Single parents dating someone new often feel conflicted about including this special someone in family activities – especially if it’s uncertain whether this person will become a committed partner.
Juggling parenting and work responsibilities, extended family commitments, sustaining friendships and romance gets tricky, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. However, you know your kids better than anyone else, which certainly helps establish priorities and guide many difficult decisions.
Here’s some advice to help you juggle your dating life and your parenting responsibilities:
Forget the math. There’s no magic number of months together or total number of dates that signal it’s OK to introduce the person you’re dating to your kids. Most single parents try to keep their kids’ involvement a step or two behind their level of commitment to a new love interest. If you’d like to introduce your kids to your dating partner, or it just happens when schedules collide, keep it simple. If you over-explain, your kids will sense your anxiety and react in anxious and uneasy ways.
Choose your words with care. If you decide to introduce your dating partner to the kids, stick to calling the person a “guest in our house” or a “special friend.” These designations work satisfactorily for all age groups. “Guest in our house” should (fingers crossed) spark age-appropriate reasonable behavior. While “special friend” hints strongly that you care about this person, and that the person will likely make return appearances. Of course, if you always involve your kids in your dating life, these characterizations won’t carry much weight. If you’re co-parenting, it’s in everyone’s best interest to give the “other parent” a heads up that the kids will be meeting and spending time with your special friend.
Brief and simple explanations work best. Teenagers are not better equipped emotionally to hear details about your love life than younger kids. In fact, teenagers may feel far more conflicted about your romantic life than they let on. Teens may ask, however, about your future as a couple. “Right now, we’re just dating” is an honest and comforting response. Assure your older kids that, when and if your relationship status significantly changes, you will talk to them about it. Don’t prompt the inevitable visuals by oversharing. Resist saying things like “someone I like to kiss and cuddle” or sharing any other explicit information.
Discuss the kids with your romantic partner. If your new love interest has kids of their own, expectations about meeting and spending time with your kids will be far more realistic. Kids have a special knack for knowing how to embarrass their parents. Take those inevitable moments in stride with good humor. It’s a relationship red flag if your new romantic partner freaks out or gets unglued over typical kid antics. It’s also a red flag if your new love interest suddenly wants to only spend time with you and your kids. Relationships in their early stages should mostly involve the two adults.
A romantic partner with no kids will need a crash course in child development to keep expectations in line. While bringing gifts to the kids may seem the best way to make a terrific first impression, gift giving may create expectations that can’t be sustained. For example, you don’t want the kids to expect a gift every time this person arrives or place an inconvenient burden on your new special someone.
Plan a get together with the kids. For a first-time get together, plan a family-friendly activity. Keep the activity time limited and low stress. Make sure it’s an outing or activity both your dating partner and kids can participate in with enthusiasm and confidence. Your family may love to ice skate. If your partner is shaky on ice skates, however, this is not an activity to choose. If your kids roll their eyes at the suggestion of visiting a museum, taking advantage of your partner’s museum membership will not end well. It’s definitely better for everyone to feel time went by too quickly rather than feeling trapped or uncomfortable. Don’t expect your kids to instantly bond with your new love interest. And, obviously, don’t use your kids as a sounding board for how the relationship is progressing.
Later on you’ll want to include your romantic partners in kids’ birthday celebrations and other special holidays cautiously. You likely don’t want images of people no longer in your life front and center on all your special occasion postings.
Wait until the time is right if your new love interest isn’t ready to meet your kids. You may be smitten and want to involve your kids with this special someone early in your relationship. But your love interest may want to wait. This hesitancy probably signals that meeting and spending time with your kids are significant relationship milestones. Right now, it may simply feel like it’s too soon. This person may also feel some responsibility for how your kids may react to introductions and time together. Such hesitancy to move forward with respect to your kids shows maturity and respect. It may also indicate that the other person is not quite as smitten as you. Not being on the same page with respect to your relationship’s potential is all the more reason to keep the kids separate from your current dating life.