Dating when you have kids can be complicated. Patrick Sallee makes it easier with four simple rules.
Dating when you have kids is a tricky endeavor. It adds layers of challenges that aren’t there otherwise. One of the more complicated decisions to make in a relationship is when to introduce your partner to your children. You risk confusing your children by doing it too soon, but waiting too long leaves a critical question about your date unanswered, “how are they with kids?”
When my ex-wife and I divorced, my daughters were two years old. They are now five and I’ve changed my attitude on this tough question several times over the last three years on what is best for us and how to manage introductions.
I certainly haven’t gotten it right every time. Early on, when my girls were almost 3, I had been dating someone for a month or so and decided a casual introduction would be ok. The woman came over for dinner and brought the girls some cookies. Everything went well that night.
The relationship, however, didn’t last much longer. A couple of months later I was dating someone new and decided to do the same thing, after all, it had gone so well last time. My new date shows up with books for the girls. Very thoughtful gift!
But as we are eating dinner one of my girls says “daddy, your last friend brought us cookies!”
While hilarious, it was obviously awkward … so I try to play it off like she meant one of my guy friends. Plenty of them had been over recently so I thought easy translation. I tried all the signals, “you mean Tim, right??”
I offered every guy’s name I know and finally she says, while waving her hand at me, “no no no dad, that girl!”
Thank you for that.
Clearly she didn’t get my hints … after all, she was three.
I have only introduced my girls to a few people, but one thing has stood out. There isn’t a prescribed approach that makes it work. It’s a case by case basis … but I’ve learned a few things that help with that decision.
1. It isn’t about time
What is the appropriate amount of time to wait to make this introduction? The standard question everyone asks. The biggest thing I’ve learned is it isn’t about time. You can’t put time on a relationship. Another way to ask this question is, “how long should you date someone before you propose?” What? No. There isn’t a standard of time to answer that question.
Every relationship is different and only you can judge when it feels like the right time. For me, some people it felt right to introduce after a month and others I have gone out with a few months and never made the introduction. You can’t put a timer on feelings.
2. You should be exclusive
Maybe this is obvious, but if you aren’t ready to stop dating other people for them, maybe you don’t need to make that introduction.
There is definitely a balance on how long to be in a committed relationship with someone before they have met your children. There is absolutely a pressure to see the interaction and how they relate to each other. You don’t want to be too far down the road with someone to then find out they are not very good with kids. It is a balancing act, but being ready to commit yourself is a starting point.
Casual is always better. Keeping things as a “friend” for as long as possible with the kids helps lower the pressure on everyone. Kids waking up to someone new in their house sends the wrong message to them on several levels. It is still early and you don’t know for sure how long this will last and you send the wrong message to your kids about behavior in a relationship.
4. Be creative
Look for ways to take the pressure off for everyone. An introduction over ice cream, dinner and a movie or meeting at the park are easy and fun ways that limit the focused interaction and would be something your kids love anyway.
This decision is one of the hardest to make as a divorced parent trying to date. There isn’t a clear answer on the right way, but keeping your kids best interest in mind has to be the top priority.
Photo Credit: flickr.com/thomasleuthard