#346: Single Parent Dating: When is the right time to introduce a new partner to your child?

Hello Awkward –

I’m a single father. I married my high school sweetheart and as a consequence, dated very little. So now divorced, I am thrust into this dating life and am finding my way. The dating part comes easy, being a gentleman and forming relationships has gone well. I get that part.

My question is when is it okay to introduce someone new to my son?

I have been very cautious about keeping him out of any relationships thus far. But, now I have met someone who I think has some serious potential to be around for a while. I don’t want to put either in a strange situation. My SO knows I have a son, and often asks about him and how things are. (Side note: she is a school counselor so I could ask her also, but that seems like it would be a strange conversation). We have been seeing each other for about a month, but have been much more involved than any previous relationships I’ve had.

You and your commenting followers always seem to have sound advice, so I ask….when do you think it’s right?

Thanks,

Learning As I Go

Dear Learning As You Go:

I know that it’s not about “amount of time” and more about “you think this person will stick around for a while and be a positive force in your kid’s life if they do.” It depends on the kid, and the person you’re dating. I know you’re trying not to make it weird for your partner in her professional capacity (and she wouldn’t know better than you, his parent), but I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to say “I’m thinking of introducing you to my son, what do you think about that?” and get her opinion as your girlfriend about whether she thinks it’s the right time.

I think the fact that you are being thoughtful about this is good, and am pretty confident that you’ll do what’s right. So I’ll turn it over to the readers who are parents or who have been in this situation. What should the Letter Writer watch out for? When is a good time to bring these two people together?

 

83 comments
  1. Kika said:

    Bring them together when you start thinking this could be serious, but before you’re really stuck on the other person. If for any reason your son and the woman you are dating really don’t take to each other, and you’re emotionally connected/committed to her, all kinds of hurt goes around.

    I think, too, seeing how they interact can heavily influence how you feel about her. As single parent, this has been a strong factor for me.

    LW, you didn’t say how old your child is. I think as they get older, this is less confusing for them and they can take the whole thing in stride.

  2. Vanessa said:

    Dear LW – As someone who’s seen both sides of the equation (mother who introduces her child to every new man in her life, and father who’s been dating the same girl for 3-years and just introduced her to his children) I’ll put my input on this subject. Wait until you’ve become exclusive, you call her your girlfriend, and you’re sure that YOU are ready. Then make the first meeting an activity out that all of you will enjoy: a baseball game, bowling night, or night at the arcade. Introducing your SO and son is not the easiest, but by making the activity fun and entertaining it reduces some of the stress load and hopefully allows camaraderie to form between your SO and your son. Since you see your SO as a potential long term partner, I think you’re almost there, but make sure she sees the potential in your relationship as well to ensure that when they are introduced, she’ll be around for a while.

    Best of luck!

  3. I’m not a parent, but I’m someone whose father was divorced and who introduced us (my sister and me) to people in his life, now and then.

    It could be easy for a child to attach to the new person, or to expect the new person to want to attach to them (which simply isn’t always going to be the case). When / if the new person leaves after a breakup, it can have an effect on the child who may have become close to this person, or who has at least come to expect that this person might want to continue a relationship after the breakup (and, realistically, this is rarely the case, but little kids don’t understand this).

    You might want to find a way to communicate to your child (without saying it outright, obviously) that the woman is a friend you want to bring around, but that your child shouldn’t necessarily expect a long-term or lasting relationship (until and unless things go in that direction).

    • jilian said:

      Big yes to this, but I think it’s more important to make it clear to the person you’re dating (rather than your child) that they shouldn’t try to impress you by forming a personal bond with your child unless they’re committed to staying in his/her life long-term. Children do not understand serial monogamy. Even if you tell them that this person who’s partially stepping into a Mommy role may not be around forever, it can still be really damaging when you two break up and suddenly she’s gone. At least that was my experience as a child of divorce. I always liked it when my parents’ friends and SO’s were nice to me, but the couple of SO’s who went out of their ways to become a big part of my life really upset me when they disappeared. Better to keep it on the level of “this is one of Daddy’s friends, we’re all going to go to the park together today, then have a sleepover” than a big serious “this is Daddy’s new girlfriend, who is a very important part of our lives starting now, and I know you two are going to just love each other.” (I’m talking about kids under 12 or so. Kids that age will also generally accept that sometimes grown-ups have sleepovers with their friends without getting all disturbed by thoughts of you two doin’ it. )

  4. KC said:

    I don’t know if I can give you much straight up advice, but I can tell you what I remember of my experiences of my parents dating new people when I was a kid.

    When I was seven, my mom started dating again and would either have the guys over for a little while before they went on their date, or she’d have them over for a kind of a family night date where they would play board games and card games and eat dinner with my sister and I. The guys were always at least nice to us and willing to talk to us, so I liked them and didn’t have any problems with having them come over. (I was actually a little disappointed when she stopped dating altogether because the family board game nights pretty much stopped after that.)

    It was a little different when my dad started dating my stepmom (around the same time). My stepmom has kids from a previous marriage – one my age and one much older than my sister and I. I barely even noticed my stepmom because I became really good friends with my stepbrother really quickly and I spent most of my time at their house with him. It actually took years to develop a real relationship with my stepmom, partially because we’re different levels of introverted and not very good at talking to one another, and partially because of some family crap that developed from my family’s divorce that she was involved in. We were nice to each other and reached out in our own little ways, but we also had this weird thing where I felt like I didn’t really need her (because I had my own mom) and she was able to ignore me a lot (because she had her own kids). We mostly get along now because we both read a lot and I make more of an effort to keep up with her than I did as a kid.

    I don’t know how old your son is or how well he handled your divorce. He may be perfectly fine with you bringing someone new home, or he may get angry that you’re “trying to replace his mom.” You may want to sit down with him first and say, “I’m seeing someone and I want her to meet you, is that okay?” so he isn’t surprised if you decide to bring a date home, even if he doesn’t like the idea at first. I’d say that if your date treats him well, he’ll warm up to her, even if he’s not excited the first few times he meets her.

    • I do think the age matters. I also totally agree about giving them a while to warm to each other. My parents split when I was 5, and my memory of meeting my stepdad is hazy, but I know that when my mom told me they were getting married I freaked out and threw tantrums and said ugly things. I cannot for the life of me remember *why* I had that reaction, because he’s the sweetest guy in the world and has been a wonderful father to us for almost 30 years now! But I had some kneejerk *thing* happen, and LW’s son might, too, especially if he’s not old enough to articulate complex feelings yet.

      LW also doesn’t say anything about custody arrangements, but that could affect it, too — the first time I met the woman who would become my (absolutely beloved) stepmother, I liked her pretty well, but I was resentful that my “dad time” was being diluted to “dad + gf time.” I got over that pretty quickly, but I remember feeling like I didn’t have enough warning before that particular visit that we’d be bringing in a new person to our routines.

      • Epony Mouse said:

        Another kid with divorced parents weighing in here. I agree with all if the above folks about asking people not to bond too much with your child unless they plan to stick around, and with Sweet Machine’s suggestion about time. That said… time does not cure every child/ potential step parent conflict. It’s not much fun to think about some of the more unfortunate scenarios there, but having lived one of them, I think it is important to acknowledge them as possibilities, and to be prepared to make a realistic assessment about what life will be like going forward if things don’t go as smoothly as the LW hopes.

        My father has excellent taste in women, and I’ve gotten along very well with both of the step -mothers I’ve had over the years. They have both made wonderful contributions to my life, and I’m very glad to count both of them as family.

        I’ve never gotten along with my stepfather. I met him when I was eight, and I didn’t like him then. My mother assumed I would get over it and asked him to move in anyway. Time didn’t help. Family therapy made things worse. Now that I’m an adult we successfully tolerate each other but things got so bad when I was a teenager that I begged to be sent away to boarding school to get away from him and eventually they agreed to do it. It was long enough ago that I’m unsure at this point exactly how much of it was me being a difficult and very unhappy teen and how much of it was him being a Vader, but that’s a little besides he point for the purposes of this already overly long and personal comment.

        The point is that it’s very easy to say before it becomes an issue that of course you’ll take your child’s wishes into consideration, and that you will treat it as a red flag if they deeply dislike your partner for a sustained period of time, and of course you would never blame your child for any resulting discord.

        It’s a different and more challenging task to actually hold onto those values when you are head over heels in love with somebody, and trying to parent in a culture that is particularly nasty to single parents. Operationalizing what some of those values look like in practice ahead of time can help, both by relieving anxiety about unlikely but yucky outcomes,and at helping to prepare for them just in case.

        So, LW, what are your parenting related deal breakers for new partners? At what point would your child’s dislike of your partner require concrete action on your part, should that dislike occur now or in the future? What kinds of concrete action are you willing or unwilling to take? How much (if any) say does your child have in what happens next? What (if any) choices will you offer him about how much contact he will have in the future with your partner? What choices will you offer your partner about how much contact they will have with your child? How much of a parenting role do you ideally want your new girlfriend to eventually take on? How much or little of that role is minimally acceptable?

        • Epony Mouse said:

          Oops. I’m not a kid anymore! I’ve been a legal adult for well over a decade. I just realized that the way I started out that epic comment made it sound like I might still be in a kid-like age range.

          • gambler68123 said:

            Excellent set of questions to consider. Thanks for the insight.

        • Seconding all of this. Great set of questions for self-assessment.

  5. My mom used to introduce me & my brother to all her dates (we would meet them when they came to pick her up, and then we’d stay home with the sitter). Then sometimes we all got a bit catty together, about the suitors she wasn’t that keen on. I remember this being fun. We were about 9 and 11 if that helps.

    • My best friend in high school lived with her younger brother and mother and that’s about what happened there too – I spent a lot of time there so sometimes her mother’s date would turn up to pick her up and we’d answer the door and meet him. It wasn’t a huge “we’re going to meet mum’s new special friend now and all sit down and be awkward”, just a very casual thing. At the time my friend was 14, I was 15. Her brother would have been 11 or 12, but he was less interested in meeting them.

  6. Rikibeth said:

    The biggest caution I would make is not so much about introducing, but about what role you place this new person in. I don’t see major issues in letting a kid meet a parent’s new friend, but I’d hesitate to put a dating partner into a major role in the kid’s life unless the relationship is already fairly serious and looking like it’s going to be long-term, and even if it’s got that feeling about it after a month, I’d still be cautious and keep the kid/partner involvement pretty casual at first and increase it pretty slowly.

    It also depends on how old the kid is. My kid was 10-11 when I got divorced, and is now 17, and I had some casual partners and some more serious ones, and while I did introduce a few of the more casual ones, and DIDN’T have the kid interact with one of the more long-term ones although they knew of each other’s existence, I tried to keep it all in the context of “mom has friends, sometimes friends are gonna be around when you’re around, sometimes mom does stuff with friends without you,” and not make a big distinction between social friends and dating friends, if you see what I mean.

    • JenniferP said:

      This seems way more sound than “SON, I HAVE FOUND YOU A NEW MOMMY!”

    • karinacinerina said:

      Yes! I think you can introduce them as a friend to the child just to see the adult-child dynamic, or any huge red flags in terms of just human to human interaction, but definitely keep the dating aspect of it out of the kid’s view until you know for sure that it is a long term relationship, at least.
      If it was ME (and I have no kids) I would think I wouldn’t be free of the mind-clouding honeymoon period for at least the first six-eight months, and then I can see that person more clearly for whether they are a potential partner or not. THEN it’s “mommy has a special friend.”
      But god please no overnights while the kids are over at your place until the relationship is pretty well-established! That’s just alarming and gross (thinking of my childhood) and hey, you can always see the new love when the kids are visiting the other parent. Why take away time meant for seeing your child for your adult adventures unless this is a family in the making?

  7. Virginia said:

    Along with the other commenters, I think it depends on several factors: (1) how old is your son? (2) how secure is he about the New Normal? (3) how acrimonious or (hopefully) not is your relationship with your ex? (4) is your new GF willing to follow your lead on this?

    My honey’s children were quite young when we got together – the oldest was 5 (he’s now 17). We carefully constructed a plan to gently introduce them to me, when item (3) on the above list exploded and he suddenly had temporary custody of all 3 of them. That was hard, no lie.

    My attitude throughout this journey has been that I am a grown-up, and they are children, therefore my ability to Deal is more developed than they are. Also, my honey was a dad before he was my honey, and I respect that. I’m not a doormat, but that has meant that (a) I VERY gently and slowly eased my way into a disciplinary mode – even now I usually defer to their dad* and (b) we live in Houston, which I truly hate, because it’s within driving distance of them.

    *Honestly, I’m grateful that Mr. Dingo Jones agreed to this arrangement. It lets me be the “fun” one.

    Item (1) is a tricky one: if he’s REALLY young, it’s easier because “Daddy’s friend” is pretty acceptable to a tiny. If he’s a little bit older, he might be more wary. A kid in upper elementary school would be potentially easiest to talk honestly to about it all, and a teenager is probably going to be a pain in the butt.

    Item (2) is the one I’d worry most about. Little Dude has already been through a big life change, and his sense of security, in my opinion, has got to be the top priority. If he’s still fearful about the new circumstances of his life, I say hold off until he feels better about things. A good way to start on that might be to begin bringing your GF up in conversation, e.g., “My new friend Lady told me something interesting today…”

    Best of luck to you, LW!

  8. Lauren said:

    (1) how old is your son? (2) how secure is he about the New Normal? (3) how acrimonious or (hopefully) not is your relationship with your ex? (4) is your new GF willing to follow your lead on this?

    I dated with all of these in mind. I also imposed a time limit on myself to consider seeing who this person really was before I made the decision. So my rule was that I’d date someone casually for six months, and IF at six months I was still totally crazy about the guy, I would THEN consider all of these questions and proceed from there. It also gave me a sort of referendum period, so that if I was just screwing around with some dude, I had a chance to step back and say to myself, “What are you doing here? Are you really off the market for this one?” If I wanted to proceed, I would have us meet for short get-togethers at a coffee shop or a trip to the store. Oftentimes it was less about my son’s reaction to the guy, and more about the guy’s reaction to seeing me as a mother that was the real issue. That alone was enough for me to draw a line in the sand.

    I was lucky to date a couple of really nice guys, one of whom was around quite a bit and who my son saw as his friend but was too little to register as my boyfriend. The other one I married, and we’ve had some, uh, problems.

    So here’s another thing to consider. Introducing your children to your new mate is a big event, but it’s not the only event. Blending families takes a lot of patience and grace — YEARS of it — and while it can go really well for all parties, it often doesn’t. How and whether you introduce your child to your pants-feelings-friends is important, but what’s more important is that you have an ongoing conversation with your child and yourself about how the relationship is proceeding and whether or not the child is happy and secure with the situation at home, REGARDLESS of and including the dating situation. A lot of this is going to depend on how you and your ex interact, especially since there can be a lot of probing and backbiting between households (this was, unfortunately, my situation with my ex, and it’s NOT. FUN).

    And another thing is that even if you do everything right, even if you try your hardest and your child adjusts to the relationship well, things still go wrong. The relationship might go sour. You might have to move away. Long-buried secrets and skeletons may come out. Y’all’s kids might hate each other’s guts. You might find out later that your partner has some deal breakers you need to reckon with. And all of these things, will have to be dealt with as personal issues, as well as family issues, now that you’re a parent.

    So long story short, all the anxiety in the world about The Introduction may or may not do you any good. In my experience, the biggest variable are the parents, whether they have the good sense and mental health to date stable people who enjoy children, the boundaries to pull away from bad relationships, the commitment to letting their children express themselves freely without “fixing” their feelings about the partner or the living situation, and the commitment to making sure that their children’s best interests are at the forefront even if it means giving up a sexy overnight with the new friend or passing on date nights in lieu of baseball nights.

  9. Learning as I go. said:

    Exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for when I wrote in, thank you for the comments and suggestions.

    To answer a couple questions, my son is 11. He is very intelligent and understands the situation very well. The parent/child relationship on both sides is still very strong. The only one that was burned was the relationship between myself and his mother. He understands that both of us will be seeing other people. His mother has a SO that seems fairly serious and has been around my son for some time now.

    I have spoken to him about whether or not I should be actively looking for a new lady friend, and his direct answer was: “Dad, you do whatever it is that makes YOU happy.” Is it possible he is more ready to accept the changes than I am?

    Thanks again – much appreciated.

    • Tryn said:

      He sounds a lot like me when my mom started dating again. The useful advice I haven’t seen yet is this – your son is going to learn how to date from you. Don’t get too invested in keeping someone around because she already met your son and he likes her, because he’s watching you, to find out what a good fight vs a bad fight looks like, how fast to go, how to break up (if that happens. It may, will probably, happen more than once.) and what constitutes ‘normal’ in a relationship. If you hit rough patches, stop and put yourself outside and your son in your place. Whatever you’d want him to do, that should be your guide.

      I learned how to date from my mother, and she was a very good example. I have a lot of friends with the opposite problem – and they invariably trend to trainwreck relationships that they can’t tear themselves away from. Their parents were so invested in ‘staying together for the kids’ or ‘giving you a real Dad’ that what the kids really learned was “stay in relationship no matter what”.

      Short version: In the end, how you act in relationships will actually matter more than who your partners are, or even how they got along with your kid.

    • VM said:

      Can I out in a plea that you not ask your son to give you “permission” to date? You say “I have spoken to him about whether or not I should be actively looking for a new lady friend, and his direct answer was: “Dad, you do whatever it is that makes YOU happy.” Is it possible he is more ready to accept the changes than I am?” , Perhaps he is more ready to accept the changes, but honestly, what else is he supposed to say? 11 is far to young to take on the responsibility for your parents’ well-being and to decide if they should have a sex life or not. I know you meant well by involving him, but it puts him in the position where he’s either got to be a mean, horrible, selfish son and say “Don’t ever date! Devote yourself entirely to me!” or he’s got to be nice and say “Go ahead, date,” when he has no idea what the possible consequences of this could be – what if he ends up with a stepmother he hates? What if it makes his mother unhappy? What if it means the end of that secret dream all divorced kids cherish that one day their parents will get back together and it’s ALL HIS FAULT because he told you to go ahead and date? Your son found a very kind and mature way of wriggling out of this dilemma and putting the ball firmly back in your court. He told you that you have to decide what makes you happy. Not him. You. And you also have to own that decision. Asking him to give you his blessing for what you want to do just isn’t fair. Dating benefits you, not him. He doesn’t get anything out of it, and runs a considerable risk that his life will be worse if you start dating than if you don’t. If you’re really really lucky, it will also benefit him, after a long and awkward period of adjustment, but the chances are good that your son will always feel deep down inside that life was better without this extra person whom he didn’t choose and didn’t need joining the family. You have a conflict of interests here, whatever he may say, it’s not fair to put him in the position where he not only has to accept this, he also has to pretend (because he loves you, and wants you to be happy) that he wants it to.

      This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t date – far from it. Just that it can’t be your son’s decision that it’s okay. It has to be yours.

      • sunshine and lollipops said:

        “What if it means the end of that secret dream all divorced kids cherish that one day their parents will get back together and it’s ALL HIS FAULT because he told you to go ahead and date?”

        Do we? All of us? Because I don’t. Really. I can’t see what made them think it would work out in the first place.

        Aside from that, really great advice.

        • addipanandosi said:

          Ha! Same, if anything, the thought that my parents might get back together was a secret nightmare.

          Then my father married a Jehovah’s Witness, when I was 12 or so, who basically inserted herself into my not-great relationship with my father, by calling me up and guilt-tripping me into coming to events I didn’t want to go to and trying to get me right with god. So that whole thing bittersweetly killed the nightmare of familial regeneration.

  10. gambler68123 said:

    This is the LW here…..

    Thank you for the comments and suggestions, this is exactly what I was looking for when I wrote in.

    My son is 11, very intelligent and well adjusted, he has taken well to all of the new changes and, he has been an shall remain my main priority. His future and well being far outweigh my want for a relationship.

    His mother and I have ZERO relationship other than being good parents to our son. She has been dating someone for some time, and has introduced my son to him. He tells me this weekend they also met her SO’s parents as well. My son seems to take all of this pretty well and much like myself, just kind of “goes with the flow”. I feel pretty fortunate.

    I have talked with him about seeing people and asked what he thought of it, his reply: “Dad, you do whatever it is that makes YOU happy.” Is it possible he has adjusted to everything better than I have?

    I guess what this comes down to is between myself and my SO. And when the time feels right, it will be. I think the suggestion of asking her what she thinks about meeting him, directed at her as my partner, and not as her as the counselor will give me all the information I need.

    All thoughts are greatly appreciated – thank you.

    • Virginia said:

      What a loving thing for your son to say – that is terrific! Sounds like you, your son, and your GF are all willing to be pretty chill and see how things go, which is a happy beginning. I agree with Lauren that you can never know what obstacles will be thrown in your way over time, but well begun is half done. I wish you all the very best.

    • Aww, he’s a good egg!

    • Antipodean said:

      Mum of 11 year old here, two years into process of ‘blending’ families, so hi! I like the advice about taking things slowish – low key events are a great way to start developing the relationship between your SO and your kid. Let them get to know each other without pressure, and even without labels like “girlfriend”. If your lady love is ready, that’s a good barometer of her interest in you, fingers crossed!

      Lessons from my own experience: apparently stable situations can flare up in interesting ways and you need patience and resolve. We jumped in and at first it was good but then partner’s kids arced up. Their mother, though happily repartnered, struggled with my presence and seized on tensions. The fallout nearly killed the relationship but we regrouped, focused on supporting each other, did some reading (Stepmonster is awesome) and all (kids and adults) learned how to get along better and have some faith in our feelings for each other. Now even their mum is on board. But it’s a slow road and it doesn’t hurt to take it slow to start with.

    • meh said:

      I’d make sure to leave room for him to find out that he also has other feelings, even if he thought he was fine with things. I was always theoretically fine with new additions, but there were times when after things started moving that I realized I HATED these new things, and felt like the earlier talk in which I had consented to the changes trapped me into Being Cool With It.

    • Kika said:

      LW, it sounds like you have a great situation, largely because you are doing all the right things! I am so glad to hear you have made your son your priority, and the fact you consulted him on the matter is just awesome. Full blessings and luck to all of you, and if any of us have been helpful, you are more than welcome : )

    • Datdamwuf said:

      It sounds like your son is old enough and mature enough for you to tell him that you’d like him to meet someone you like a lot and leave it fairly open to what life brings. In other words don’t lay it on him that you think you love this woman or that you think it may be serious or anything about the romance of it, better he not have that pressure to like her, or have the subconscious fear and such that might be engendered if you tell him how you feel about her beyond a simple, I really like XXX, I enjoy being with her and I want you to meet her.

      It seems to me that not making a big deal out of them meeting is a better way to go, that way your son is not feeling pressure to please you and your girlfriend is not feeling pressure to ensure your son likes her, and you have dialed back your expectations so you feel less pressure to make sure your son is not hurt and the omg I hope he likes her. And yes, I purposely wrote that the long way to finally say, we all get hurt in some way over the entire course of our lives, it’s how we grow. Sometimes we make things worse for fear of risking a mistake or causing pain, what my Mom called overthinking. We cannot keep everyone we love completely safe from all harm and if we did what kind of person would they become?

  11. Kika said:

    Also, DON’T do what my ex advised a friend of his to do (within hearing of *our* son, mind you):

    “If your kid is causing conflict in the relationship, ship him off to his mom for the sake of the new GF. You can fix your relationship with your son when he’s older.”

    *Headdesk*

    • SadieBlake said:

      Good lord, that is reprehensible.

      I hate it when parents put the kids in the middle like that – use them as bargaining-chips or tools for revenge. My brother-in-law’s ex pulls that crap all the time: she’ll “forget” that he has custody of his daughter for Christmas, then insist that if he takes his daughter, he also needs to watch her two other daughters from a previous relationship. She also dumps the kids on him when she knows he has special occasions coming up – such as, say, my sister’s birthday or their wedding anniversary. This has gotten especially bad since he and my sister had a baby of their own – he hardly gets to see his daughter at all, even though they have joint custody.

      I have no idea how they’re going to unfuck their family dynamics. Those poor kids.

      Anyway, LW, it doesn’t seem like you’re that type at all. You’ve got your kid’s best interests at heart, and that’s the most important part.

      In that vein, I also might recommend making sure you set aside time for just you and him – if you haven’t or don’t already. It can be unsettling for a kid to feel like they’ve lost one parent in the split, and then feel like they’re losing the other one to new boyfriends/girlfriends. Knowing that he is special and important to you can go a long way toward helping him be secure enough to welcome new people into your lives together – especially if he feels like he gets to have an opinion on your lady friend, and that those opinions will be heard and valued.

    • Kaz said:

      OMFG that is disgusting.

  12. Lilly said:

    I’m not a parent but I have been on the other side of this equation i.e. I dated someone with a small (aged 6) son.

    I think this advice from the commenter above is good:

    I think it depends on several factors: (1) how old is your son? (2) how secure is he about the New Normal? (3) how acrimonious or (hopefully) not is your relationship with your ex? (4) is your new GF willing to follow your lead on this?

    In my ex-bf’s case, the son was quite ‘delicate’ in the sense that the relationship my ex had with the kid’s mom was terribly acrimonious. Like, really bad. So the kid wasn’t too secure, poor thing.

    I made sure to take things VERY SLOWLY e.g. wait until we were dating steadily before even meeting the kid, then I’d meet my ex and the kid for say an hour during a weekend stay then leaving them alone, until he got used to me. Also I would never act in a parental role towards him e.g. never telling him off etc, leaving the boundaries like bedtimes etc to my ex, basically just acting like another adult that was around. My ex wanted me to stay the whole weekend and “be a family” with them but I really didn’t think that was right for the kid so I didn’t.

    I enjoyed hanging out with the kid, he was sweet, but still, I needed to take things slowly and even more so, that was what the kid needed.

    (What made things worse was the kid’s mom was terribly jealous that my now-ex (and her ex) had a new gf and involved the kid in information-gathering e.g. she would call the kid on his cellphone (yes a 6 year old had a cellphone) and I would hear the little boy describing me by saying stuff like “yes, she’s wearing jeans… and a t shirt… um, I don’t know, blue? Her hair? I don’t know? Long?” So LW, I hope your relationship with your ex is better than that.)

    • hsnitch said:

      I dated a guy with two kids, and I agree that the “parental role” bit is very important.
      He DID tell his children they had to listen to me, for the sake of safety (I looked after them on my own a lot) but we agreed between ourselves that when we were all together I did not tell them what to do or get between them.

  13. Jillian said:

    I can only come at this from the kid angle, having been a child of divorced parents who both remarried when I was a kid. I think it’s all about taking it slowly and not introducing her until you really feel like she’s going to be around for a while (and confirming this with her!). Like CA said, this is a conversation you should have with her. Not in a “you’re a professional” capacity, but in the context of the relationship. How does she feel about meeting him? And you’re his dad, you know him better than pretty much anyone; how will he feel about meeting her?

    As far as your kid goes, talk to him about it before hand and explain it in a way that makes sense and is developmentally appropriate. Explain it in a way you think would be well received, but don’t share the gory details. A part of taking it slowly, too, is not trying to force your kid to like your significant other or putting pressure on him to get attached or develop a relationship with her immediately. Some kids will do this very quickly. Some kids will be more reserved about it. Let your kid and your girlfriend help you to dictate the pace of this. Introduce them to each other in a low stress/pressure situation and have some fun things planned for you to do. Keep it relaxed. Good luck!

    • Seconding talking about it beforehand–my dad introduced me to a couple of his girlfriends, but it took me years to figure out that they had been his girlfriends, and not just friends. He was acting super awkward about introducing us, like it was a big deal, but he never told me WHY. It would have been no big deal if he’d either told me they were his girlfriends, or said, “Hey, Foxglove, we’re going to my friend Tracy’s house today, she’s got games and cable and books for you but we can leave if you get too bored” like he did with every other grown-up friend who met me. I was thirteen, so it wouldn’t have mattered either way, I just needed to know what was going on and what was expected of me!

  14. ahn said:

    I agree with other comments here that it’s more about how the meeting is handled and the context then just the amount of time. The guy i’ve been involved with has a ten year old and I met him about a month and a half after we started seeing each other. Our relationship began and moved very quickly and it made sense for me to help take care of his kid over the winter holidays due to our work situations. So I dove into it a bit quickly; more quickly than I would have had there not been circumstantial childcare needs. I think it’s important for the child to know that the new girlfriend isn’t a replacement for mom or previous step-mom or whatever, and for them to have a chance to build a relationship in their own time. I’m not in the same kind of relationship with the guy anymore but we’re still very close and I spend time with him and his kid when his kid is in town.

    I would absolutely advise LW to talk to his girlfriend about her thoughts on what would be appropriate with this. Her work with kids probably gives her some good insights about it. If this is going to be a serious/longer term relationship, even if she doesn’t step into a parenting role right away, I imagine LW will want to talk about parenting issues with her because they’re a part of his life and this could be a good way to open that dynamic and see how she reacts.

    So, even though my situation was a bit different, I do think it’s best to introduce them in a casual and fun setting without a lot of expectation or responsibility. I think this is a situation where going with your gut can be a good guide, as you are probably tuned into what is comfortable for your son and what he’s ready for. Best wishes with it all, LW!

  15. Bee said:

    (Side note: she is a school counselor so I could ask her also, but that seems like it would be a strange conversation).

    It probably would be a totally strange conversation if you ask your new sweetie in a professional capacity when it’s okay to introduce your son to someone new. However, asking her how she feels about meeting your son shouldn’t be. (It would, in fact, be even stranger if you suddenly sprung him on her, as a surprise, without discussing it at all.)

  16. Linden said:

    Not to be a threadjacker, but I have a follow-on question for this wise group. I was divorced two years ago because my ex decided he was meant to be poly. I haven’t dated anyone yet, mainly because of lack of suitable candidates. He’s been dating, but we agreed that neither of us should introduce the kids to anyone until it seemed like they were going to be around for a while.

    However, he does tell the kids about his being poly and that he’s dating a number of people. He also tells the kids about his “friends” and sometimes includes these women in activities with the kids, but without identifying them as his love interests. My daughter talks about her father’s “girls” sometimes, but doesn’t know who they are and also doesn’t know that some of the women she’s interacting with under the guise of being her father’s friends are actually his “girls.”. I’m all kinds of conflicted about this. It seems dishonest to have the kids get to know these people without knowing their actual role, and I’d like to tell him to knock it the hell off, but I’m not sure if it’s actually going to have a negative effect on them or not. There’s a lot I don’t know about how they feel, or what’s really going on over there.

    • rikibeth said:

      It seems to me like the oversharing bit on your ex’s part is telling the kids about being poly and dating multiple partners and having “girls” — and I say this as a poly person. I think (as I said upthread) that casually including dating partners as “friends” in activities involving the kids is a good course of action when the dating relationships are likewise casual. There’s nothing wrong with kids being aware that their parent has a social life. But most of the time, it’s not necessary for the kids to think about whether their parent has a sex life. If they’re old enough to get the concept, they’ll sort it out for themselves, and not discussing that aspect of it helps maintain a boundary of privacy; if they’re not old enough to get the concept, it’s DEFINITELY TMI to share that part with them.

      • Linden said:

        The kids are both nine (twins, boy and girl). They know how the birds and bees work, but otherwise have no frame of reference.

      • Yeah, it seems to me that the poly stuff is only relevant if these are long-term partners, right? In that case, it would be an important part of the “there are different ways to have a family” talk that everyone has eventually anyway — but if it’s more casual, it does seem like an overshare.

    • Esti said:

      Well, it strikes me that if you and your ex agreed that neither of you should introduce new partners to the kids until they were serious relationships, he’s sneakily violating that by bringing new partners around and just not directly telling the kids who those women are. Kids aren’t stupid, and as they get older they’re going to figure out what’s going on (especially because he tells them about his “girls” *shudder* and his dating life). If you don’t think it’s actually a problem for the kids, then you don’t need to object — but if you do have concerns, I think you’re totally warranted in talking to him about the guidelines the two of you set out and why you think this is out of bounds.

    • BreechesRole said:

      I generally agree with Rikibeth and Esti on this one, but I’d also throw in that it’s probably worth thinking about your own feelings about your ex and the break up as you try to figure out whether his behavior is bad for the kids. If you’re not yet entirely comfortable with him dating other people or being poly, you could be channeling those emotions into worries about your kids. I’m thinking of the Captain’s comments on getting closure and being broken up with/rejected nicely, i.e. that the end of a relationship is painful, and that “if they’d only done it this way I’d be ok” is a comforting lie we tell ourselves. This may not be the case in your situation at all, but it may be something to consider.

      It also sounds like one of the reasons you’re having difficulty figuring out what’s going on is that it’s being filtered through your kids rather than you observing it first hand (understandably). If that’s the case depending on the relationship you and your ex have, it might be good to have a non-confrontational “hey – can we check back in about partners and how you’re treating your poly-ness around the kids?” conversation.

      • Linden said:

        The main problem I’m having with ex is that he’s a poly proselytizer. He doesn’t present his lifestyle as “there are many ways to have a family” — he presents it as, “I’m living AUTHENTICALLY and everyone else in the world is dishonest/stupid/brainwashed.” He was also a cheater during our relationship, which is inappropriate for me to share with the kids, so I haven’t. I’m sore not because of the breakup, which was several years overdue, but because I find myself yoked together in parenting with a passive-aggressive man-child who’s become virtually a stranger to me, and yet my kids’ emotional health is at stake if things don’t go well.

        As my grandfather would say, “Why are there so many more horse’s asses than there are horses?”

        • Rosa said:

          my dad is an entirely different kind of asshole, and I think the answer is just to stay positive, ask him to make changes you think he’ll actually make (like probably not to his proselytizing or having the kids meet his girlfriends – my dad would have never agreed to not talk religion with us or not say bad things about my mom. At least not to stick with. But if there are other, more specific things that he’ll really do, that’s worth talking to him about.)

          The kids are going to have to figure out their relationship with him and his assholio eventually no matter how you handle it, as long as you’re not fanning the flames.

        • BreechesRole said:

          Yeah, that does sound really unpleasant! I’m sorry you’re having to deal with it.

        • That is terribly frustrating! Aside from everything else, you have role model issues….

          But really, that he’s a poly proselytizer is not all that much different than if he were proclaiming for a religion or a diet or whatever. It seems different, because it involves having Girls, and that seems especially sticky for your kids. But I think that fundamentally, it doesn’t have to be.

          If your ex were suddenly a devout Fooian, and you are adamantly not, you would probably talk to your kids about how, their father notwithstanding, not everyone is Fooian. You’d probably talk about how, if they decide they want to be Fooian, it is their choice, but you want them to know about other options in the world. And then grit your teeth through the Fooianism Is Great phase that hits when they’re teenagers.

          Some people are poly. Some people are not. It’s a totally different question from parading girls around, and you can address it that way. If you get all educated about poly, you can talk to the kids about it and provide a more balanced view, even as you demonstrate that it’s not right for you.

          It’s tricky to be all “Yes, I actually want you to live authentically, but I want you to grow up to figure out what your actual authenticity is, your @#$^@# father notwithstanding,” but that was going to suck regardless, you know?

          The advice to talk to your ex about his girls, that is good.

          If you can find a way to listen to your kids as they talk about this situation, without getting your own emotionality involved, it might be really helpful. If not, you could try to get them a therapist or something, to be their sounding board. They’re going to have all kinds of mixed feelings about this stuff and it’s risky for them to bring them out in the open to either one of you.

        • Lauren said:

          He sounds kind of like a douche.

          If his method of explaining things to the kids is about love and relationships, eh, I guess. But if what he’s really doing is bragging to the kids about all the ladies he’s boning, this is absolutely an overshare and completely inappropriate. I ultimately don’t think it’s the kids’ business, but one is vastly less harmful than the other. If these are just friends (I bristle at the description of them as “his girls” and it’s raising red flags), parents are allowed to have friends and do things with other adults, so whatever. On the other hand, the red flags these are raising are more about the kids being his ciphers for his political beliefs, and the narcissistic way that he seems to be positioning the kids and His Girls with himself as the arbiter of authenticity and morality. It’s… weird.

          I co-parent with a really difficult guy, and while things are better than they’ve ever been, mostly because I’m about as no-contact with him as possible, a lot of stuff like this I’ve just had to let go and help the boy sort out when it comes up. My ex was never interested in any of my expressed concerns, and more often than not, my bringing up concerns became an opportunity for him to unleash his stores of resentment on me.

          More power to you. This sucks.

  17. Linden said:

    Re: The best time to introduce partners. My divorced parents tended to introduce people only when they were serious. I know there were people they dated that they didn’t introduce me to, and I think that was better for me overall. I knew if they did introduce me, then I was going to have to deal with the person for a while.

    The other half of that, however, is I think it’s important once the main squeeze has been introduced, to see how the kid and the squeeze do together. My mother ended up marrying a man that didn’t get along with me at all, and guess what? After they were married, he wasn’t just mean to me, he started being mean to her, too. Funny how that works.

  18. Bunny said:

    I asked my other half, who’s been introduced to his mum’s second husband (who he hated) and several girlfriends and eventual second wife of his father, and he had this to say.

    It might sound incredibly condescending, but think of it like you were introducing 2 cats to each other. Pick a neutral environment, where neither of them is going to be “trapped”, introduce them slowly. Don’t put pressure on either of them to get along or try to force conversation or interaction. A day out somewhere public but not too far from home is great, lunch in a restaurant is not, sitting awkwardly across the sofa at home is worse.

    He also recommended you be honest with your kid. Explain that you’ve met someone you think you like, and you want them to meet because you think they’ll like each other. Make sure your child knows they are under no pressure to try to get along with your partner, and for goodness sake make a mental note to have the meeting before things get too serious, in case your child hates them, because there’s nothing worse than suddenly finding out you’re going to start living with an adult who will now have a degree of parental authority over you if the first and only time you met them before then your last thought was “I hope I never have to see him again!”.

    *

    I’m not sure I can provide personal anecdotes of much use. My dad died when I was a wee tot, but my mum didn’t get seriously involved with anyone else until I was a teenager. Because I was older, and had been encouraging her to try and pull every time she went out for about a year, my mum told me straight up that she’s met someone she liked. He came to the house, and apparently I spent the entire time staring at him like he was some strange lab experiment, waiting to see what he’d do next. As it happens, the second time we met we bonded over a shared love of science, and we became great friends. Having a father figure for the first time made for some emotional ups-and-downs, especially since I was a teenager, soon started dating and did NOT appreciate this protective adult male getting all up in my beau’s faces.

    DO expect some difficult bursts of disagreement as your child tries to negotiate and work out what sort of relationship they want with your partner versus what sort of relationship your partner wants. Older children especially, might not take too kindly to your other half taking on parental authority.

    • Kate said:

      I second everything Bunny wrote; neutral environment, no first meeting in restaurant or at home, and for deity sake be honest and have them meet before it gets way too serious. Here’s how it went down for me:

      Dad: “Remember that movie we saw, Grumpy Old Men, where the adult daughter was telling her father to date…”

      Me: “Sure”

      Dad: “……….”

      Two years later my sisters and I were sitting at a restaurant along with the paternal grandparents, 3 aunts, 5 uncles, 4 cousins, and Dad. Turns out all the adults at the table were waiting for my Dad and tell me and my sisters that he has a fiancée. Dad chickened out and me and my sisters continue to eat dinner like oblivious idiots while chatting away with cousins while all the adults KNEW. Talk about feeling like figurative wives being the last to know.

      One year later I found out about the fiancée 30 seconds after being told there will be a wedding in four days. I reiterate, have them meet before it gets way too serious, like a wedding.

  19. Lady Librarian said:

    Next year, I’m marrying a man who has five – yes, FIVE – daughters who range in age from 21 all the way down to 8. There is a big split in age between numbers 2 and 3. I don’t know the college-aged girls well because the divorce (which took place five years ago, with a long separation before that) has been acrimonious and they’ve been pushed into taking “mom’s side”. Teenagers really are a pain in the butt; it’s much easier when you meet the kids when there’s still a “respect adults until they prove unworthy of respect” button in their brain somewhere. I’m working hard on negotiating those relationships, but it is frustrating for me and for Mister Quantum, my fiance. There’s also a significant age difference between me and Mister Quantum, though I am firmly older than the oldest girls.

    I have spent a lot of time with the middle- and elementary-schoolers, and we are quite close. Mister Quantum and I have been long-distance for going on 3 years now, so my visits are immersion-style.

    Mister Quantum and I knew we were serious within the first few weeks and headed toward marriage by month 4. He talked about me with them extensively, and I chatted with them on the phone a couple of times when they were on visits with him before I went to his home. They saw pictures of me, too. The positive phone interactions set us up well for the trusting and honest relationships we have now. The first time I met the girls, his eldest (who was 18 then) was living with him at the time, and the younger four came over for an overnight visit for his birthday when I came for the whole weekend.

    My advice to Learning As I Go: go slow. Talk about it with your girlfriend and make sure she’s on board. I’d never dated someone with kids before, so it was a little intimidating. However, I was eager to meet the girls, and that helped ease Mister Quantum’s mind. Then talk about it with your son. Let him know that this person is special, show him photographs and let him ask questions about your girlfriend. I also liked getting to talk on the phone first, even though that was really there because of distance more than anything else. It paved the way for an easy introduction, where Bright Eyes, the baby of the family, plopped herself in my lap in the first five minutes, explained how the base 10 numerical system works and then demanded that I read her a half-dozen picture books with “all the voices”. Three years later, she hurls herself at me for a bear hug when I come to town for a visit and drags me into her bunk bed fort, I talk Mumford & Sons with the 8th-grader, Dragontamer, and play endless rounds of board games and troubleshoot math homework with Little Pearl, the 6th-grader. I wouldn’t trade my magical family for anything. (I would trade the divorce strife, though. That’s another story.)

    • Virginia said:

      Preach it, Lady Librarian! Mr. Dingo Jones and I got together sooner than either of us would’ve chosen after our respective and difficult divorces (about a year), and I got a LOT of the side-eye from a LOT of people about the idea of my hauling to Texas to be with some dude who has 3 kids. Seeing him as a parent told me so much about him as a person.

      And I love those short people like crazy, even though 2 of them are now taller than I am. Being part of their lives has enriched mine.

      • ahn said:

        yeah! as someone who doesn’t have kids, it really is cool to get to know a person by observing how they are with their child/children. i’m not sure if i want kids of my own or not but watching the guy i’m close with be an awesome dad only makes me like and appreciate him more.

  20. Shora said:

    My parents divorced when I was three. My mother, who was the custodial parent, handled the whole dating thing phenomenally, in my opinion. she askedme when I was about thirteen or fourteen how I would feel if she started dating (” Go for it!”) and understood that this would be an impact on my life and was respectful of my feelings, which were fortunately uncomplicated and positive. I never met anyone she dated (though I occasionally heard about them, if they were serious) until I was eighteen. I think the way she handled the whole thing was spot on.

    I don’t know how old your son is, LW, but the younger he is the more important it is that you know the relationship is for the long haul before you start introducing him to SO’s. You probably don’t need to wait until he’s 18, but it might be a good idea to wait till he’s a teenager: 14 was old enough for me to understand a little bit about dating and hope my mom wasn’t lonely. If he’s young, the parenting dynamics are a little different, and introducing a new SO introduces a lot of potential instability.

    In the end, the most important thing is for you to talk to Your son, listen, and respect his feelings. That’s most of what my mom did for me and that really helped to make the whole dating thing run smoothly for both of us.

    • Jillian said:

      I agree that the security of the child is paramount and that this is an important thing to talk to the child about. Sounds like your mom did a great job! But I think it may be unrealistic to ask that the dad hold off until the kid is a teen to introduce a new SO. My mom remarried when I was 8 (and my siblings were 5, 10, and 13) and my dad did when I was 12 (and my siblings were 10, 14, and 17) and I think my parents each handled it well. They could have handled it poorly regardless of our ages. Teenagers could be total pains about a change in the status quo after years and years of dad not dating or involving SOs. I think taking the son’s opinion into account is important, but I think if the dad is really serious about someone, the child should be introduced to that person (in ways many commenters have already described well), It would be a lot to ask of a serious SO and of the parent to wait years and years to meet their partner’s child.

  21. abi said:

    I’ve never been an adult in this situation, but I did go through it as a kid (ages 10-12), after my mom died and my dad dated and eventually remarried; so I can at least speak to some things I wish had gone differently for me:

    1. Do be sure your child knows that this is in no way a competition for your affections — that he will always, always be important to you, no matter who else is also in your life. Certainly don’t allow dating to take away from specific times/activities that are routine, meaningful parts of your relationship with your son (and remember that the things he finds meaningful may not be the ones you expect).

    2. As others have said, don’t expect or pressure your son to bond with your girlfriend. However, I would add — DO watch for signs that she is willing to (eventually, when appropriate) form a healthy attachment with him; if she isn’t willing to (eventually, when appropriate) have a loving, parental-esque relationship with him, DTMFA. (I’m sure you already know that. But I wish someone had said that to my dad, so I’m saying it here.)

    3. If/when your relationship with a girlfriend that your son has gotten to know *does* end, give him the time and space he needs to grieve for that relationship if he needs to. Now would be a good time to establish other adults in your son’s life that he can talk to about his feelings (a therapist, school counselor, Big Brother, grandparent, etc.); he may need those people to help him process his feelings as your relationship does or doesn’t progress.

  22. Indywind said:

    Is it appropriate to suggest websites?
    sfhelp.org has provided me helpful perspective on lots of questions about complex/nontraditional/blended families… as well as self-awareness, effective communication, creating nurturing relationships and growing boundaries… despite the site being dependent on pop-ups to a really infuriating degree, and a lot of the advice based on a psychological metaphor that may not work for all readers (and occasionally just plain jumps the shark). There are some parts I flat disagree with, but overall there is a lot of useful information that can apply to a variety of complex-family relationships. It might be more useful background reading for perspective, than a direct immediate answer to the LW’s question.

    However, there is a short answer to the “When do you tell your kid you’re dating someone new” question here: http://sfhelp.org/relate/qa/dating.htm#17%20tell_kids

  23. Daddy's special friend said:

    My partner and I decided to wait to tell his kids about me. He was newly separated from their mom and even though it felt “right” from day one, we didn’t want to risk upsetting or confusing them when we were so new. They’re four and six btw.

    About four months in we were talking about talking to them “soon” because he felt they could deal, I felt that I could deal, and we’d had time to develop a bit of confidence in our own relationship.

    Their mum then of course had to tell them about me anyway without asking us about it, so we just went with the flow. They were asking him questions about whether he had any special friends, so he said yes and showed them a picture of me and answered questions. We left it for a few weeks, with him passing on messages like “good night” and “hope you have a good week at school” from me, then he asked them if they’d like to meet me some day and they said yes. We left it a few weeks and then he asked if they’d like to meet me on X date and they said yes, so we met. It was a pretty brief visit, and then we left it for about a month before the next, and when that went well he asked if they were happy with me being around more often and they said yes, and so far they seem happy enough with me.

    So, general principles: we asked them every step of the way, we were honest (the youngest asked if he and I would be together forever), and we gave them the time we could to get used to it.

    We also work to show them that it’s their house, he’s their dad, but I am not their mom. When I come to the house when they’re there, I knock and they let me in. I find opportunities to tell them that their dad loves them and that they have prior claim on him. I take an interest in them and play games with them, but I never supervise them unattended and I go off and do stuff so that they have plenty of time alone with their dad even when I’m there.

    I should also say that we talked about the kids between ourselves from day 1. Not as a Big Issue, but just continual feedback on where we were and where they were and how we thought things should be, so that we were on the same page. As a commenter above said, as an adult, it was and is up to me to be the adult in the relationship, but it was a lot easier to be that adult when he and I had worked through my worries than it would have been if we hadn’t.

    Finally, FWIW, he thinks and their grandparents think that the kids are happier since they know about me. They say the kids used to be really worried about daddy being lonely and not having any hugs, so they were always leaving him toys to protect him while they were away. Since they met me they’ve stopped doing that.

    • sometimeswhy said:

      Holy Crap. Y’all are awesome. Well done!

    • This comment is making me feel sunshine and rainbows. From my life as the youngest in an intricately blended family, I salute you!

    • the witching hour said:

      Oh my god. Leaving toys to protect him. I love kids.

      • Virginia said:

        Yeah, I got a little misty-eyed at that one.

        • Daddy's special friend said:

          His kids are lovely. 🙂

          That actually brings up an important point: I have been overwhelmed by their willingness to accept me and welcome me into their lives. I was fully prepared to experience jealousy or anger or standoffishness, just because their lives had been turned upside down in the last few years, and I don’t expect a small child to be all “okay, well nothing to do with you so I’ll just rock along with this latest change!” As far as we can tell, they’ve been much less worried about me than I have them.

          Obviously the way it’s worked out for us is only the way it’s worked out for us and doesn’t generalise, but my point is that really, you just don’t know until it happens. It might make the kids happier, the way it has with us, or it might stress them out. Or they might be fine at first but find it harder to deal with later.

          You can’t control what will happen. Even if you can work it out perfectly on your side, you have no control over what they hear at the other end (from what the kids say to us and from what we’ve heard her say, it’s well nigh certain that the ex is dripping poison into their ears about their father and how he feels about them and how he treats her) and how that will affect things over time.

          All you can do is be the best parent and partner you can be, and trust that if you’re doing that, the love and trust will be there to maintain the relationships.

      • Yeah, I sniffled a little.

  24. sometimeswhy said:

    There’s a lot of great stuff up there. Having done it wrong a couple of times I wanted to toss in a caution or two:

    Because [reasons], over a year passed before my teen met my now-ex. She’d known about him and also knew that if they just did. not. mesh. that she was my priority. He and I were both up front with each other about that and I was so quick to assure that I didn’t realize until after the fact how much anxiety that placed on her around liking him. I was lucky she did. And I mean she genuinely liked him. There wasn’t a way for them to have met any sooner because [reasons] but I do wish I’d found a way to assure her that she was my priority without putting the responsibility of feeling like she was deciding the fate of this well-established relationship.

    Manymany years earlier, I dated a man who decided two years in, all on his lonesome, that we’d been together “long enough” for him to parent and let’s just say we had very different parenting styles. That ended swiftly and decisively. Since then I haven’t done an awful lot of dating but when I have, even the longer ones, I’ve been very careful to check in about expectations and responsibilities on a continuing basis.

  25. Christy said:

    My dad dated a school counselor and she had some really good ideas about what we should be exposed to. She really knew what appropriate limits were, certainly better than either of my parents did. I would definitely talk to her about it.

  26. ona555 said:

    My advice, without reading all the other replies, would be to make the first introduction casual and in a group setting. If you are typically a social person then that should be relatively easy for you, especially if you have friends in common. If you’re not highly social then maybe a small afternoon get together, like having a few friends over to watch a game or something, can be a nice, low pressure environment, providing your interest has met your friends already. Your child can observe your new interest from a safe distance or choose to get to know her more closely, on his own terms, surrounded by people with whom he is already familiar and feels comfortable. If that goes well, then I would consider a more intimate setting like bowling, a movie or a bike ride.

    I think doing the first intro in a group setting takes the pressure off. Everyone, but particularly the child, will feel little imposition, less potential competition for your attention, and less need to be “on.”

    Of course if your dating interest has not met any of your friends yet, it could be awkward all the way around, in which case my advice maybe isn’t that great. LOL. What I do think is great is how considerate you are being of the dynamics at play here and how careful you are of both your date and your son’s feelings. Go, Team You.

  27. MK said:

    LW, as someone who’s been where your SO is, TALK TO HER. That was the biggest issue I had with my ex. He made decisions about how to introduce me to his daughter without ever really discussing it with me, and how time spent together should go, again without really talking to me, and he was never willing or able to facilitate a relationship between us. It was the final straw in the whole “not working” equation. It really is a blending experience, and you get to be the blades that mix things up, the only reason things are being mixed up. You need to talk to your SO, to your son, and figure out what works for all three of you, because you’re the linchpin. Don’t be afraid to ask their opinions, but also pay attention to what they don’t say because they both want you to be happy.

    • Antipodean said:

      Yes, yes, yes! Although as a parent your instinct is to always put your kid first, your adult partner needs to be first. Talk with your SO. Ask her how you both might work together to put your kid first. Be a team from the start.

  28. Antipodean said:

    Both can be first? Yes. I guess you are balancing three points of a triangle. Now my metaphors are so hopelessly mixed I shall shut up.

  29. atma said:

    11 year old is probably the best age for this!

    I would not introduce a new parner unless I felt it was serious and would last! In a period of changes a child needs to feel secure. Show him that you love him and that he can trust you and depend on you. If you have a new partner, he has a right to know her. But he doesn’t need to start relating to an number of temporary aquintances.

    Also, talk to your girlfriend, obviously.

    This may be a bit off-topic, but I’ll toss it in. If things are not working well between your child and your partner, don’t force them to be/act family. Theirs will be a unique relationship. As much as you’d want the three of you to form a unit, don’t force it. It needs to grow naturally, with time.

    Also, if you two break up, but your child has formed a bond to the new person, try to support them in maintaining it! Not my personal experince, but I’ve had friends tell me of how confusing it is to be pulled away from an important person in THEIR life because their parent didn’t live with that person any longer. (Which really brings back the ” don’t introduce new people unless you believe they’ll stay around”-point)

  30. Sarah N. said:

    LW, my personal experience with this is from a very odd angle, but I do have training in effective communication and positive interaction, so hopefully what I say helps! As a camp counselor, I have worked with children in all sorts of familial settings. Their familial situations doesn’t define who they are. What does often define the way they interact is their parents’/guardians’/older siblings’ behavior and what’s key to making a happy kid is effective communication. Not a perfect kid, mind you, psh, that’s silly, but when a kid has a family that communicates well with each other, it’s easy to see.

    (Truthfully, my usual advice to parents is “don’t be that one parent who shows up three hours late to pick up your kid without calling ahead”, but we’re going to talk about effective communication because I like effective communication. It is a magical, wonderful thing and the basics of it are very simple. And yes, we have had one of those parents every single session I have ever worked in my life at multiple camps, so congratulations on not being that parent!)

    The Captain and many other people have brought up talking to your SO, which is a definite must, but the summary of my one piece of advice for you is: TALK TO YOUR SON. Various other people here have said variations of this, but just . . . talk to him. I saw in the comments that you have talked to him a little about this, but just keep doing that. Talk to him about other things. Talking in general is good. He already seems quite empathetic to you, but break out the I-feel statements! “I feel happy when I’m with her” or “I was happy when we were doing insert-activity-like-a-picnic-that-you-are-mentioning-to-him”. He’s obviously your priority, but you’re important too! You’re one half of the relationship. Ask open-ended questions about what he’s thinking when you have discussions like this, though be ready to accept if he wants to think on it.

    Definitely don’t over share, but him being aware of your good dating habits won’t hurt him. It is not helpful to act like you have no social life. You don’t want to suddenly make your SO a co-parent; you simply want to show your son that you’re happy, that you’re open to hearing his feelings, and that this is how you casually/reasonably seriously date someone in a healthy way. He’s only 11 now, but eventually, he will date someone and you’re his role model. Plus you’re being a role model for how you interact with peers as well (i.e. use your words, articulate your feelings).

  31. caitie_didn't said:

    Wheeeeee, this is my first time commenting!!

    So, okay. My aunt went through many, many serially-monogamous relationships when my cousins and I were young and what I can gather from their experience is that, as a kid/tween/teen it’s really difficult to meet a parent’s SO that you like and respect, develop a good relationship with them, and then never see them again when your mom/dad ultimately breaks up with them. Eventually, you give up on trying to have any meaningful relationship with anyone your parent brings around because you never know how long they’ll be around for. I’ll add my voice to the chorus of people saying that you should not put this person in any more than a “daddy’s friend” role until you know the relationship is serious and long-term, and even then, I’d be hesitant about installing them in the role of an authority figure.

    Also, somebody upthread made a really insightful comment about how your son is going to learn how to date by watching you. This is so, so true, and it’s important to remember that kids are much more perceptive than you might expect. My ex was the product of divorced parents, and lived primarily with his mom who may not make the best romantic decisions ever. About the time our relationship ended, his mom had just finalized her 2nd divorce and was thinking about moving in with (and was of course “madly in love” with) a guy she’d known for 3 weeks. Even though my ex was an adult, the speed with which is mom moved affected his attitude towards our relationship, and watching both parents go through 2 divorces had really influenced his opinions about marriage. So, be aware that your kid is learning from you, and possibly going to imitate you or at least be influenced by you in his own (eventual) dating life.

  32. Lauren said:

    So I was thinking about this again. I detailed above how I dated, but then I also have a “how not to do things” from my ex. And so this goes:

    My ex was always kind of awkward (and entitled) with women [for reasons] and had a difficult time setting boundaries with them, and he also tended to introduce our son to his new lady friends kind of in the same way you’d take a dog on a date to have something to do and talk about with strangers. This made me wild with anger, and he really didn’t care how I felt, so it went on for a long time. Finally he met someone new and of course she was The One (they all were), so she started staying over all the time. Suddenly, father-son visitation time which had always been seen as sort of sacred was suddenly, “Go play while I cuddle with my new lady friend” time, and son was obviously resentful. So, to smooth things over, lady friend bought son a dog. Ex hates dogs. Son was thrilled about the dog. When they broke up several months later (he told me he never really liked her anyway), the dog went with her. It’s still a major point of resentment for son, that time dad gave away his dog.

    Lessons here: Boundaries. Easy on the gifts — be willing to say to to over-gifting.Visitation/custody time with child comes before and maintains a priority over dating time with the new lady.

    A couple of years later, ex met another new lady and they were living together, including her son by a prior marriage, in under four months. They had no conversations with the boys prior to them moving in together, they didn’t talk to the boys about what it would mean for the two of them to live together now or share parents, and my son really hasn’t had any meaningful one-on-one time with his dad since that happened, oh, six years ago? It’s a major point of contention, made worse by ex refusing to take responsibility for how their relationship is going, and his new wife pointing at my son’s anger as evidence that it’s the kid’s problem and not their responsibility. Since it’s not talked about, it has festered into major dad angst, and son spends his time over there seething and counting down the hours before he gets to come home to his “real life.” The only good thing about dad’s house is that there are no limits on the amounts of TV, junk food, and video games (about which I am thrilled).

    Note: these aren’t the only problems at dad’s house (or ours) that complicate the issue, but if the ex had considered son’s feelings at all, in any capacity, for any length of time, about blending families and how it would affect their relationship and son’s feelings, a lot of this friction could have been avoided.

    Lessons here: Consider your kids’ feelings. Sometimes the speed with which you get your junk wet is less important than, say, your lifetime relationships with your children.

  33. Roman said:

    I’m sure you’re getting a lot of similar comments, but another personal experience can’t hurt! Especially since I was in middle school when my parents divorced, which is probably one of the worst times to try and introduce a SO to a child, so hopefully this will be helpful.

    My mom started dating my step-dad very quickly (or at least I thought so) and she never really asked my brother and I for our opinion when we were introduced. It was sort of like, this is the way things are now so if you don’t like him you’ll get used to him. But I didn’t, and then he moved in with us which I really was not okay with. I felt very strongly that what I wanted didn’t matter, since what I wanted (to not have my step-dad around) was directly opposed to what my mother wanted (to live with my step-dad). I really wish that she had put my feeling first, at least for a little while. I think if she had handled it better initially it wouldn’t have taken so long for things to get smoothed over. Because the crazy thing is that during college and after getting a break from my family I realized my step-dad is pretty great and we get along really well now. I think the turning point was me letting go of a lot of resentment and the fact that my stepdad is better with older kids.

    My dad was much better at the start. I know he dated but I never met any of his girlfriends until my step-mom. My dad introduced us pretty casually, as far as I can remember, and asked us if it was okay when she started spending the night. I really liked her then because she made an effort to engage with us and respect our feelings about their relationship. She was pretty cool but I don’t think she ever wanted kids and this has recently become a problem. My brother and I are older and in college/out of college now but we’re still around a lot when she is more than ready for us not to be. But that’s not really fair to us because it’s our dad and we very much want to have a relationship with him.

    So I think it’s really, really important to consider how your SO feels about kids for the long term because even when they’re grown up, they’re still your kids and they still are (hopefully) going to be a part of your life. If your SO can’t see having family Christmases until kingdom come that is a problem. Being a step-parent means taking on different levels of parenting depending on the situation but there is still parenting to be done. Yeah, you might never be the same authority figure that real mom and dad are but you have responsibilities and you’ve made a commitment not just to your SO but to their kids as well and kids are for life.

  34. Deoridhe said:

    I have a lot of xperience in this area from the child’s side. I was 8 when my parents separated, 9 when they divorced, 12 when my father remarried, and in my 30s when my mom remarried.

    My father never dated because he married the woman he cheated on my mother with, so on that side I can only speak to the boundaries in relationships which are important. My step-mother felt directly threatened by my father’s children (my brother and I) and my mom, and this caused problems both with my brother and I (more I than my brother, since I was identified as like my bitch of a mother) and with my step-siblings.

    I was able to see a very different way of fathering with my step-father, who always prioritized his children, and I would recommend trying to keep that as a main focus. The people you date/marry should never be expected to be the main person to deal with your children; this is damaging for everyone. If a woman is “right for you” then she should understand your commitments instead of trying to undermine them, and one of those commitments should be your children.

    If no relationship with your children is an option (it was for my father) then expect your children to notice where they come in your priorities (there’s nothing in your letter indicating this is the way you’re going, but it seems to be a common theme with fathers so I’m including it) and for them to react accordingly. I’ve been estranged from my father effectively since he told me I had to ask any time I wanted to visit instead of abiding by the custody agreement that had been in place for eight years and outside of an apology and owning up to the damage he did to me we will likely never have a relationship again. There is a tendency in many cultures that the women become the emotional/child responsible figures, and I owuld encourage you to go counter to this as much as you can, as the results are deeply hurtful.

    My mom did quite a lot more dating, and some of it evolved developmentally (resulting in the awesome man I call my step-father), so I’m going to go semi-chronologically with nicknames.

    Mom’s first boyfriend I’ll call TeddyBear (because he so was) also was recently divorced and had two children around the same age as my brother and I. Me and my almost-step-sister (they dated for years and came very close to marrying) actively tried to destroy their relationship, so one of the boundaries both of them had to set was that while the children came first, we didn’t get to decide who our parents dated. The most vivid example of the crap we would do was one time I saw the two of them walking down the sidewalk holding hands, I barrelled in between and pushed TeddyBear off of the sidewalk! Now I’m ashamed of my blatant jealousy and lack of regard for my mom’s feelings, but at the time all I felt was that I wanted him to Go Away. (This is not necessarily age dependant; I did this from about ages 9-11, but when my mom and step-father got together, his daughter in her early twenties reacted very negatively and avoided my mom until mom became her tutor in science and they were able to forge a separate relationship.)

    When mom ended up breaking up with TeddyBear, she went on a series of dates and we had a deal that she wouldn’t bring them home to meet me before three dates – enough time so that there wouldn’t be a parade of them, but soon enough that we knew they existed and so wouldn’t be shocked by them. One of the things I grew to really hate about the boyfriends was when they would try to bribe me with gifts; if you’re dating someone with children, be careful with gifts and don’t be surprised to get a sort of sullen hostility – it’s not personal, we just have a lot of big feelings.

    The next really serious guy I’ll call Hermit, because he wanted to be; he was openly shocked at my relationship with my mother continuing (I was college age and at college for most of their relationship) but supported my mom when she insisted on supporting us. I know for her, though, the attitude of insularity and isolation from her children was absolutely not appealing, and it ended up being a deal breaker for her (among other things). I can’t tell you how reassuring the events around this relationship were to me – my mom made it absolutely clear that no one could ever make her abandon me, and that was a wonderful thing.

    Finally, my now step-father broke a number of the “rules” established in my early teens, but by then my mom and I were much more equals (I moved back home after college) so it wasn’t a big deal. I met him when he came to pick her up on their first date, for example, and got to know him pretty quickly. It took longer for the two families to meet – he had two children, younger than my brother and I – and we’re still not really “a family” since we all get together so rarely (my mom, brother and I still take solo vacations as our family) but I am more and more thinking of them that way as the years go on. I would say the most important thing with blending our families has been building the individual relationships between members – I have a relationship with my step-father apart from my relationship with my mother, and that is very important. Likewise, as I develop relationships with my step-siblings, we’ll become more family as well. Blending families is really less like “stick all the people in a blender and press GO!” and more “give people the itme and space to feel comfortable and begin relating to each other separately.”

    This is becoming a missive so I’ll end it with just a “Good luck!”

  35. Before your son comes home unexpectedly to find you making out with your SO on the couch! (That’s how I found out my mom was dating after she and my father got divorced) You know your child, I don’t – but I would say starting with being explicit that you are dating, if you haven’t already, is a good thing – a little mental preparation. And hey, you could ask your kid how he feels about meeting your SO as well! My parents have both dated plenty of folks since they’ve been single, and I got along best with those my parents told me about after a couple of promising dates (that they told me they were going on), and were honest with me about how things were going, and gave me some choice about where and when and how to meet them. My mom ended up marrying a man that I had only met twice, who made me uncomfortable by hugging me without my permission, that she didn’t tell me she was dating until literally 5 seconds before I met him. Needless to say, we do not have a relationship, period.

  36. Alex said:

    Late to the party here, but I have an anecdote!

    My parents divorced when I was 2, and my mom started dating again shortly thereafter. Every so often, she would bring a date home, but apparently I never liked them all that much (running away, squalling when she went out on dates, etc.)

    Until my stepdad showed up. According to my mother, she was running a bit behind for her date with him (this was after a month or two, I think), and introduced him to me and ran up to the bedroom to finish up. And when she came out, I was sitting in his lap and chatting away.

    LW, if you think she’s going to be sticking around for a while, it’s probably good to introduce them soonish. You might also want to take into account how you’re going to react if your son doesn’t like her. (How old he is and how long you’ve been divorced/how old he was at the time might also affect this – an 11-year-old is probably more likely to give her the cold shoulder because she’s Not Mom, but a younger kid might be more like me in the story.)

    I like one of the suggestions above that introducing her as a good friend might be the way to go, although kids are pretty perceptive about that sort of thing.

  37. shadowedge said:

    As the grown daughter of divorced parents, I second the “communication in a low-key way” thought.

    My father dated around during my childhood. Sometimes I was introduced to them as “girlfriends”, sometimes as friends. I was friendly with all of them, and formed a long-term friendship with C, my father’s occasional sex partner (I discovered this years after it ended, but since it was amicable, it was no big deal. I still visit her and her husband.) My eventual step-mother was around for a long time (they dated almost ten years before they got married), which let me form my own relationship with her. We chose that she would be my “her name” rather than my stepmother, and Dad continued to do the child rearing part of parenting.

    My mother, on the other hand, married a man that my sister and I liked well enough at first, but since we immediately all started living together it was tense. And it got worse and worse over the years, until they divorced while I was in high school. I still consider my (former?)step sister and her grandparents part of my family, but he is not included. My mother dated around some after that, which was mostly ok: her dates didn’t try to parent, or court us (perfect Christmas gift from one of them: key chain with a reference to a favorite cartoon. Not too big, but proved he was paying attention.)

    She then got married to another guy who I had met only twice before on less than 24 hours notice. That was pretty terrible.

    My advice in a nutshell: if things look like they might go somewhere, introduce girl friend as girlfriend, and keep communicating about where things are going. Forming a relationship with a kid is a commitment, so honor that, and make sure it it optional.

  38. Chiming in as yet another child that was your child’s age when the divorce happened. Mine is big time what-not-to-do story: My father informed my little sister and I were in the car with no escape, that he was a) leaving my mother b) all that stuff he made up about a tiny apartment was a lie, and he was living with his new girlfriend in her big house with her kids c) we were all now going to be One Big Happy Family.

    We didn’t buy in, so we were completely cut out of their lives. We now have no relationship with my father, and he has repeatedly told many people in his new town that he never had kids before he met new girlfriend and hers.

    (Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff here you would NEVER do, because you are a caring dad who cares enough to write the Captain about this & check in during the comments, but please consider this a cautionary tale, and take the lesson that integration of blended families will never be easy and full of platitudes. Best of luck; you sound like a great person trying to do the right thing.)

  39. Damon said:

    Please remember you’re co-parenting with your son’s other parent. Depending on what state you’re in, it may be illegal to introduce your SO to your minor son without Mom’s prior knowledge.

    If you still have a lawyer around for communicating between you and Mom, let him know you’re planning on doing this. Then let Mom know that you’ve told your lawyer. Consider: if you need this lawyer around for communicating because you never know how Mom is going to react to something, then chances are she might not have the most professional response.

    Also, while it’s definitely responsible to not introduce your son to every fling you might have, and it really is awesome that you’re being responsible and aware of the feelings of everyone involved, waiting too long with children of a certain age can result in them rebelling against you in other avenues because, well, why should I tell Dad I’m doing this? He didn’t tell me about his new girlfriend and he’s been seeing her for a whole year. Of course, that all depends on how old and/or precocious your kid is.

    The right time is before you have proposed marriage or togethership to her but after you have decided you definitely want to do so. Then let your kid get to know them the way you did: in small steps that build up. If she doesn’t formed a significant bond with him and vice-versa, then something is wrong. When the time comes, ask your son: “what would you think if she came to live with us?” Then listen. Because whatever the answer, there is a reason. And besides, up until now, your son has been your lifemate. He deserves the same consideration that any roommate would, especially as the special little roommate whose diapers you’ve had to change. He was there first and did not get to consent to a relationship with you.

    And if he asks to meet her? By all means, introduce them.

    Good luck.

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