Dating is fraught enough, but dating when you’re a parent adds a whole new layer of trickiness. When are you supposed to introduce a date to kids? What’s the best way to make the introductions? How much should you tell a child?
Experts offered tips on dating when divorced, widowed or otherwise single (take nothing from this, husband Nick). Here’s what they said:
Hold off on introductions until the relationship is stable.
“It’s recommended that you don’t introduce your children to the person you’re dating until you’re in an exclusive relationship. It’s a transition for your children to adjust to knowing you’re dating,” said Christie Tcharkhoutian, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional matchmaker in Los Angeles and Orange County (threedayrule.com).
It is especially important with young children who easily form attachments with new adults.
“Signs that your relationship is in a stable place include: Both of you want a long term relationship, your partner feels comfortable being integrated into your family and there aren’t major doubts around the relationship itself or your significant other,” said Grace Lee, co-founder of A Good First Date (agoodfirstdate.com).
Keep beginning introductions short.
“When you decide you’re ready to introduce the kids, plan a fun low-impact meeting,” Lee said. “Mention when it will happen at least a couple of days out and explain that it’s just for them to meet, say hi and do something fun. A cafe with hot cocoa and cake or an ice cream in the summer are easy ways. The time will be measured by the event and if it’s going well, you have the option of doing another activity. In a short meeting there’s also minimal chance of anything going wrong.”
Introduce a date as mom or dad’s friend instead of bringing up the romance part.
“You don’t want your children to immediately become defensive. Give your new partner a chance to get to know the children without those defenses,” said Kristen Skiles, founder of stepmomming.com.
Skip the PDA.
“Stay cool in front of the kid,” Skiles said. “No hand-holding, canoodling, or otherwise, in front of the kids. Give them time to adjust to the new relationship before you cross that line.”
Don’t use kids as confidantes.
New love is exciting and sometimes wrenching but save the post-date forensic analysis for your friends.
“Kids like carnival rides, but emotional roller-coasters are not only scary but cause unnecessary anxiety and stress,” Lee said. “Don’t share the ups and downs that you experience and whatever energy the relationship brings you, keep it to yourself. Your kids want you to be positive and stable and to the extent you can hold it together, do.”
Prioritize time with your kids.
“If your children are small, they have a right to be primary in your life,” said Dr. Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today. “They should not have to compete with your new relationship for your time, attention and affection. Don’t sacrifice your children’s alone time and don’t miss sport or school events in order to date.”
Don’t compare your significant other to your kids’ parent.
“No child likes to hear negative things about their parent and making the comparison will only work against you and will also stress the relationship you have with your ex-partner,” Lee said. “If their parent doesn’t come to your child’s baseball game but your (significant other) is routinely there, the child will realize it on their own. By staying out of the comparison, you’re giving them space to appreciate your partner without it being attached to negative messages about the other person.”
Don’t date just to give you kids another parental figure.
“Don’t get seriously involved with someone because you think having a partner will make caring for your kids easier. It won’t. Involving stepparents is incredibly hard even for mature and well-intentioned people. This is doubly true if you each are bringing kids to the relationship,” said Elisabeth Stitt of Joyful Parenting Coaching and author of Parenting as a Second Language.
Be safe with who you bring into your kids’ lives.
“Trust your intuition and red-flag warning signs,” said Rosalind Sedacca, author of “99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50 & Yes, 60!” “In the past, you may have dismissed those inner warnings, but now you need to learn from your life experiences and not repeat old mistakes. Notice any red-flag behaviors like jealously, too-quick attachment, mood swings, anger issues, verbal threats or distorted accusations.”