‘Dating Diva’ Asked:
I’m a single mom with a young son. What’s the best way to introduce my child to someone I’m dating? When do I do it? And how? What are some things to avoid him getting hurt?
Dr. Zoe Answered:
With so much conflicting information out there, it’s easy to feel confused, fearful and guilty when it comes to dating life and your kids.
So here’s what I know. You’re probably taking this introduction part way too seriously. Yes, I know this is serious stuff—relationships, parenting—all wrapped in one. But this is a long haul type of thing. The introduction part is just the tip of the iceberg. So take a deep breath. There are certainly ways to mess this up, but if you avoid those, you’ll be just fine.
Here’s my advice about what not to do—plus a few extra tips regarding merging your kids and your new man:
1. 6 month rule.
Don’t introduce them until you’ve been dating for 6 months. This is not for your kids. This is for you. You need to build a foundation in your relationship and make sure this guy is even worth bringing into your family dynamic. You should make it crystal clear form the beginning that you are a package deal, but he has to earn his right to meet the package.
2. Don’t make a big deal of it.
Do not oversell him to your kids. I know you are really into him and maybe he’s even the one. You want them to love him like you do. But honestly, they don’t really care. They’re more concerned about whether they’re going to have to fight this guy for your attention. Relationship building takes time. The bigger deal you make of the introduction, the more disappointed you will be with the outcome.
3. Be open and honest.
Kids can handle all kinds of people coming in and out of their lives—teachers, babysitters, coaches, acquaintances. What they don’t handle well is dishonesty. So, if you’re upfront and honest with them, without TMI about your deepest darkest feelings, they will respond better to the introduction.
Keep it simple: “This is my friend. We’ve been dating for a few months. I’d like you to meet him.”
And by the way, you don’t need to hide that you’ve been dating him for 6 months. That’s deceptive and we’re avoiding that, remember? You can simply let them know that there may be some people with whom you are becoming friends (describe this as dating to older children). Explain that they won’t meet all of them—but they might meet some of them if you like them enough.
4. Save the PDA.
I don’t really need to say this, right? Although it is good for kids to see healthy PDA in relationships, now is not the time or place for that. Enough said.
5. Pre-warn your partner and pre-warn your kids.
Don’t spring anything on anybody. If your son is on the spectrum or he likes to prank strangers in questionable ways, give your man a heads up. He should know the real deal about your kids. If your boyfriend looks like your Uncle Harry who tragically died last year, let your kids know beforehand.
6. Don’t push the relationship.
Let it be what it is. The less you meddle in it, the more likely they will develop a connection. And don’t allow him to take on a parenting role until a wedding date is firmly set and you’re within 6 months of tying the knot.
His role should be friend. And yes, the role can and should change after a marriage, but not until then. Your child will adjust to deepening the relationship later. What you want to avoid is your child beginning to see him in a father role and losing the relationship if there’s a break up. That’s how kids get hurt.
7. Expect all the feelings and encourage open and honest conversation—even if they hate him.
Giving them permission to not like him reduces their motivation to hold that position. Trying to convince them out of their feelings makes them dig in even deeper. Simple psychology, my friends.
8. Don’t make any promises about the relationship.
You protect your child from hurt by not setting up expectations about the relationship.
9. Don’t freak out if a break up happens.
You haven’t damaged your child. Your child is learning lessons about love and loss by watching you. Kids get bent out of shape when they see you get bent out of shape. They also get bent out of shape when you lie to them. So don’t make any promises and if the relationship ends, it ends.
Do not under any circumstance (no matter how old your kids are) use your kids as sounding boards, venting opportunities, or therapy replacement. Go fall apart somewhere else. Find a friend. Find a therapist, but don’t vent to your kid.
So, my friend, that is it! Take that advice and go enjoy this dating season of your life.
You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace!
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You’ll also want to listen to this episode of This Grit and Grace Life podcast: Single? How to Thrive in the Online Dating World with Kristin Fry – 037!