How to introduce your new partner to the kids
Last week, I had the most nerve-wracking date of my romantic life. As someone who's had several blind dates, that's saying something. But this date was with my boyfriend of three months. It was in my own home. The stomach-churning element? He was meeting my children for the first time.
This was a huge deal for me because it was so many firsts. He is a first. My first serious relationship since my marriage ended four years and four months ago. The first man I would introduce to my kids as a boyfriend. The first man to spend time with my two loyal sidekicks and I in our home, to observe how we function as a family. The first man to potentially join us in our home on a regular basis, to contribute to and possibly change how we function as a family.
Of the several hundred things I was worried about, I had two main concerns:
- They wouldn't like him.
- He wouldn't like them.
Both of these are things I had absolutely no control over, of course. No amount of chocolate (them) or wine (him) or warnings (them) or reassurances (him) could have any substantial effect on the outcome of our group date. It's pretty hard to persuade kids to like someone if they don't. And although I think my children are the most wonderful humans to set foot on the earth, naturally, I'm not deluded enough not to recognize that 99 percent of mothers feel the same way about their own kids. It was perfectly possible that he wouldn't think my daughter pretending to be a dog was in any way endearing or be impressed by my son's extensive knowledge of the habits of the basking shark.
If I could give advice to any parent about to go through the same thing, I'd say this: Quit worrying about whether they all like (or even understand) each other right off the bat. Unless any of the parties involved are seriously horrible people, they'll get there. All you really need to worry about actually has nothing to do with your children. It's about whether the relationship has legs. If you're as sure as you can be that it's going to be permanent, that should ease a lot of your anxieties. If you can't say that, hold off on making the introduction until you can. I dated a few guys after my separation who never met my kids because we just weren't "there" yet. And it wasn't about whether they would be decent, positive people to bring into my young kids' lives. It was about whether I could genuinely see them being in my life long term. I was the one in the relationship, and if I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with a guy, I couldn't begin to think about letting him spend even one day in my kids' company.
Another legitimate concern is whether the introduction takes place at the right time and in the right place. A lot of professional advice advocates meeting in a neutral spot, but I chose to do it in our home because it's where my kids feel most comfortable. I wanted my boyfriend to spend a couple of hours on our patch so that if the kids did feel bored or awkward, they had all their favorite things on hand for distraction or comfort.
Beyond that, I don't think there are many hard and fast rules when it comes to your new partner meeting your kids, but the following were good pointers for me.
- I'd already told my kids about my boyfriend weeks before they met. They knew his name and that I spent time with him while they were with their dad. I asked them if they had any questions or concerns and encouraged them to speak their minds, however they felt.
- I told my ex-husband about my new partner before I told the kids. I didn't want him to hear it from them, and knowing he was OK with it made me feel more confident about bringing the kids on board. I felt reassured that if they wanted to speak to their dad about the change in circumstances, he'd be approaching it from the same place as I was — offering comfort, support and love.
- I prepped my guy a little before he met the kids. He had some idea of their personality types and how they might behave around him. So he already knew to find my son shy, not rude. And that my daughter was likely to cope with the situation by taking showing off to a whole new level.
I was also 100 percent sure that my children don't harbor any hopes of their dad and I getting back together. Those lines were drawn a long time ago. Of course, this isn't always the case, and that shouldn't stop you from moving on with a new partner, but it's important to be sensitive to your child's feelings and be ready to put the brakes on (in terms of making an introduction) if they need more time to get used to the idea. If someone is going to be in your lives for a long time, well... you can take a long time.
If the first meeting goes well, there's the temptation to speed things up (get the initial awkward "getting to know you" phase over with, if you like). Every situation is different, but I don't think the slow approach can ever go wrong. After my boyfriend met my kids, we waited a whole week before he saw them again. There was an even longer gap between their second and third meetings. This gave us all time to adjust to the change, and gave me time to reassure my kids that first and foremost, I'm still their mom.
So how did it all go? Pretty well, to be honest. It turns out he does think it's funny when my daughter pretends to be a dog. And he shares my son's obsession with sharks. I don't expect there to be no bumps in the road as their relationship develops. But I'm fairly confident we'll overcome them.
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