Introducing Your Child to Your New Romantic Partner

Whether or not the relationship began during your marriage, or it’s one that didn’t start until after you were separated, when and how you introduce your child to your new romantic partner can set the tone for how your child views and relates to this person for years to come.

When to make the introductions? For parents who are recently split, or are still in the midst of the divorce process, the best answer may be: not anytime soon.

Why Wait: Most mental health professionals agree that waiting a minimum of one entire year after their parents split may give children the time needed to adjust to the divorce and get used to new custody arrangements (some kids can need even more time). One year might seem like a long time, but think of it this way: the longer you wait, the more likely it is that your child will be able to develop a healthy relationship with your new significant other.

Another reason to hold off? As Bari Weinberger wrote in a Huffington Post piece on dating when you are still in the midst of a divorce, the first person you date after your split is probably not going to be the last person you date. Introducing an ever-changing number of people into your child’s life has the potential to cause confusion and lead to feelings of abandonment and rejection. Also be aware that your former spouse may try to use this kind of behavior against you during child custody negotiations.

Keep the Meeting Short and Focused: When it is time, think about making a plan to do something kid-oriented, such as going to the zoo or the science museum together for a few hours. Explain in simple terms who it is joining you on your outing, and be prepared for questions. To help your child feel secure, psychologist Gary Neuman says, “Emphasize that despite this new relationship, you are still focused on the family of origin [by saying something along the lines of], ‘The reason I want to be with this person has nothing to do with you and our relationship; it’s normal for me to want to connect with someone my own age.’

As your relationship progresses, and signs point to it being permanent, it makes more sense to gradually increase the time you all spend together. But during those first few face-to-face meetings, keep it brief — a few hours at most — to start.

Make Parenting Time a Priority: It’s common for kids to think, “If dad’s girlfriend is here, there’s less time for me.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t see your new partner when you have parenting time, but it does point to your child’s need to still spend quality, solo time just with you.

How do you strike a balance? Occasionally inviting your significant other to join you for dinner or a movie when it’s a night you have your child may be fine. Making a habit of leaving your child with a sitter so you can have a romantic evenings alone — even though it’s the only evening of the week you have your child? You may be treading into dangerous emotional territory. Yes, Saturday night is “date night” for most couples, but if it is also the one of the few overnights you have with your child, think about rescheduling your weekly date with your new girlfriend or boyfriend to a night of the week when your child is with their other parent.

What worked for you?