Dating after separation and divorce can be challenging and even more so when there are children from your prior relationship. What do you tell your children? What, if anything, do you tell your former spouse? Is your new relationship any of your former spouse’s business? If so, to what extent? When do you introduce your new significant other to the children? What is the best way of introducing your new significant other to your children?
Of course, the answer to all of these questions (and the many more that are sure to arise during the course of a dating relationship) will be dependent upon the particular circumstances, including but not limited to the age and maturity level of the child as well as the quality of the relationship with the child before and after separation.
Susan J. O’Grady, PH.D., provides six ground rules for introducing a new girlfriend or boyfriend to the children, which are useful as guidelines for post-separation dating and are set out below.
- Children benefit from establishing a routine with each parent in each household. Ideally, this is best accomplished prior to starting a new dating relationship, when the parent is fully present and not distracted by romantic interest.
- Dating should take place outside of parenting time, when the children are not in the parent’s care. For young children, the introduction of a new significant other can be confusing, especially in the first year following separation. For older children, who may be in the process of exploring their own sexuality, seeing their parents in a new romantic relationship may be disconcerting and elicit feelings of awkwardness or embarrassment.
- Children should be the priority, which should be demonstrated with both actions and words, so that they know it and do not experience anxiety or concern that the new partner comes first or is more important.
- No overnight guests during parenting time. Having a new significant other over for the night could make for an uncomfortable morning that is hurtful and confusing for the children. In addition, this often causes the children to feel protective of the other parent due to concern that the other parent would be hurt by the knowledge of the overnight guest.
- Inform the other parent. Let the other parent know that you are dating and once your new relationship becomes serious, let the other parent know that you would like to introduce the children to your new significant other beforehand. Be respectful and courteous so that the other parent is not blind-sided by first learning of your new significant other when unexpectedly seen or met at one of the children’s events. Do not let the children be the first to inform the other parent of the new relationship, since the reaction could foster feelings of guilt, hurt, sadness or embarrassment for the children. Never ask children to keep secrets from the other parent.
- Always be respectful of the other parent in the presence of the children, since children learn more from what they see, rather than from what they are told. Do not flaunt your new relationship and/or engage in public displays of affection with your new partner in front of the other parent, which can be hurtful and elicit feelings of jealousy, anger and resentment.
These guidelines should assist in protecting your children as well as your co-parenting relationship with your former spouse, which in turn should facilitate a better transition to assimilating a new person into your family.