Introducing a Post-Divorce Beau — Good Parenting

 

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I am divorced with shared custody of our elementary school age children. I have recently started dating someone exclusively and wondered at what point do I introduce this new person in my life to my children, and how?

Mom with New Beau

 

 

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Dear MWNB,

There are many things to consider, and preparations to make, before children should be introduced to mom’s new love interest.

Wait, What?
How are your children faring with splitting their time between parents and between households? A single-parent household functions differently than a home with parents who share parenting, do things together with and without the children, and support each other in a variety of ways. Post-divorce, children spend one to five years getting comfortable with new roles and routines with one another and with each parent. They may hyper-focus on how Mom and Dad are doing which can overshadow their other pursuits. Are they back to doing well with friendships and with school? No matter how amicable the divorce process has been, the end of a marriage is a rough adjustment for everyone. Be sure the children are well-settled into new surroundings and new schedules before introducing yet another change in their lives.

A Threat to Parental Attention
A primary need of a child is to feel loved by the person or persons who take care of him. Ample time with you and positive attention from you prove to him that he is loved. When there is more than one child in the family, and therefore frequent competition for that time and attention, the evidence needs to be ramped up a bit. Be sure you have worked daily reminders into your lives together and apart – this could include scheduled FaceTime sessions when the children are with their father, as well as household chores, hobbies, homework supervision, volunteering at school, and other ways to show you are interested in and invested in each child. Only then will it be safe to introduce what your children might view as a rival for being the apple your eye.

Potential Loss, after a Loss
An exclusive dating relationship could possibly become a permanent relationship, but then again, it may run its course and come to an end. A few months’ time is probably reasonable for assuring yourself that you and your beau are comfortable enough with each other to want to meet each other’s families. If you’ve gotten to the point where you accept each other flaws and all, you are ready for this important step. However, if there’s doubt that you’ll still be together at least another few months, don’t drag your children into it. In other words, don’t take the risk that you’ll have to explain why you broke up. Better they never heard of him rather than having to share with you yet another loss.

This Divorce Thing is Just Temporary
It’s fairly common that children hold out hope for a return of the love that created them. Even if you’ve been very clear that you and their dad are better people not being together, your children may view any suitor as a threat to the romantic fantasy of reunification. Are you and your dating partner strong enough together to endure some bad behavior? Sabotage efforts could include making a mess in the house just before he’s expected, intentionally being rude when introduced, picking fights with each other in his presence, and or doing something which urgently requires your attention so you can’t leave the house with him. Over time, your children may learn to like him on his own merits, however, expect their initial reactions to be: “Who needs him?”

Reactions of Your Former Spouse
Keep in mind that an introduction will likely be reported to your children’s father. Sensing that the introduction is important to you, they will surmise that it is important enough to share with Dad. Be pro-active. Let your ex know what you are planning, and follow up with how the introduction turned out, so he doesn’t have to grill the children. Consider post-divorce counseling or parent mediation if your ex has the potential to act out lingering anger/ protectiveness of you / control of what he thinks is best for the children or other behaviors that might confuse or hurt them.

Prepare for Introductions
Give everyone some interesting information about whom they are about to meet. Your children may want to know: whether he’s anyone’s Dad; whether he has pets; what kind of work he does; what kind of car he drives; what his hobbies are; and his favorite food/ color/ music/ sports figure/ etc. Be sure to tell them about qualities you admire in his personality. Likewise, fill him in with specifics about your children. And if hasn’t had much experience since his own childhood, give him some pointers about children in general and the norms of behavior for your children’s ages. Keep the meeting relaxed and brief – about a half hour, including some planned show and tell by each child if they’d like. Have your children help you plan and prepare light refreshments. A goal of the meeting could be to find common ground on which to plan an outing or activity at home for all of you to enjoy together – in about a week or two. Give ample time for the first impressions to sink in to create curiosity to know more.

While you don’t need your children’s approval to choose a boyfriend, if he’s going to be part of your life beyond a year or two he and the children will have to work out working relationships. If you only spend time with him without the children, it would be denying a major part of who you are. So, if you’re ready to merge your dating life with your family life, introductions are in order.

Dr. Debbie

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