It’s hard to know when the time is right for introducing the kids to the boyfriend. You might be concerned about jumping the gun, acting too soon, or misjudging things. You wonder … Will this relationship continue to grow, or last at all? What if your boyfriend doesn’t get your kids, or isn’t into your parenting style? What if your children don’t like your boyfriend? What if it’s a mistake that, once done, can’t be taken back? How would you know if it was a mistake without the benefit of time? If you had a crystal ball, you’d know that they were going to fit in nicely with your crew … or not. If you only knew the future, you could stop worrying.
Introducing the kids to the boyfriend: A Tough Decision
Introducing the kids to the boyfriend is never going to be an easy decision, because you care so deeply. You don’t take this lightly. You know that your children are vulnerable, susceptible to feelings of insecurity when it comes to their parents. They have experienced a massive change in their family structure, their world. Things continue to evolve, two homes means two routines, adjustments all around. Though we can’t possibly know how things will turn out, there are some things you can consider when deciding when to introduce a new boyfriend to the kids. Now is the time to be strategic. You can decide whether or not to take that next step, based on your assessment of these 5 questions.
1. Is There A Commitment To Working Through Losses?
Green Light – Your special person is working on and making progress toward emotional recovery from their last committed relationship. The length of time is not as important as the emotional work that is happening since the relationship ended. In other words, they have reached some emotional closure about the relationship, how it ended, and their contribution to its breakdown. Now, ask yourself the same questions about your own emotional recovery from your divorce or separation.
A good indication of emotional closure is when there is no need to avoid the topic of the last relationship or a strong drive to relive or process it with you (emotional downloads). Avoidance and over-processing are flip sides of the same coin. Both are giveaways that something is still smoldering under the surface.
Feelings that are pushed down, not dealt with, are “buried alive” with their emotional charge. They will find ways to manifest with intensity, such as strict avoidance of the topic, or over-sharing and incessant processing. Loss is a part of the human experience. The question is, how are you both managing your losses?
Understanding our own contribution to the breakdown of a relationship is a sign of emotional maturity and self-awareness. It speaks to an ability and willingness for self-evaluation, insight, and accountability.
These are important character traits for someone to possess, especially if they are going to be meeting your children! Children will test your new love’s maturity level, which includes whether or not they can be real, laugh at themselves, own their limitations, and tolerate yours (and theirs) as well. They will fare best when the adults in their lives are equipped to help them manage their feelings, not vice versa.
2. Is This A First Post-Divorce Relationship?
Green Light – You and your boyfriend have both explored other relationships since divorce or separation. Though this may be your first exclusive or serious post-divorce relationship, you both have met a few people along the way.
Why does this matter?
Shadow attachment is a psychological phenomenon that can occur at the loss of a committed, long-term relationship. Similar to the experience of ghost limbs where, after a sudden loss due to injury or surgery, people report feeling the ‘ghost’ of that limb for a while. Likewise, when a breakup happens, our attachment to the old relationship has been severed, yet we are not fully psychologically detached.
The ‘ghost’ of our attachment to the ex continues and, when activated by feeling connected, it mimics deeper feelings, and triggers hope. We then relate to that new person in this default mode of attachment, and it typically sabotages the relationship. Too much too soon.
Becoming single again is an opportunity to learn about yourself, people you enjoy, how and when to be alone, when to invite others in, creating a new social life, having sex with someone other than your ex, parenting on your own, and co-parenting together.
Lots to learn and explore, you will find it can be a tender time for your relationship with yourself. Take the time you need, try new things, places, experiences, and find out what matters to you. Fall in love with yourself as you go through this time. Has your new love taken the time to do the same?
2. How High Is Their Child IQ?
Green Light – Your new love demonstrates an understanding of children’s needs that aligns with your own.
Though they may not be a parent, this can be intuitive for people. Maybe they have experience with nieces and nephews, or younger siblings. Here are some positive signs that this is a go.
They are flexible and gracious when your parental responsibilities keep you from getting together. No pushing for dates while you’re the custodial parent (not even a quick coffee)
They remember details you share about each of your children and seem to have a mental image, having internalized them. Are they interested enough to remember what you share?
Your parenting style is respected, not critiqued or challenged. This is different from posing curious questions about what you think is important for the children. Even if they did become a bonus parent to your children, you are and will remain the leading expert on your children in this relationship.
They support you in your concerns about your children, rather than minimizing them. Do they show interest and compassion in the things you care about for your children?
If they are a parent, you generally agree with their parenting style and decisions. These two things will be a good indication of their values when it comes to children.
4. What Role Would They Play?
Green Light – Your new love is not looking to replace your children’s other parent, your ex. You are not looking for someone to replace your children’s other parent either.
They don’t look for opportunities to bash your ex, even though they can commiserate with you about your own frustrations. They would not slam your ex in front of your children. This is important! Not even one time…
Your boyfriend does not feel a need to compete with your ex. This is hard, because at one time you were in love with that person. Naturally your new love will have some jealousy. However, a mature person will understand and manage these feelings, rather than give them life.
Everyone has their strengths and shortcomings. One person’s hot point can’t be everyone’s – if your ex was an excellent athlete, does your new love covet this and try to measure up? Or do they minimize your ex’s positives in order to make themselves feel better about their attributes and weaknesses? How do they handle the competition?
They have appropriate boundaries with you about your children. They do not attempt to give you advice on issues that are for parents to resolve or decide, unless you ask for it. There will always be decisions about the children that belong primarily to you and your ex. If your SO contributes to your decisions because you have asked for their opinion, that’s another thing.
5. What Are Your Children’s Current Stressors?
Green Light – Your ex has not recently introduced your children to another new love, and nobody close to the children has recently passed, or become seriously ill.
Though it feels unfair, timing is important in managing stressors for children (and adults!). As with any other life change, adding a new person into children’s lives is a stressor, even if it is a positive change. Adding two new adults into their lives simultaneously adds up to twice as much stress, and can be confusing.
Adapting to two such significant changes in their home life at once can be one more log on the fire for children. When both parents get deeply involved in new relationships at the same time, kids can experience significant loss and insecurity.
All children are seeking stability and reliability, especially during and after divorce. Even though you may be falling head over heels, you may want to wait to share the news, to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed and fearful of losing you.
Children have a fear of abandonment when one of their parents falls in love with someone other than the other parent. These feelings can be assuaged with thoughtful timing, compassion, reassurance, and patience. Be strategic, let them know that they are your priority, in words and action.
In an ideal world, your ex would be willing to help your children adapt to the introduction of a new relationship for you. If that were possible, your children could comfortably accept your new love, understanding they are not betraying their other parent by doing so.
Any other big life event such as death of someone close, or serious illness of a loved one, is also a significant stressor. It’s best to keep these to a minimum and mitigate the effects one at a time.
The green lights mentioned here are suggestions, meant to be a helpful roadmap for you in making this important decision of introducing the kids to the boyfriend. Like everything else in life, there is no absolute – everything is relative and exists on a continuum. Maybe your special person is hitting the mark on several of these, but not quite there on others. It’s possible that this can be a yardstick for measuring potential and for noticing growth and improvement!
My hope is that it gives you something to think about and helps you to make intentional, thoughtful decisions. Remember, making no decision is still a decision. Here’s to your new life!
Ann Cerney, LCPC is a counselor, mediator, and coach for people considering, going through, or redefining their life after a divorce. A graduate of Benedictine University with a Masters in Clinical Psychology, Ann is trained in discernment counseling and helps people decide next steps for their marriage. Ann believes that feeling empowered rather than entitled is the most important factor in living a fulfilled life, divorced or married. Ann’s sweet spot is working with people she calls “Divorcelings”, or those who feel wrongly divorced or separated. To learn more, visit her site.
Like this article? Check out “20 Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Newly Separated Self”