It’s one of the most frequently-asked questions by single parents when they find someone new – when should you introduce them to your children?
The answer will depend on your unique situation – sadly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. If your children live with you, chances are you’ll handle things differently than if they visit at weekends. And if your new partner has children of their own, their arrangement will also have an impact on what you do.
1Is it serious?
Most people would agree it’s sensible to wait and see whether the relationship has a future before urging your kids to accept a new romantic interest. It can be hard for kids to see Mum or Dad with someone different, especially if they’re secretly hoping you’ll get back together.
We’re not suggesting you keep your love-life secret until you’ve met “the one” – if you’ve been single for a while, it’s not a bad thing for the kids to know you’re dating. But parading a succession of short-term boyfriends or girlfriends in front of them could cause a lot of upset, so best to wait until the relationship shows signs of lasting.
When you’ve decided it’s time they all got to know each other, find time to talk to your children about the new person in your life. Introduce their name into the conversation, tell funny stories or interesting facts about them. The idea is to make your kids feel it’s someone they’d like to know.
2How old are your children?
Older kids are better able to understand what’s going on when a new partner appears on the scene, although they may still feel protective and see them as a threat.
Those aged under ten years old are more likely to feel confused and angry; they’re generally more possessive of their parents and less accepting of newcomers.
Whatever their age, though, they need time to adjust to their parents no longer being together, never mind choosing to share their lives with someone else. If your break-up was less than a year ago, it’s unlikely they’ll be ready to recognise you’ve moved on.
3Choose a neutral setting
Where your kids meet your new partner will play an important part in how quickly they accept your relationship. Plan a brief, casual get-together – go ten-pin bowling, watch a movie or get pizza.
Don’t hold the first meeting in your home – if the kids live with you, they’ll see it as someone encroaching on their territory. If they don’t, they’re more likely to feel excluded. And whatever you decide to do, go easy on physical contact with your new partner. They neither want nor need to see over-the-top displays of affection.
Keep expectations low on all sides – nobody should feel under pressure to get on with each other immediately. Perhaps your new partner isn’t used to children at all, and it’s only natural your kids will automatically be suspicious of someone they’ve never met but of whom their parent is clearly fond.
Remember that every relationship takes time to grow – that means the one between your kids and your new partner, too.
4Reassure your children
Bear in mind your kids may see this incomer as a rival for your affections. Make sure they know how much you love them and that nobody could ever replace them, but also explain this person makes you happy.
Encourage them to share their fears over your new relationship and discuss their worries, no matter how trivial they might seem. (One friend’s daughter was worried her mum’s new boyfriend would mean the end of their traditional takeaway-and-a-movie Friday nights.)
Show them you value their opinions, too. Ask for ideas on where you should all meet, whether they have any questions beforehand, and for their thoughts on how it went afterwards.
5Keep it simple
There’s no denying it is a big deal when you decide a new relationship is serious – but don’t build it up too much. That puts pressure on everyone to make it work, heightening emotions and adding tension to that first, important meeting.
Keep things as light and friendly as you can; make sure everyone feels included. Remember that what both your kids and your new partner have in common is you – they all care about you and want you to be happy. Ultimately, this is the bond that will unite them.