By Dr. Stacey MacKinnon, Psychologist, FindYourPlusOne.com
We all know it is exciting when everything in a relationship is new, developing, and growing into something larger and more meaningful then we initially imagined. But even exciting new beginnings require some thought, especially when one or both people in the relationship have children.
Sherry and Corey, a recent online dating Match,are a great example of how to do it right when you are a single parent who is dating. They decided to have children-free dates until they were sure the relationship was “for real.” This is important for both parents and kids. Children, especially young children, can latch onto a new person very intensely and can be brokenhearted if the relationship ends. You need to make sure that your kids have had enough time to be comfortable with the idea that you are dating at all, let alone dating someone who could become a permanent fixture in your family. You also need time to get to know a dating partner without the immediate distraction of childcare issues and, honestly, you need time to determine if you have met someone you even want to introduce to your children.
If you decide that the person you are dating is going to play a larger, more involved role in your life, then the next step is to figure out how to introduce him or her to your children. But before you rush in trying to make everybody love each other, you should keep some simple but important things in mind:
- Expect your children to be cool, uninviting, or even downright hostile to your dating partner at first. Although you’ve had plenty of time to get to know your partner, to your children he or she is a stranger who may potentially take their mom or dad’s attention and time away from them. However, there is no excuse for being rude, so it is important to make it clear to your children before they meet your partner that you expect them to use the same good manners they would when meeting anyone new.
- You took the time to get to know your partner, so extend the same courtesy to your children. Start slowly and allow your children to “date” your partner. Go out and do something fun together, keep the outings brief initially, and do your best not to make your children uncomfortable with public displays of affection. Remember, this person is a stranger to them so being too affectionate too early will confuse young children and embarrass those who are older. Children of any age need time to get to know someone new, especially if they feel their relationship with their parent may be threatened. How long should you wait? You wait until…until your children are comfortable with this person as an individual…until they are comfortable with him/her as your friend…until they are comfortable with him/her as your exclusive partner…until they are comfortable with him/her as a part of their family. If the relationship is right for you and your kids, then you will have all the time in the world to get to know each other and build a life together.
- Just because you love your partner doesn’t mean your children will. Conversely, just because you love your children doesn’t mean your partner will. This is a difficult truth you may have to accept. It isn’t about love; it’s about mutual respect, courtesy, friendship, and perhaps affection. Anything more than that is a bonus. Don’t allow yourself to have unrealistic expectations for the relationship between your children and your partner. The less pressure they feel to bond, the more likely that what develops between them will be genuine and heartfelt, whether it’s love or friendship. Both have great benefits for everyone involved.