OK, so you’ve met a new guy (because you are all that and a bag o’ chips) and it seems like  this new relationship might actually be going well. Your next big question is, how do you know when to introduce him to your kids?

At some point it will be nice to ease into a more relaxed kind of dating where you have dinner at home and watch a movie, rather than going out all the time.

While there is a delicate balance in all of this, it’s actually more simple than some would have you think.

Let’s start with what doesn’t work, and while these may seem super-basic, you’d be surprised at what I’ve seen…

  • Bringing a new man home each week, or even every other month and introducing him to your child as a boyfriend DOESN’T WORK
  • Showing physical affection in front of your child with multiple men over the course of time DOESN’T WORK
  • Having multiple men sleepover DOESN’T WORK!
  • Saying anything about “your new daddy” DOESN’T WORK!

Here’s what does work:

  • After a period of time, if the relationship seems solid, have your new guy meet you at the playground or come over for dinner. Depending on your child’s age and development, you may want to introduce him as a friend. However, if your kids are older, letting them know that you are dating is perfectly appropriate.
  • If that works and everyone seems comfortable, keep integrating him, slowly, over the course of time, through dinners, movie nights, etc.
  • Taking your children’s age and development into consideration, talk to them about what it means to date, and what the difference is between dating and having a boyfriend. (Always keep sex out of the conversation.)
  • Eventually you may want to talk to your child about having your boyfriend sleep over.

Often we can get caught up in the flurry of a new relationship and want to introduce our new boyfriend to our children right away. We begin to play house too quickly. We’re in that romantic spark period and we’re totally sure… but if that initial spark dies and the relationship begins to fizzle out, the loss can be more devastating and damaging to our children than it is to us.

If too many relationships come and go, we can harm our children’s sense of security, which is vital to their development and their ability to have healthy relationships of their own down the line.

On the flip side of the coin—and this is super important—a new long-term partner has to choose both us and our kids, and we need to choose them based not only on how they are with us, but also how they are with our children.

Add to that that if you wait too long, you’re not showing your partner who you truly are—a mother. If you spend six months seeing a man only when your children are with their father or a babysitter, your partner doesn’t get the sense of what it is to be in a long-term relationship with the real you. They get the fantasy version of you.

And you don’t get to see what they’re truly like with your children until you’ve seen them in action.

For some men, motherhood is beautiful and sexy; for others it’s intimidating. I’ve dated more than one man who ended up competing with my son for my affections because they didn’t really know how to be around kids. It was a good lesson to learn before we got too entrenched.

{If anyone ever asks you to choose—in subtle or not so subtle ways—between him and your kid, you’d better choose your kid and kick that man to the curb as fast as possible.}

I’ve read a lot of “expert” advice saying that you shouldn’t introduce your kids to your new partner until you’re engaged. To me that’s absolutely ridiculous, and moreover, damaging. If you wait till the last minute, your kids won’t get the chance to be eased into the relationship the same way you did.

I have a client whose ex recently got married. Her small son met the new wife just a month or two before the wedding. Her ex had dated the woman for an appropriate amount of time before getting married, but the son didn’t get the same opportunity that the dad did to really get to know the woman before she became his stepmother. Suddenly he was living with a virtual stranger! Needless to say, he had a lot of feelings about this transition, and acted out accordingly.

The key here is balance. Don’t do the introduction until you’ve had a couple of months to really get to know this person, but don’t wait so long that you don’t get the opportunity to see what kind of a fit he may or may not be with the most important members of your family.

For more information on dating and life after divorce, check out The Divorce Course, your one-stop shop for all your divorce and co-parenting needs!