5 Tips for Introducing Someone New to your Kids

coparenting dating divorce Aug 31, 2020

You may be separated or already divorced when you meet someone new.  You want to introduce this special person to your kids, but you’re not sure how best to do it.  As someone who met my ex-husband’s kids while we were dating, I have tips that may help you do this in a way that will be as smooth as possible for everyone involved, including your ex (yes!). 

 

1.     Don’t rush the meeting – make sure your relationship is solid first

For me, as the new girlfriend, I was hesitant to meet my then-boyfriend’s children (ages 6 and 4). This concern was to protect me and the kids, as I love children and didn’t want to get too attached on either side if my boyfriend and I were to break up.  

Six months into our relationship we decided we were serious and wanted to set up a meeting.  We first met with a child psychologist and asked her for advice.  In this session we asked her specific questions about how to talk to the kids about what having a girlfriend meant.  We talked about our concerns surrounding my boyfriend’s ex-wife as well.  He was certain she would tell the kids they shouldn’t talk to me, hug me, or be nice to me.  Thankfully this wasn’t the case, but we were ready for it. 

Be sure you and your partner are both ready for this significant step.  If you’re feeling pressure or resistance from your partner on meeting the kids, talk through it first.  Once your kids meet your new partner, it is the beginning of an important new relationship in all of your lives.  Set everyone up for success, allow the relationships to grow from a healthy place.  Trust your instincts on this one, you will know when it is time.

 

2.     Talk to your kids first

In the case of meeting young children, my boyfriend put a picture of us in a frame in his apartment.  He let the kids notice it and ask about me.  They, of course, had several questions: My name, favorite color, whether I had any pets, whether their mommy knew me, and much more.  My boyfriend answered all of their questions openly and honestly.  He did not press the idea of a meeting on that same day. 

If your kids are older, this conversation will be very different of course.  You may share a picture on your phone, or even social media photos.  (Hint: Older kids probably already know everything about your significant other from social media if they have it.). Give your kids a sense of your partner and share the qualities you like most about him/her.  Find commonalities if they exist – you both like to play soccer, etc. 

Talking to your kids first gives them a sense of why you have invited this person into your life.  It is the difference between saying, “I am dating someone,” and “I would like you to meet a person who I respect for these specific reasons.”

 

3.     Ask your kids how they feel

Be sure to ask your kids what they think about your new relationship.  You may not want to hear the comments at all, and they may be nasty depending on the age or temperament of your kids surrounding your divorce.  Let the kids be heard no matter what they say.  

You don’t need to “sell” your relationship to them, but please be aware of and respectful of their feelings.  Often, we try to trouble-shoot or problem-solve in the moment.  This is not the time to justify your relationship or qualify all of your partner’s positive traits.  Acknowledge their feelings, make sure your kids know they are heard.  They will come to accept the reality and even if they don’t like it, you can still respect their feelings. 

In working with clients, I hear more positive stories than negative on kids forming strong and healthy bonds with new partners.  Give it time, and be open in the process.

 

4.     Set up a time-bound meeting at a neutral location

The therapist we met said that a pre-planned time-bound meeting will help to avoid overwhelming all of us or putting undue pressure on that first meeting.  With very young kids ages 6 and 4, we met at the entrance of a pumpkin patch.  I drove myself, and he drove his kids there.  He let the kids know we would spend a few hours at the pumpkin patch and they would eat lunch with me, then they would go back to his apartment and I would go back to my apartment.  Meeting at a fun, public place made for a positive environment without being too personal too quickly.

With older kids, I suggest meeting at a coffee shop, restaurant, park, etc.  If your son or daughter is a golfer, meet at the driving range.  If your kids enjoy swimming and your partner does as well, go to the pool for a couple of hours.  Activities are great as long as you’re still able to talk freely and interact.

No matter the kids ages, my personal advice is to avoid public displays of affection during the first meeting.  You don’t need to sit on each other’s lap, kiss, cuddle, or be overly physical towards one another in front of your kids.  Set up boundaries with your partner ahead of time. 

 

5.     Consider whether an offer to meet the ex first will be productive

This is by far the most controversial piece of advice I have on the topic!  I have talked to two different therapists about this and both suggested that in my personal circumstance it was indeed a very positive action to offer to meet my boyfriend’s ex-wife, the mother of his children, before meeting their children.  I wanted to give her a chance to ask me any questions about myself or my experience caring for children in general.  As it turns out, she and I come from very similar family backgrounds, share the same faith, and much more.

If you have a healthy relationship with your ex-spouse and believe a meeting ahead of time will help and not hurt, consider the offer.  If you do offer, be sure the meeting with the ex is set for a neutral location, not in one of your homes, and that it is time-bound.  If you want to be there, that’s fine; however, allowing the two to connect directly is the primary goal.  Your new partner could very well end up being your partner in coparenting someday, so if there’s anything you can do to create a healthy environment from the onset, do it.

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