How to introduce kids to a new SO?
May 14, 2009 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Tell me the best way to introduce my kid to new significant others.

I am the father of a 3 and a half year old daughter, and I am separated from her mother.

We've been living in separate apartments for about six months, though the separation has been for more than a year. We live very close to each other and both see our daughter almost every day. Its an amicable separation, but as we each develop our lives more fully and have both been dating a little, I want to get ahead of the curve and get some advice on how one should go about introducing your kid to a new girlfriend or boyfriend.

Here are a few sub-questions on SO-Introduction Best Practices:
1. I have a lot of adult friends I introduce to my daughter; would I need to be more descriptive than this is a new "friend"?
2. How does the young age of my daughter effect this? Would we be more clear with an older child?
3. Do any kids of divorced parents remember their experiences with meeting a new SO?
4. Do you think that the fact we've only been living apart for six months would effect such an introduction? I don't see it happening too soon for either parent, but its definitely possible as we've both been dating.
5. Should we ask anything of the introduced SO? Should they act / not act a certain way?

Thank you so much, in advance.
posted by RajahKing to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Don't introduce your child to any SO until you believe you're in a long-term or permanent relationship.
posted by decathecting at 12:17 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Worth repeating: Don't introduce your child to any SO until you believe you're in a long-term or permanent relationship.
posted by Simon Barclay at 12:19 PM on May 14, 2009

3.5 is young. On the one hand, this is a great advantage because your daughter will be able to understand that you are dating or being with other women and that it's normal--that is to say, she won't have as much of a long-term memory foundation of growing up with both parents together to prevent her from being able to accept her parents dating other people. She will probably be able to be increasingly comfortable with it as she gets older. On the other hand, it's a great time to massively confuse her about what's going on if you introduce her to EVERY woman you date casually, so absolutely use some good discretion there about who is a potentially more long-term partner before introducing.

It's ok to talk to her about the fact that you're dating, but how much can she really understand about that at 3-4 years old? She may be a particularly precocious kid and catch on to things that you're not anticipating, but in general, she is probably just too young right now for you to get her too involved in the whole delineation between a 'friend' and a 'SPECIAL friend' or whatever. It's ok to just refer to a girlfriend by name and introduce the two of them, but I don't think you necessarily need to get into all the details with her at this age.
posted by so_gracefully at 12:32 PM on May 14, 2009

(Self-edit: change 'woman' to 'person' and append 'or boyfriend' after 'girlfriend'! :)
posted by so_gracefully at 12:39 PM on May 14, 2009

My parents got divorced when I was three and my father started dating my stepmother several weeks or months later. (This is the timeline I choose to believe.) The one issue I had, with long term implications, is that she was always around when I went to see my father. They moved in together about a year after they started dating and from that point on, I had to share my dad with her. Instead of daddy-daughter time, it felt like I was being dragged along on a perpetual date - that I was a third wheel. As they built their lives together, I began to feel more and more tangental to my dad's life, and that has led to us having a somewhat strained and distant relationship.

I'm not sure I'm explaining this well... but divorce can leave a child feeling very vulnerable and insecure, even when the parents have good intentions and (maybe especially?) when the child is young and can't understand the nuances of adult relationships. One-on-one time between parent and child is really important, especially after an SO enters the picture.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 12:52 PM on May 14, 2009 [14 favorites]

Big agreement with decathecting and sweetie darling. Hanging out with daddy and his new special friend is vastly inferior to hanging out with daddy only. You might think "oh, isn't this nice that I can include my current romantic partner in this aspect of my life," but your child probably thinks "this is some person that my dad wants to hang out with as much or more then me." Bad trouble, my friend.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:01 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

My parents got divorced when I was around that age, as well, and both of them remarried right around my 6th birthday. I don't recall my father dating anyone besides my stepmother. As I recall, she sort of just slowly appeared in our lives (well, my life, but to my 4 year old self, that meant "my life" was the same thing as "our life"), as well as her two kids, my now stepbrother and stepsister. It all just seemed very natural. One thing my father did, though, was that we regularly had dad-and-daughter nights -- I have strong recollections of Tuesday night pizza parlor outings. So piggybacking on Sweetie Darling's comment, I'd strongly recommend that you consistently make sure to have one-on-one time with her.

I do remember a few of my mother's boyfriends prior to my stepfather. I don't recall feeling insecure about any of them. I remember that they really tried to make time that we spent together fun. I think meeting one of them was along the lines of "My friend Don has a puppy! Should we go to Don's house and play with his puppy?", and that's how I met Don. Mostly, there was no sense that hanging out with these guys, as opposed to my mother's other friends, was any kind of Big Deal. None of them were really consistent parts of our lives until my stepfather entered the picture, and so it didn't seem painful when they faded out the same way they'd faded in. And yeah, I was a precocious kid.

Realize that your daughter might just get attached to someone you date faster than you did (I told my future stepfather that I loved him about 3 or 4 months before my mother did... AWKWARD!, but a great family story now).

Overall, I'd recommend 1) introducing these women as friends, avoiding sleepovers while your daughter is staying with you, 2) letting things progress both naturally and slowly, and 3) making sure there are consistent times when your daughter gets all of your attention, to avoid any insecurity on her part.
posted by amelioration at 1:20 PM on May 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

I vividly remember being introduced to my (now) stepmother. I'm not even sure my parents were divorced yet, but I was very insulted that my dad introduced me to this woman as his "friend" when I knew it was more than that. I was five.

My mother casually dated a few guys who I knew (mostly because she'd set up playdates with their kids) and I wasn't too broken up when those relationships didn't work out (in some cases, I was pretty thrilled!). She dated one guy for a couple years and I was sad when they broke up. I don't remember meeting my stepdad when I was ten or so but I do remember meeting his kids a few months later. And I remember how freaking excited I was when they announced that they were getting married, because DUDE. I'd have BROTHERS. (For some reason, that was cool).

I would be honest with your daughter, even at a young age. Kids are pretty resilient and can handle a lot, but they can get hurt by people drifting in and out of their lives. I would adamantly be opposed to sleepovers or living together without a serious, serious commitment--although my mom had several boyfriends, none of them ever spent the night and I think that made a big difference to me. It wasn't as confusing since they weren't around 24/7.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:21 PM on May 14, 2009

I've been divorced, but without kids involved, so I can't answer any of your questions at all. (But wheeee, I'm chiming in anyway!)

If your separation is amicable, as you've said, I'd talk to your ex about the situation - in a big picture way - to get ideas as to how she intends to handle similar introductions when she's dating.

In all things pertaining to your child, you want to keep things as up-and-up and positive as possible. I'd also suggest that, once you work out some of those details, you get them in writing through a lawyer or otherwise, to prevent future issues.
posted by VioletU at 1:22 PM on May 14, 2009

Agree with decathecting and Sweetie Darling here, as well. Divorce is hard on kids (even if it's the right thing to do!) If you're dating someone but it is not yet clear that it is long term, you can introduce a lot of instability by introducing them and letting them play much of a role in your kid's life; whether the kid likes and gets attached to your girlfriend (which can happen fast!) or alternately dislikes your girlfriend a lot, the person you're dating will end up figuring hugely in your kid's time with you, and it will be hard/confusing for the kid if/when that person disappears. Go slowly. Introduce them as friends, at most, but no sleepovers, and don't make them as big a part of your daughter's life as they are of yours.

If it gets to the point where you are definitely in a long-term relationship, and you're going to add your SO to you're kid's life (moving in, marriage, etc.), please please make sure you give your kid a lot of one-on-one time. This can't be emphasized enough. See, once you have a new SO - and particularly if/when they move in - you'll be around them much more than you'll be around your kid, due to visitation schedules. It's really, really easy for a kid to start feeling like you're building a new family that they're not part of. No kid wants to feel tangential to their parents' lives.

I am speaking from experience here: when one of my parents remarried (marrying someone who, unlike our parent, had primary custody of their own kids), my siblings and I started to feel like we weren't our parent's focus anymore. The new spouse's kids saw our parent more than we did, and of course the spouse lived with our parent. In the end (and to this day) it started to feel like we were just guests in their house. Because we were there less, our preferences about everything from Christmas decorations to religious services to food were given less weight, and those things really matter to kids. Particularly since we felt so unwelcome, the spouse's attempts to parent and discipline us really grated. At this point, my siblings and I have only a barely civil relationship with the spouse (we haven't spoken with the spouse's children in years - to say "step-sibling" would imply some connection between us, which there isn't). This situation has certainly strained our relationship with our parent.

So yeah, don't do that. Go slowly, try to keep your kid's living situation as stable as possible, and if/when you have a new SO who's really in it for the long term, make sure you're still giving your kid a lot of your time. Make sure your daughter feels at home when she's with you, and that you're still her father as well as a member of a couple.
posted by ubersturm at 1:42 PM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

My situation was a little different--my parents would have gotten divorced, but my father died first, when I was five and a half. I adored him, and I pretty much hated everyone my mother dated, which I realize now was a little extreme. But I would definitely reiterate what others have said--there is nothing worse, as a kid, than thinking that your parent whom you don't see much is equally or more interested in spending time with someone other than you, and that is exacerbated if any kind of ritual or holiday or other family thing is involved.

Also, I would just like to say that I really admire and appreciate that you are asking this question and thinking about the situation and feelings of your kid. I hope things go well for you all.
posted by newrambler at 2:30 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Personally, I don't think you should even be dating until you are well out of your divorce. You're still married! And divorce wreaks havoc on your emotions and self-esteem, so you're likely to be in a more desperate sitaution for a relationship than if you were secure, confident, and had settled your divorce and moved on with your new life.

This time is also really hard on your daughter. She needs you more than ever right now, and you're totally distracted by a new romance.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 3:12 PM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Flying squirrel is completely right. Get divorced (and over your divorce) first.
posted by MiffyCLB at 5:12 PM on May 14, 2009

I want to disagree with the first comment. Or rather, I want to rephrase it.
Don't introduce anyone to your child as a SO.
Seriously? You're going to spring a committed or permanent relationship on a kid when they've never met the person? How can you possibly know that the new relationship is going to work until they've met your daughter? Until you've seen how they interact with her? Until you've had the long hard discussions about them sharing parental responsibilities and what not?
I understand what everyone's saying above thread about kids getting attached and then sad all over again if things don't work out. I'm not suggesting you bring every date home and introduce them as part of the family. You can keep it low key, but don't plan to form a serious relationship with anyone without considering how it's going to affect your daughter's life (and vice versa).
You said you introduce new friends frequently. I say go with your own suggestion and treat this as that. The kid will figure it out when one friend starts showing up more often.
posted by purpletangerine at 8:05 PM on May 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your great advice, I can't tell you how helpful a lot of it is. Thanks.

But one point of clarity - and I apologize for the confusion in my original question: no divorce here. We were never married. My daughter's mom and I have not been in a relationship for a year and a half. So, since we have found separate living situations, both of us have been (and will hopefully continue) dating. Sorry for the use of the word "divorce".

I'm really looking for logistical advice generalized for future events in regards to my daughter's happiness, not moralistic truisms like Flying Squirrel's.
posted by RajahKing at 8:22 PM on May 14, 2009

I was very insulted that my dad introduced me to this woman as his "friend" when I knew it was more than that

I want to second this sentiment, because my father did the same thing when he introduced me to his girlfriend. I was 10, though, so quite a bit older than peanut_mcgillicuty was, and considerably older than your daughter. Still: my father lied to my sister and I, repeatedly, until he finally admitted that his girlfriend was his girlfriend by picking us up one day for our weekend with him, and taking us back to his girlfriend's house. "Oh, yeah, I live with her now."

Don't do that.

I wouldn't introduce any new girlfriends to your daughter until such time as it is quite clear that you are serious, but at that point you do need to still take things gradually. I would have appreciated the chance to adjust to the presence of the GF as an important part of my dad's life before he moved in with her and suddenly she was there 100% of the time I got to spend with my dad. And on that point, really really really please make sure you do continue to spend some one-on-one time with just you and your daughter, and this continues long after the initial adjustment period, too. Her long term relationship with your hypothetical SO is much more likely to be positive if she doesn't see the SO as someone destroying her relationship with her dad.

Just be honest with her, make sure she knows she's still the most important person in your life, listen to any concerns she has about your SO and the way your SO treats her (I'm not saying you have to break up with the SO the second your daughter has a temper tantrum because the SO told her to pick up her toys, but you do need to make sure she feels loved and listened to), and I think you should be fine.
posted by narrativium at 2:55 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't introduce your child to any SO until you believe you're in a long-term or permanent relationship.

I was very insulted that my dad introduced me to this woman as his "friend" when I knew it was more than that

Ditto and ditto. I must have been your daughter's age when my dad introduced me to his....god, I can't think of the word. Suffice to say, I remember staring at the linoleum and feeling sick to my stomach. Blech.

Anyway, that's not really your situation, so just take it easy until you think that your SO will be around for more than one meeting. And please don't make a huge deal out of it like my dad did. If your daughter is already familiar with many of your friends, include your SO, and when you, your daughter, and your SO start hangning around as a trio, she'll get the idea.
posted by motsque at 6:35 AM on May 15, 2009

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