Adult relationships are complicated. Your love life gets even more complex if you have children with a previous partner. When you’ve successfully navigated the dating world and think you’ve found someone you want to build a life with, how do you successfully introduce your kids?
You want the first meeting between your partner and your children to build and strengthen a bond among all of you. So how do you structure that first interaction? Keep these tips in mind when it’s time for your little ones to meet your new mate.
It should go without saying that you don’t need your kids to meet every person you go on a couple dates with. You don’t need to hide your social life from your children, but you should also feel free to date without having to tell them any details. Don’t introduce a mate until you’ve entered a committed, exclusive relationship and can imagine a future with this person.
You should also keep in mind your kids might feel defensive, territorial, or sad about your new relationship. They might still have hope that you and their other parent will get back together. They could also still be adjusting to life without your former spouse or partner. Give them time to heal and consider their feelings before bringing in your new boyfriend or girlfriend.
Your new partner will interact differently with your toddler than with your teenager. Keep your kids’ ages in mind when you set up the first meeting with your mate. You can also be more open and communicative about your new relationship with teenagers than with younger kids. You might even want to set a role model for your teenagers to eventually follow when it comes time for them to date and find partners of their own.
Although your kids always come first, don’t spend so much time preparing them for the introduction that you forget to prepare your new partner. Do you suspect your kids will behave a certain way during the meeting? If so, inform your partner ahead of time.
For example, does your first-grader always try to show off to new people, or does your teenager hate talking about certain subjects? Give your partner enough information to enter the situation prepared.
Before you set up the actual introduction, introduce your partner to your kids through conversation. Talk about your new mate, where you like to go together, and what you like to do. Tell your kids what you like about this person and how he or she makes you feel.
If your kids get a good sense that this new person makes you happy, they might put forth more of an effort to get to know your partner. These conversations also help your kids feel more involved and at ease with this person before they ever meet.
When it’s time for the real introduction, plan on spending an hour or two together, tops. The first time your kids and your new partner meet, it should be short and sweet. Have another activity set up for your kids directly after the meeting so they have a place to be and a reason to leave.
Along with a short timeframe, you should have a neutral location for your kids’ and your partner’s introduction. If you introduce them in your house, your kids can easily feel territorial or threatened. Pick a fun activity, such as bowling or miniature golf, in a calm setting.
You should also focus on activities that don’t require much talking. An awkward sit-down at a restaurant could leave everyone feeling uneasy.
If your partner also has kids from a previous relationship, introduce one set of kids at a time. You shouldn’t meet your partner’s kids at the same time he or she meets yours and your kids meet everyone. Both sets of children are bound to have feelings about this new arrangement, and putting them all together in one place is asking for conflict.
Although you might think mild displays of physical affection demonstrate the strong bond you have with your partner, your kids might not feel the same way. Restrict any shows of physical intimacy for your kids’ and partner’s first meeting—even handholding. All kids, from grade-schoolers to teenagers, might have trouble seeing their parent show affection for someone who isn’t their other parent.
Go into your kids’ and partner’s first meeting with low expectations. Don’t expect to walk away from it feeling delighted with your new family situation. If you leave the first meeting feeling stressed, worried, or exhausted, it’s okay. It will take time for everyone to get used to one another.
With time and attention, you can successfully introduce your new partner to your kids. Keep these tips in mind before you bring together the most important people in your life.