So you’ve decided to start dating again . . .
That idea, in and of itself, can make some people wild with anxiety. Add to that the decision of when and how to introduce your children to your new love, and you have a lot on your plate to deal with.
Surprisingly, there is almost universal agreement by psychologists, social workers, and other experts who work with divorcing families, that you should not introduce your children to your new boyfriend/girlfriend until you have been in a committed long-term relationship for a minimum of 6 months to 1 year. Of course, all situations are unique, but this 6 months to 1 year standard is a good place to start.
Gary Neuman, psychotherapist, rabbi, and author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles’ Way, suggests waiting a year from separation from your spouse before introducing one’s children to anyone. He feels that children need at least that much time to adjust to their new family dynamics. That “one year” rule is pretty common, in psychology, because it allows a person who has been affected by a trauma to get through all of the major events, holidays, seasons, etc. at least once before attempting to move on to a new way of life – analogous to a period of mourning.
Parents, the experts counsel, should keep their dating life under wraps until, and if, their new relationship becomes serious. There are a couple reasons for this. First, if your children tend to attach to everyone you date, and your introductions are made prematurely, your children may suffer loss and feel hurt when that person is no longer in the picture. Second, children are often not very friendly to people their parents are dating . . . and why would you want to expose your new friend to that sorry treatment any sooner than necessary? (If you are a parent, you know how kids can be when introduced to new people. Need I say more?)
It is also a good idea for parents to self-assess why they feel the need to introduce their children to their new boyfriend or girlfriend. Of what value will that introduction be to the kids? What is the purpose of that introduction? Will the children’s lives be enhanced by the inclusion of your new love into their lives? Are you preparing the children for your significant other to be a permanent fixture in your lives? (And, if so, that would probably take a while to decide anyway and, for most people, be well within the 6 month to 1 year framework).
Peter Sheras, clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, and the author of I Can’t Believe You Went Through My Stuff!: How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need, advises divorced parents to look first toward the quality of the dating relationship before worrying about how or when to introduce children. “The commitment is the most important piece because, when there’s commitment, that becomes obvious to the kids.”
Know, too, that children should not be put in the position of helping you choose/approve a mate. That type of decision-making is strictly grown-up business. Something as serious as choosing a partner can only be done by the person who will be having the intimate relationship with the new person. Once again, it is up to the dating parent to choose a boyfriend or girlfriend that is appropriate, kind, kid-friendly and truly loves him or her. There is a lot to be said for children’s intuition when it comes to people, but assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your new beau is usually not a good place to test your child’s EI (emotional intelligence).
Best Advice: Take things slowly and give everyone the time they need to adjust to their new family dynamics, first. Then, once the dust has settled, take the matter of introducing your children to your significant other slowly and thoughtfully. After all, it won’t do your children any harm to be in the dark when it comes to knowing who you spend Saturday nights with when they are with their other parent. Usually, they could care less and it just won’t matter to them. . . at least until it looks like your new significant other might be coming into the family in a big way.
Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator and Elizabeth Downing Revell, Mediation Assistant
This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.