points of reference in adulthood. Being sexually fulfilled gives you the energy to parent to your greatest potential. Plus, a healthy romantic life — whatever that means for you — frees your children from their own natural sense that they must fill that void, now and in the future — which is prone to happen in single-parent families.
A sexually satisfied mom is a happier mom.
Now, you know all about age-appropriate information, so I won't even go there. Because, again, you are an adult woman and you know better.
So, tell your kids you are going on a date. Let them meet the man you are seeing — even if you are not sure where the relationship is headed. The more you embrace your sexuality, the healthier it is, and the easier it will be to share with your kids in a way that doesn't make anyone squirm.
Just ask my friend.
My new boyfriend had a sleepover with my kids home for the first time
Here is what happened when my boyfriend of three months stayed over:
My kids met him a couple times. He's sweet with them, and he tried to play it cool, though I can tell he's a little nervous about making a good impression on them (and on me, with them), which makes him all the more irresistible.
In the spirit of being normal about mixing kids with dudes, I also tried to keep it cool. We'd planned for him to have dinner at my place with the kids last Thursday. Earlier in the week I texted: “Do you want to stay over?”
Sure, he said. I didn't want to make it into a huge deal with the kids, but I also believe it is really disrespectful to sneak men into your bed, or simply wake up with a man laying next to you without any explanation. Kids aren't morons.
So, I first mentioned to Lucas, age 4: “He's going to sleep over at our house Thursday.”
When his sister, 6, came home, Luke eagerly rushed up to her: “Helena! Helena! Guess WHAT! Mommy's boyfriend is going to SLEEP at our HOUSE!”
Helena: “Where is he going to sleep?
Me: “My bed.”
Helena: “Where are you going to sleep?”
Me: “In my bed with him.”
Helena: “I think you wiggle too much at night. Maybe he should sleep on the couch.”
Lucas: “I know! I know! He can sleep in MY BED!”
Me: “Where are you going to sleep?”
Lucas: “With you.”
Me: “I'm going to sleep with him in my bed because he's my boyfriend and I want to snuggle with him.”
Lucas: “What about OUR morning snuggles?”
Me: “We will still do that — there are plenty of mommy snuggles to go around.”
Helena: “I promise not to fart on his lap like I did with your last boyfriend. I think that's why you broke up.”
Maybe that last bit about the boyfriend snuggles was TMI, but it is true and go to the heart of the kids' confusion — this visitor is different than the many houseguests who frequent our couch. And it turned out to be completely accurate (read on).
The day of The Great Sleepover, I picked Helena at the bus stop and she giddily skipped along the sidewalk holding my hand.
“My mommy's boyfriend is going to sleep at my house! My mommy's boyfriend is going to sleep at my house! I told everyone at school — even my teachers! My mommy's boyfriend is going to sleep at my house!”
The rest of the evening was pork chops and roasted cauliflower and cupcakes my boyfriend brought for the kids. He cleaned the kitchen (even the stovetop which I religiously leave for the housecleaner) while I got the kids into the bath and jammies. I read Helena one of those Madonna English Roses books and he read Lucas a Planes book. There were kisses all around, followed by yelling to get back into bed, and it couldn't have been more normal or cozy.
And it was, at its core, a normal and cozy Thursday evening with the kids. I put on my long-sleeved pajamas, washed my face and slipped into bed next to him, my head resting in the crook of my arm and then on his chest. We turned off the light and talked about what I don't remember. I wish I had a funny story about stifled howls of passion or a knocking headboard that awoke the kids, and while there were some steamy adult snuggles under the predawn covers, we crawled out of bed to make coffee and muffins and listen to NPR as I yelled at the kids to hurry up and get dressed already. And then the day had begun.
Why you may want to wait or not introduce your boyfriend to your kids
In response to the above essay, a mom wrote me:
As a single mom, it is a social stigma for me to date. Many feel that my life as a woman should have stopped when I had children. Someone even suggested that it’s okay for men to move on but I should solely dedicate my life to my children.
That makes me want to bust out my nunchucks and beat the crap out of society. But you are safe here, and I’m here to tell you: Date! It’s normal — healthy! There will likely be heartbreak and missteps. You are human. But do not feel ashamed of your emotional, social or sexual needs. Embrace your womanhood in all its splendor. This is what a good mom does.
Maybe you and your boyfriend disagree on when and how to tell his kids or your kids when to introduce the other partner. Couples counseling can help—even if you're not married. When you need couples therapy.
And when you are ready, bring around your family. Yes, consider how you do this. Respect your kids’ reactions. Talk about it with them. But do not feel guilty. Let go of any shame. You are normal and this is healthy.
That said, there are plenty of good reasons to take your time introducing your kids to your new amore. Maybe you don’t ever introduce him at all.
1. You recently broke up with someone else.
Even though you may be over the rebounds and ready to move on, you’re not sure your kids are.
2. You’re afraid your new guy will be really awesome with the kids.
Which will make you totally love him even way, way more. Maybe you’re not ready for that kind of emotional intensity. It scares you. That’s cool. Take it slow.
3. You’re afraid he might not be so great with your kids.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t date him — it means that he might not be part of your family life. Sometimes you just need a lover or someone to take you out to dinner now and again. Not all relationships are the giant, Brady Bunch, 24/7 kind. Maybe you’ll want that sort of partnership in another phase of your journey.
4. You want to prolong the courtship.
Face it: if he’s spending every Wednesday enjoying meatloaf and mashed potatoes with you and the kids, he’s not taking you out of wild-boar-and-crimini-mushroom meatloaf and truffle-laced heirloom purple potato mash at that cute place downtown on Wednesdays. Family life is wonderful. But that shit’s not glamorous.
5. You’re afraid your family life will make him run.
Truth? It might. Especially if he doesn’t love you (yet). It’s hard to imagine that a man who did not sire your kids might actually like them and also want to fuck you. But it happens all the time. Maybe you want feel more secure in the relationship before you bring him home to the circus that is your life. Take your time!
6. You don’t want to signal to him it’s serious (yet).
You may accept that introducing a guy to your kids does not indicate that he’s your forever boo. But he may not see it that way — which is understandable because most people in our culture wouldn’t, either. If you’re playing it cool and not ready to jump in with your heart and soul, but worry he will think you’re eager and commitment-ready if you invite him to join your clan for Disney on Ice, wait.
7. You want him all to yourself.
This is not selfish. See #3. Not every relationship is meant for marriage or family. Having a lover, hookup or friend with benefits that is separate from your daily life can be a fabulous arrangement. If that suits you, embrace it.
Short answer: Whenever you want.