Why moms don’t have to tell your ex about your new boyfriend

co-parenting rules tell ex introduce boyfriend to kids

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.

[29 rules for successful co-parenting]

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.

[Benefits of dating single dads, and where to find single dads to date]

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.

[9 reasons dating and sex are better as a single mom]

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

[Why you don't have to wait to introduce your kids to your new boyfriend]

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

[Best dating apps for single parents]

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

Related: What to do when your kid's dad shows up late, unexpected or cancels last minute 

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. 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.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.


  1. Mike on December 20, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    So your saying it’s ok for the ex to kick a bf to the curb just to have a new one spending the night 3 weeks later? Seems as tho the girls are going to start to pick up on the fact it’s ok to have random guys in and out staying the night because mommy does it. Going to ask my attorney. Have no problem with ex dating or even introducing to a new bf but feel there should be a gap in between.

    • M. Rubio on August 15, 2018 at 12:14 am

      SERIOUSLY!? So…why do the kids have to be part of their mom’s dating life? Why should the new boyfriend meet the kids unless he plans to stick around? If its not a big deal as you say, then why do it at all? Kids are a big deal and being flippant about who you introduce your children to is irresponsible and unnecessary. If the new boyfriend is none of the ex’s business, why is it the kids business unless he’s going to stick? Its not about security clearance–its about the other parent knowing who is hanging around the kids. And any man who hangs out casually with his date and her kids is not right–you simply don’t hang out with children as a grown man unless their parents know who you are–if you do, and don’t introduce yourself respectfully, you might be a ‘chump.’ I don’t want chumps around my children–you? I am remarried and my wife has never hidden in the shadows like some strange weirdo hanging around my kids. She has integrity. And she did not meet my kids until we were seriously involved. I disagree with your opinion on this matter. Its not about jealousy or control–its about adults being respectful to children and being well….adults. Romantic life of a divorced parent is not the ex’s business OR a child’s business either–why should it be? Once the romance hits the kids home, how could it not be the other parent’s business?! Are you kidding me! Date, date, date and leave the kids with the other parent while you do it. You present a destructive recipe against co-parenting with your advice. Further, what are the kids supposed to do? Not tell the other parent or share stories? That creates deception and tension. The Kickass Single Mom should focus on the Mom part–Or call the book ‘The Carousing Divorcee with Kids.’ I don’t think kids need to see a line of suitors trying to ‘bag’ their mom in order to see their mom have a good time with nice people. Perhaps you could explain in your next book how one takes kids on dates anyway?–seems way odd. That’s not a date anymore–its parental substitution and absurd. You are right–you don’t have to tell the ex. And for that reason, the kids should also be spared lest they be given information which is meant to be withheld from the other parent–not cool. Divorce is between two adults. The kids never divorce either parent. Hence once you bring anything into the kids lives, the other parent is also there by association. Sorry Emma–you are off the mark on this one. You trying a kick ass single mom or a dating demon who has kids?

      • Snarky SLP on August 23, 2018 at 9:08 pm

        I agree 100%! Introductions to kids shouldn’t be made unless the adults agree that the relationship is serious with long-term potential. I’m liberal as hell, but when it comes to my son, I’m not keen on “shacking up” just because my ex is ok doing it.

        I understand that not all relationships work out, I am divorced after all. But I’d like to expose my 6-year-old to as few failed romantic relationships as possible. I’m a child of divorce, and my dad dated and remarried so often that I began to become detached to his paramour du jours. I knew they’d be gone in a couple years, so what’s the point in cultivating anything?

        Didn’t love this article, but to each their own I guess.

        • AJ on September 5, 2018 at 3:27 pm

          I have a 6 year old and I am quite close to my ex for my son’s sake, but we do not share intimate details about our dating life. Based on how much he is up my ass, it is unlikely he has a girlfriend. I do not believe I have to tell him anything about who I date. I couldn’t even imagine bringing a new man around my son for at least a year of dating. Since I would not introduce my son to a potential boyfriend, my son’s father does not need to know anything. I am fine with limiting my dates to times that my son is with his father. His father is also at my house a few times a week to see my son. I have gone on dates during that time with no one the wiser.

  2. Brandy on July 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Question: Should you inform your ex, who is still having a difficult time dealing with the separation, that your new significant other is moving in with yourself and the kids?

  3. DJ on March 3, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Re: AMarie

    My ex tried to talk my lawyer into putting such a clause in our custody agreement. It did not happen.

    It seemed weird that he asked for it, as he moved in with me before my previous divorce was final, and often told me that what I did was not any of my ex-husband’s business. Now he wants me to agree to not have any overnight visitors until our 9 year old is 16. Which reads to me like I am only allowed to do as I like if it is what he would like me to do.

    • Emma on March 6, 2017 at 7:30 am

      Right- those clauses are all about control, not the wellbeing of the kids.

  4. AMarie on July 24, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    “…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.”

    That’s usually not true. Most parenting plans/custody agreements have a paramour clause- that no paramour can spend the night when the children are present. I had my lawyer specifically remove that clause from mine, but it’s usually there.

    That said, it’s a dumb fight to pick, but usually there is some legal ground to stand on.

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