Everyone has their own ideas about parenting, and when it comes to mixing dating with co-parenting, the lines become even more blurry.
Of course, single parents have the right to date whoever they want. But whether or not it’s a good idea to introduce all new boyfriends or girlfriends to your kids – well, that’s an entirely different discussion.
Your life shouldn’t be a revolving door of new faces. One client told me years ago that his father had a chalkboard outside his bedroom door. If the door was closed and he had a love interest in there with him, the woman’s name would be etched on there. This extra step was so my client wouldn’t cause the father the embarrassment of his kids using the wrong name for the new flame.
The younger the child, the more likely they will get attached after a relatively short period of time, especially if your new partner is interested building a relationship with the child. Children age 10 and above will be more wary of new partners which can create unintentional stress in your parenting and harm your new relationship.
Children are also great at picking up on meta-communication and can tell when you have someone special in your life. They hear it in the tone of your voice and your body language. Even if you meet someone in the flow of life, kids usually have a sense of when the relationship morphs from mere friend or acquaintance to love interest.
This can be a problem if they feel like they have to withhold information about one parent’s dating life from the other. Children shouldn’t feel like they are being exposed to secrets, and if they do, it sets a precedent for them feeling like they have to lie or cover-up information. We already know how hard it is to be a turtle-bird crossing the DMZ between two parents’ households with their separate cultures, sets of rules and expectations.
With all this in mind, it is an important to put some thought into this issue together with your co-parent – preferably in a calm and rational way. Here are some things to consider:
1. Don’t rush it.
Until some agreed upon minimum time has passed neither parent should introduce their child to new partners and/or their respective children without prior notice to the other parent.
2. Make a plan ahead of time.
Both parents agree that they should have a multi-step plan in place that may include, but not be limited to, the adults involved meeting prior to introducing the children to the new partners and/or their respective children.
3. Choose a neutral location for the first meeting.
Having the child meet the new partner and/or their respective children at neutral locations outside the children’s home and school as well as prior to overnights occurring with the new partner and/or their respective children and only after an initial time period has passed.
4. Discuss discipline.
Lastly, there is the issue of discipline, both verbal and physical. Unless there is an explicit agreement otherwise, generally speaking this should only be administered by the parents, and not by stepparents or new partners. If it is agreed upon, and stepparents are disciplining the children there should be a very explicit understanding of how this works, otherwise it creates a potential minefield for disagreements hurt feelings and worse.
It can be hard to manage the whirlwind of a new romance with the responsibility to your children, and it can be even harder to manage the expectations of an ex. But if you follow these guidelines you will be doing your job as a parent and a partner.