Dating comes with its complexities, particularly if you are divorced with children. Kids have an inherent loyalty to each parent and many carry around hope for a reunion between them. When you decide a relationship is serious enough to introduce the person to your kids, it can be perilous territory. The reaction from your kids may be less than favorable, or downright defiant.
There are steps you can take to help your kids adjust to the new person in your life though. Considering their feelings and really thinking through the introduction is a good place to start. Your follow-up actions can also make a huge difference in the attitude your kids have regarding your new significant other. Keep in mind that you are the adult.
Wait for the right time. If you have only been dating for a few weeks, it is probably not the best time for introductions. If your kids ask you about your love life, be open but avoid bringing in someone new until a level of commitment has been established in the relationship. Too many new faces will cause your kids to become desensitized and they will not be able to adjust well to the new person when an actual long-term relationship is in the cards.
Tell their mother first. You certainly do not need approval from the mother of your children to date a particular person. But when kids are involved, it is best to let the other parent know of your intentions to bring a new person into their lives. Your ex may be angry or even threatening when the topic of a new woman comes up, but address it anyway. Even if she dislikes you, she loves her children and wants them to be happy and well-adjusted. When the other parent knows that you plan to introduce your new significant other to your shared children, she can better prepare on her end to help your kids adjust.
Meet at a neutral spot. It is not wise to have the first meeting in your home or in a place where your children will feel territorial. Instead, talk to them about the new person several times without her present. Then when it comes time to meet, do it at a restaurant, coffee shop, or area park. You may have no immediate intention of having your new flame move into your home, but your children will view her as a threat to their current home environment if that is where she is introduced. You are the parent and you CAN do whatever you want, but consider the feelings of your kids in this case. You will have a better response in the long term if you keep your home life and new love life separate in the beginning stages.
Expect negativity. Brace yourself for a bad reaction from your kids and let them express those negative feelings. Remember that it is perfectly normal for them to feel angry or hurt by your new relationship. This does not mean that they will not warm up over time—and eventually, they will need to be respectful of your choices. But expect some pushback at first and handle it calmly and graciously. Encourage your significant other to do the same. Prepare for the worst reaction and then hope for the very best. Remember that you are the adult and parent; it is your job to make uncomfortable situations more bearable for your kids, not leave them on their own to process their feelings.
Reaffirm your commitment to them. In your mind, a new relationship changes nothing in the strength of your relationship with your kids, but your children may view it differently. Particularly if you have been divorced for some time, your children have become adjusted to having you all to themselves. At the very least, they have become comfortable in your home environment, sans another woman. Even if you approach the introduction in a positive light, your kids may feel threatened by this new part of your life. Sit them down and talk to them about how seriously you take your role as their father. Let them know that no matter what happens with the new relationship, they are your priority and that will not change. You may think that this goes without saying, but it never hurts to say it again and reassure them that your role as father is not changing.
Stay grounded. The euphoria of a new relationship can be overwhelming and take over every part of your life. Suddenly work seems less important. Other friends take a back seat. The new person becomes the central part of your life. This is normal and often happens without thinking. Remember that you are a parent, though, with people who depend on you to make them a priority. Stick to your arranged custody schedule and try to schedule activities with your new person outside those times, or at least in limited amounts. Adult relationships come with uncertainty, even if you feel like you have met your soul mate or found your forever happiness. Your kids, however, are a lifetime commitment and they need you to provide stability. Words are not enough; back up your relationship with your kids through consistent action.
Divorce and parenthood does not have to mean a life without romantic love. In fact, demonstrating a healthy relationship will give your children a reminder of what they should seek in their own relationships as they grow up. There is also a lot to be said of a parent who is happy because that positive energy is contagious. When you find love again after divorce, it is perfectly acceptable to share it with your kids. Just remember that they are approaching the situation from a different perspective than you, and with an ingrained loyalty to your ex. Lead your kids through the process of adjusting to the new woman in your life with caution and understanding and it will be an easier process for everyone involved.