I often hear from moms who:
- Say that their ex freaked out when he found out she was dating, and how should she deal with him?
- Ask how she should tell her ex about her new boyfriend.
- Are livid her kids met her ex's new woman.
To all of these scenarios, I say: It is none of his or your business.
That is right: Your romantic life is none of your ex's business. Nor is his yours.
Now, you may follow Gwyneth Paltrow and the pat divorce advice that informs you to constantly communicate with your ex and involve them in all decisions that involve the kids. Some people have really beautiful relationships with their exes, or friendly or civilized relationships. That's great. As in any relationship — platonic, romantic, familial, professional — you conduct yourself with dignity and according to the understanding of disclosure with the other party.
But that is an agreement — implicit or explicit — with that person. That is not the law of co-parenting for every family.
In other words, if you and your ex have a nice relationship and chat freely and often about the goings-on in your lives, and you start dating someone and have been telling everyone else in your life about this special new person, then it would be really weird and suspicious if you didn't tell your ex.
Not that many people have that kind of relationship. Pretending you do, when you don't, only creates giant problems.
As I've written about extensively, dating is normal and healthy regardless of your parental status. Kids seeing their mother or father spend time with nice people, people who may be casually involved in the children's lives or become lifelong step-parents, does not need a security clearance from the other parent.
Because you are no longer romantically entwined and, as such, you are each free to date as each of you see fit.
Also: Parents dating is not a big deal.
Hear more about intro'ing your new guy to the kids, and whether you should tell their dad in this Like a Mother episode:
If it feels like a big deal that the other parent is dating around the kids, there are several possible explanations:
- The upset parent is jealous or otherwise not emotionally over the relationship.
- The upset parent is hyper-controlling (which is basically the same as above).
- The upset parent has an unhealthy attitude about dating overall, and thinks it is a toxic, dirty thing children must be protected from.
Further, if you know your ex will be upset about the new person, but tell them anyway, there are some not-great reasons for this, too:
- You're trying to make him jealous.
- You are living in a fantasy world in which you have a happy co-parenting relationship in which sharing about your romantic life is organic and normal, ignoring your reality that proves you have anything but.
- You're flaunting your newfound independence and his inability to control you.
- You know he will get all crazy and jealous and make a scene in front of your new boyfriend, who you suspect will then get jealous and crazy and you get off on the sword fight (or some other similar crazy-making ain't nobody got time for).
Rules for introducing the kids to your new boyfriend — even if your ex is difficult
- You decide within yourself what your values are, and conduct yourself consistently within these values. Everything comes back to this. Be consistent. Your commitment to your own values will inform your ex how he can expect you to behave, and what is expected of him. This teaches your children the meaning of values overall, and evokes their respect and sense of security (because they know their mom is a strong and just leader). It also does men you date a favor. They are likely unsure about the kids-dating-mom rules, and look to you for what is what.
- For you, is dating or having a boyfriend and telling your kids about this man an earth-moving occasion requiring a NATO summit of your children's closest inner circle? If yes, then draft a written letter informing your ex that the man you have been on six dates with will be joining you and the kids for Taco Tuesday three weeks from the following Tuesday, have the letter notarized and sent via your lawyer to his lawyer.
- If you don't think it's a big deal to intro your new boyfriend to the kids, then just introduce your boyfriend to the kids when you feel like it. Remember: The longer you wait, the bigger a deal this becomes, the more pressure mounts on him, you, the kids, and the relationship.
- If you have a nice, friendly and open relationship with your ex, then share your dating status with him in a way that is consistent with the rest of your dealings.
- If you don't think dating is a big deal, but know your ex will go ballistic if he finds out a man who is not him spent time in the same minivan as his children, then you should tell him. The reason is this: If you know he will go bananas about the kids meeting a man, then your kids one some level know their dad will go bananas about them meeting your man. That creates a giant tension in the family, and your kids will be inclined to chose sides, lie and protect you, their dad, and most of all, themselves.
Co-parenting and setting boundaries
That is why I say in this situation: Tell your ex. Do not ask him. Tell him, and do not care one tiny bit about his response. You do not introduce the men to each other (yet, at least), or make any moves at all that suggest you are looking for his approval. A text that says: “I wanted you to hear it from me and not the kids: I am dating, and sometimes the guys I see meet the kids.”
It's not up for debate, or discussion. This is your romantic life, and your court-ordered time with the kids. If your ex argues this is harming the kids, let him take you to court for inviting a nice man along with you to Applebee's. Otherwise, ignore his tantrum.
And if you are the mom going bananas because you heard from your kids / the ex / his cousin / Facebook that his new girlfriend about whom everyone has more or less nice things to say has been staying over at his place, check yourself. Because this is just the reality of a two-household family. He is the kids' father, and legally he has a right to parent as he sees fit. You might not like her, or agree with his decisions, but abuse aside, you have no legal or moral right right to try to stop that.
In fact, the more you try to control his life and his time with the kids, the worse life will be for the whole family. Including for you.
In fact, if this is you, I urge you to revisit your values. Because the more supportive you are of your ex's new relationship or romantic life, the more supported your kids feel, and the more cooperative your ex will perceive you to be.
And only good things can come of that.
Co-parenting communication guidelines
When communicating with your kid's other parent, communication is key. Whether by text, phone or in-person:
- Stick to the facts, and information he needs to know
- Don't get emotional
- Don't lecture him
- Respond promptly
- Communicate as you hope he would communicate with you
- Don't respond if he gets angry/ lectures / threatens / gets emotional
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.