When is it okay to introduce your kids to a date after divorce or separation?
This is a common question for newly separated or divorced parents. Like so many things involving children after divorce, the answer is “it all depends.” But there are a few ground rules that can help in the transition to dating.
In evaluating when to let children know about a new romantic partner, the goal is always to protect the child’s psychological best interests. Much depends on the child’s age and the quality of your relationship before and after your separation. As noted in a previous post, watching parents treat each other with disrespect and lack of affection harms kids even more than having to shuffle between two homes.
Everyone is different with regard to dating readiness. Some people will wait for months, some for years. Consider, though, that when a relationship has been unhappy, it’s important to give yourself time before jumping right into Match.com or eHarmony. Make use of this found time alone when you do not have the kids. Get to know yourself again. People are often surprised to discover that they can enjoy a kid-free weekend or weeknight without feeling guilty. Many have said it is an unsuspected silver lining in divorce. Time alone without kids is often a rarity in marriages where fathers and mothers both devote themselves to family life and the nurture and growth of their children.
Individual psychotherapy during this period can help you to reclaim the parts of yourself that have been lost or damaged. Taking this opportunity before dating again will help you, your kids, and your eventual romantic partner. No one wants to date someone on the rebound from a marriage. Dating to fill the void or to build your self-esteem will not work in the long term, bringing more harm than comfort.
Eventually, the time will come when you feel ready to explore relationships again. When the transition to living separately is established and custody has been worked out, agreed upon, and is going smoothly, parents will begin to think about dating.
Keep in mind the following suggestions to help you, your kids, and your ex ease into this new and often threatening territory.
Some Guidelines for Dating Post-Divorce
1. Children need to establish a routine with each parent. This is best done when the custodial parent is fully present, undistracted by a romantic interest.
2. Dating should be done during non-custodial times. The introduction of a new partner is often confusing to young children, especially during the first year after a divorce. In older kids, who may be exploring their own sexuality, seeing their parent with another partner can make them feel self-conscious and embarrassed.
3. It is important to not create a climate of anxiousness about where they belong in each parent’s lives. Children need to feel like they come first. If a romantic partner is introduced too soon, this sense of secure attachment will be compromised and can create anxiety.
4. Do not bring a partner home for the night on your evening with your child. Waking up in the morning and seeing that a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend has slept over can be confusing and hurtful. Kids will feel an allegiance to their other parent and will feel protective of them, fearing they’d be hurt by knowing that there is someone else in the house.
5. When the time comes to date openly, it is a courtesy to inform the other parent. Letting your ex-partner know that you are dating and want to introduce a serious relationship to your children allows the non-dating partner to process this news without being blind-sided, for example by seeing you with another person at children’s events. Do not let your children be the ones to tell the other parent that mommy or daddy has a new love, and certainly don’t ask them to keep secrets from their other parent. They should not be put in this position. When children innocently expose this information, it can engender angry and painful reactions that can cause the children to feel guilty, sad, and embarrassed.
6. Always treat your ex-partner with respect whether their non-custodial parent is present or not. Kids learn from watching. When you begin to date, show respect to your ex-partner and to your children by not flaunting your new partner. Respect boundaries with regard to public displays of affection. For an ex-spouse to see their former partner kissing during a recreational event will most likely cause anger or hurt. It is common for one party to feel jealous or possessive when they realize that their former spouse is dating. This is a tender time for everyone. Remember to be kind and respectful to each other. This role-modeling will help your children to assimilate a new person into their lives in a healthy way.
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I wish someone told my ex these things, he introduced my children to his girlfriend after 2 weeks of knowing her, and she is spending the night everytime they are there.
better than first night.
maybe if relationships wernt so disposable nowadays.
Relationship with ex is key to this whole article.
Funny you never read about adult children and this process…..might be a good article?
Dr. Susan O'Grady says
Cindy, that is such a great idea for a follow-up to this article. Stayed tuned.
My son is two and my wife started a whole new relationship before she ended ours. She seems to think that since my son is so young that this has no impact on him. She has been bringing her new partner around my son probably before we separated. Do you think that at his age that would still have an impact on his psychological welfare. Thanks
Dr. Susan O'Grady says
Greg, it all depends. Your feelings and reaction to this could have a big impact on your son. If you are having a hard time adjusting and are hurting, your feelings will have a spill over effect on your child. It also depends on how your ex introduces a new person into his life, how she explains the relationship, and how she manages to stay present for your son, and balance a new relationship. This situation is one of the biggest, and most difficult transitions post divorce. It may be helpful to talk it over, in person, with a therapist experienced with these issues.
I am worried my 45 year old son’s plan to introduce his 3 girls to recent dating partner is not a gentle method. He proposes to have his three girls( 13, 10, 8) spend several days with him, his dating partner, and her 4 year old daughter.
He is aware his 13 year old daughter will find this stressful. In addition to the stress of the days together, his dating partner has convinced him to have his daughter give up her mobile phone while everyone is together. I worry that my granddaughter will have no outlet to talk about her feelings and could become extremely stressed. Help?
Great article but I’ve got a question that is in relation to a similar context but the theme would differ I guess. Here it is: the person that I’m dating has a precocious or in other words, alert (i.e.: quite intelligent) five year old – she never was married (I never was married too, but her and I plan to get married in the long term) and it’s been years since she has broken off with the biological father but he regularly spends time with his daughter. The latter tells her mom how she wants them to be together but her mom (which I’m dating) has turned this chapter of her life (the one she had with the bio father). She is afraid and/or unsure as to when introduce me to her daughter. I told her the best thing is to take things slowly (but when is a long time too long?) I am serious with her, and she is serious with me and we want our relationship to be an amazing one as we both work on it. She doesn’t want her child to suffer as she doesn’t know how she’ll react to being introduced to me. What would be the best way to go about it? Thank you for your advice.
Dr. Susan O'Grady says
Dexter, Good questions. I wish I had an easy answer, but you are clearly sensitive and thinking through the issues. For a precocious 5-year old, it may be fine to introduce you in low-key way. Children pick up on a parent’s anxiety so if her mother is comfortable having you around, you can ease into forming a relationship. The damage comes from multiple boyfriends, overnights, and jealousy of ex-partners influencing the child. If you both have any doubts, seeing a therapist for a couple of sessions for consultation makes good sense.
My husband of 14 years left the kids and I after he found a girlfriend. It has been four/five months since we told the kids about us getting a divorce. After a month my husband took our 13 year old son to an event with his girlfriend and told my son not to tell me. i obviously was not happy! Now he was supposed to take my son to a Haunted House that they always go to every year. I told him not to take his girlfriend. He said our son said it was ok if she went! I was going to let it be and let him go but at the last minute I couldn’t. I felt like by allowing my son to go I was telling him it was ok for his father to cheat while married and abandon his family. Even after all this, tonight my husband asked to take my son to the movies with him and his girlfriend! Am I being ridiculous by not letting my son go? How do I get my husband to understand he is going about this all wrong.
Dr. Susan O'Grady says
Jen, I understand how difficult this situation is. I cannot give advice on a blog, but I suggest you speak with a counselor in person about your situation. There are so many issues involved here and your feelings are completely understandable.
I’ve been dating a guy for 3 and a half months he’s been divorced for 2 years and has a 6 year old daughter. He’s never introduced her to anyone he’s dated I’m the 1st. I’m very excited but also extremely nervous. She knows of me as his friend because i made her a Halloween basket with a dress up costume. But is there anything i can do to make this go smoothly?
My ex and I have been divorced for 2 months. I happened to find someone I really love and want to be with for the rest of my life. I have a 9 year old son that lives 3 hours away. I usually drive up there to see him. Soon he is going to start coming down to stay with me. My ex and I lived apart for about 6 months before the divorce. My son seemed to take it pretty well. My new girlfriend wants to meet him and all I can worry about is if my ex is going to be mad. Should I really care if she is mad when I know this is the woman I want to be with? Is this too soon for my son?
Ive been dating my girlfriend for 8 months. She brought me around her 10 year old son at about 4 months as a friend. Her son and I hit it off having a great time playing games and such. Last month when she told him about dating it made him uncomfortable. His father about 2 months ago on a whim got married. The son is a great kid, I love his mother, how do we get him on board and comfortable with his mom having a boyfriend?
Dr. Susan O'Grady says
Brett, You sound like you are very sensitive to him and that will be immensely helpful. It is a lot for a kid to have both parents dating, but taking it slowly and giving him attention such as you are, will go a long way in helping with the adjustment.
Or, the reason your first marriage fell apart was because your kids always trumped your relationship. If the ex wants to be upset about seeing your new displays of affection then that is their issue. Your kids will turn 18 and leave you. Nurture your new relationship or suffer the same fate as before.
Dr. Susan O'Grady says
Gina, you are so right that kids take so much time away from the relationship. It is very important to nurture the marriage both to keep it healthy, and to model for the kids that the world does not revolve around them. Nurturing your new relationship can be done with respect to the kids, and the ex but as you point out it is good to remember that we each have to take responsibility for our reactions and get help if needed.