When is it ok for recent ex to introduce new boyfriend to children?
April 11, 2010 5:20 PM   Subscribe

When is it ok for recent ex to introduce new boyfriend to young children (1 and 3)??

My ex-wife after dating this guy for 2 months (3 months at best - which would put it at literally *just* after we physically separated - classy!) has opted to introduce my young girls to him.

He has 2 kids and they all play together which may have been a driving force (strangely).

I am exceptionally steamed at this - not the dating part (seriously - very ok if not eagerly happy) but the (in my view) early introduction of this guy to my kids. My feeling / thinking it should be at least 6 months to a year (maybe more?!?) before this kind of thing happens.

I think the reasons are obvious. Don't know this guy from Adam, don't want him influencing my kids in anyway, don't know how permanent he will be (i.e. may be gone in a few months - not cool for kids), Mom playing house / showing affection to other man in front of kids - confusing especially to young children, etc..

Thoughts? Supporting arguments via links (either way) would be helpful as I will be sharing this with her, and will help me to form an intelligible argument from an otherwise hothead (especially as the divorce settlement is not finalized yet)!

Many thanks in advance MeFites. This is seriously an important one for me. Please help
posted by gnash to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Kids are more resilient than you seem to think.
posted by dfriedman at 5:24 PM on April 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

To me this appears to be introducing the new guy too soon to the kids.

However, I don't think there's a gold standard timing for everyone. If you feel uncomfortable about how this may affect your kids, especially if expectations are not set between you and your ex-wife, then you need to have a discussion with your ex-wife to reach some sort of consensus.
posted by seppyk at 5:25 PM on April 11, 2010

My mother started dating her now-husband (my step-dad) very shortly after she and my dad divorced. I was five, and I wanted to know who she was seeing because I didn't like my mom leaving without knowing where she was going and who she was with. I'm pretty sure my sister and I met him when he picked her up for their second or third date. I think if it were just some no-face, invisible man, it would have caused me much more anxiety.
posted by greta simone at 5:28 PM on April 11, 2010

I don't think you're okay with the dating part.
posted by box at 5:28 PM on April 11, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think you're overreacting, but of course it depends on how your ex and her new friend behave. It's probably better for your kids to see their mother happy and with a friend than otherwise. If they're all happy together, bonus. And don't forget that your daughters' sense of time is very different than yours. A day is a long time to a small child, never mind six months to a year.
posted by anadem at 5:28 PM on April 11, 2010


Also, I have seen the issue of when children should be introduced to new SOs addressed in parenting agreements. It's not usually enforceable in terms of being able to hold the violator in contempt, but generally if it gets incorporated, people will tend to respect it.
posted by HotToddy at 5:32 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your ex is dating and waits a year to introduce her toddler children she either has amazing childcare or very flexible kids. OR she'd be 'lying' about or hiding a huge part of her life.

Introducing the kids or having play-double-dates isn't some dude having influence on your kids. (If this was her hanging out with a new female neighbor would you care?)

Save your worries for if/when they move in together. This is just gonna keep happening as you guys aren't together anymore.
posted by k8t at 5:34 PM on April 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think the reasons are obvious. Don't know this guy from Adam, don't want him influencing my kids in anyway, don't know how permanent he will be (i.e. may be gone in a few months - not cool for kids), Mom playing house / showing affection to other man in front of kids - confusing especially to young children, etc..

I don't see how any of these problems are fixed by waiting six months instead of two; the impression I get from this is that you're upset that she's seeing someone so soon (re: classy! comment) and you're using your kids as a way of expressing that.
posted by Hiker at 5:35 PM on April 11, 2010

Look at it this way: would you rather your ex leave your little girls with questionable babysitters all the time, or that your kids played with his kids? Because I can almost guarantee that they are enjoying the time with the other kids the new guy has and not really obsessing about the new guy and his place in Mom's life.

Which is what you are doing, and I think totally understandably, given the situation (the breakup being so recent). But don't make the kids become the focus of your anger and bitterness. They are likely to take your behavior as a cue to how they should behave, and if you act like it is a big deal, it will BECOME a big deal.

I don't think it is unreasonable for you to suggest to the ex that at least until the divorce is final, she and the new guy keep public displays of affection under wraps in front of the kids, so as not to confuse them.

But I doubt you have to tell her this. They're her girls, too, and I imagine she worries about their well-being just as you do.

I am truly sorry you are having to go through all this, and I know the divorce must be hell. Hang in there and try to keep a level head for the kids. The more mature all the adults act about this, the better for the kids in the long run.
posted by misha at 5:44 PM on April 11, 2010

This is about you, not your kids.

Also, chances are she had at least an emotional relationship with this guy before you physically separated... I kinds doubt she immediately went out and met a new guy on the day you separated. So in her mind, it's probably been more than three months.
posted by amro at 5:46 PM on April 11, 2010

Getting divorced often includes a reduction in your ability to influence your environment. No longer is your ex so committed to compromising with you. I understand you are not comfortable with these new terms she is introducing, but she not really putting your children in danger or even really exposing them to anything truly negative (Play dates, gasp!).

Really look at your discomfort. How much discomfort really stems from a concern for your children and how much of it is a result from the awkward transition of adjusting to the terms of your divorced relationship and the loss of control that comes with it?

My advice? Pick your battles. Your kids have not even started kindergarten yet and you haven't even been formally divorced. As a parent of a teenager, there will be many ups and downs over the next 20 odd years. Save your trump cards. You're going to want them later.
posted by milarepa at 5:55 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't know this guy from Adam

Yes you do, because your babymama vouches for him. You want to know more about him? Ask. This is a big-boy-pants moment.
posted by rhizome at 6:01 PM on April 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

While I think it's a tough call, two months doesn't seem unreasonable to me as long as we're talking about supervised, casual contact (not leaving kids alone with him or having him sleep over). When you consider that he also has young kids and they are playing with your kids, it might makes it less about "Mommy's new boyfriend" and more about "my new friends and their Daddy, who also happens to be Mommy's new friend," if that makes sense. I suspect that these particular two months mean more than they would in the future, since it is also only about 2-3 months since you and your ex parted ways.

It does sound like you are more upset about your ex dating than you are admitting to yourself. Even if the divorce was for the best, I would imagine it would still sting to see your former spouse with someone new no matter when it happens, nevermind so soon after you ended things. Assuming nothing inappropriate is happening around your kids, try to take a more even approach to this. If you can handle it, ask for an introduction to the new guy. Play nice, keep your cool, and this will not only give you a chance to size him up, but also let both him and your wife know you are paying attention. If she parts ways with this guy, I would say 2 months is a good guideline in the future. It's long enough that you know it's not a fling, and anything longer than that might make your kids feel excluded or uneasy if they are kept in the dark. Best of luck to you all!
posted by katemcd at 6:02 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I remember Dave Eggers in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius remarking that he had a rule that he would never bring home anyone he was casually hooking up with to meet Topher, and that he would only introduce Topher to folks who would most likely be a meaningful part of Topher's life.

It seems like a good rule to me.

In this case, what control do you have over the situation? It seems like your ex is a bit of a trainwreck waiting to happen.

The best you can do is to provide stability on your side of the fence. Your ex is responsible for her own actions. It's the painful reality.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:08 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with everything said so far. You are very understandably upset that your estranged wife has already found someone new. But she isn't doing anything wrong.
posted by uans at 6:11 PM on April 11, 2010

It seems like your ex is a bit of a trainwreck waiting to happen.


I remember Dave Eggers in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius remarking that he had a rule that he would never bring home anyone he was casually hooking up with to meet Topher, and that he would only introduce Topher to folks who would most likely be a meaningful part of Topher's life.

Maybe the mother has a similar rule; we don't know.
posted by amro at 6:21 PM on April 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

My ex and I worked out a "what we would be comfortable with" as far as introducing new people as part of the collaborative divorce. I'm surprised it hasn't come up in conversation between the two of you until now. You found out because she mentioned it to you? Or because the kids mentioned it?

Given the age of the kids, I wouldn't sweat the contact. Two months is a long time relatively. I wouldn't worry that the kids are confused or upset over it unless they say or act confused or upset -- and don't ask them "are you confused/upset over this? Is it weird?" because then *you're* the a-hole parent who cares more about his ego than his kids.

It's hard to get used to the fact that you have a lot less say on what your kids' lives look like when they're not in your custody, but you don't. It's tough. It's frustrating. It's even anger inducing. But you owe it to your kids to seriously look at your ex the best you can and believe that, while not a good partner for you, she is a good mom and is truly doing what she thinks is best for all involved. And if you don't, you would have fought custody in a very different way.

Be classy. Allow yourself to feel the hurt, anger and frustration when the kids aren't around. And be there for your kids. If this isn't the best situation for the kids, and for her, the best thing you can do is to listen and care.
posted by Gucky at 6:38 PM on April 11, 2010

Is she having him take a parenting role with the kids, to a greater degree than normal for a friend and playdates? Is she introducing him as her boyfriend (in any way they would understand) or is he just mommy's friend whose kids they play with? Is there PDA in a way that wouldn't be appropriate between two friends?

If not, I don't see what's wrong with them all spending time together. For the kids I've known (and been) that age, it was all about the other kids! "We're going over to play with these kids, because our parents are friends." The problem with "introducing a significant other to the kids" is that it's someone introduced as a permanent figure, as a parent or as a permanent part of the parent's life (or in such a way that the kids think they're going to be a permanent fixture). And if the kids become very close then it could be harder for them to deal with it if your ex-wife breaks it off with this fellow and they don't get to see their friends any more... but no harder than ordinary stuff like people moving.
posted by Lady Li at 6:44 PM on April 11, 2010

FWIW, I didn't read KokoRyu's post before posting my comment, I was referring to everything that came before--I don't agree with her. Your wife doesn't sound like a trainwreck to me. She's dating someone she's known for a while, and his children are playing with your very, very young children, who could care less. This isn't a "casual hookup", clearly.
posted by uans at 6:51 PM on April 11, 2010

Kids meet lots of people they will never see again after a certain period of time. They sometimes form close emotional attachments to these people, they sometimes see a lot of them in a short period of time.

And they're a-okay for it. Kids are fine, play dates are good. Don't let your relationship bitterness affect your children - that's divorce crime number one.
posted by smoke at 7:06 PM on April 11, 2010

Hmm, so you don't care if she dates other people, but you do care if they SEE her dating other people. Is this about wanting to stay "daddy" in their eyes? Judging by all my friends with stepfathers, I assure you that no one else will ever be their real dad. Kids are smart, and even if you outright disappeared, they would still want so much to have their real dad in their life.
posted by salvia at 7:37 PM on April 11, 2010

As long as it isn't a cycle of new "uncles" that she's bringing home, it isn't bad at all for her to bring her boyfriends home. It will probably help your kids be more open and honest about what they're up to as they get older.

So far, it sounds like you just don't want her dating and you want to keep controlling her even though you don't have any right to anymore.

If it becomes habitual, with a series of men, then you have a right to complain.
posted by paperzach at 7:50 PM on April 11, 2010

I'm the child of divorce, and that meant that I had a lot of interaction with the people my mother dated.

You know what a kid doesn't really understand? The difference between "friend who hangs out with us sometimes" and "person mother is in a romantic relationship with." Unless you'd be equally squicked out about your ex hanging out with a platonic friend around your kids, I don't think you have reason to be worried.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:15 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Berkeley parents' opinions are a bit different from what's been expressed above.
posted by gubenuj at 8:42 PM on April 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with the folks saying this particular situation doesn't seem so unreasonable -- joint playdates with both sets of kids, introduced as new friends -- but disagree with those who would give a blanket "meh, kids are resilient, it's none of your business anymore" okay to any and all introduction of boyfriends. It depends a great deal on the circumstances.

If he's just a "friend of Mommy's," as it sounds like he is now, with just joint playdates, I think it's not a big deal, from the children's perspective. If, on the other hand, he becomes more of a caregiving adult to the children -- a fixture in their home, who feeds them meals and takes them for ice cream and reads them their bedtime stories -- then I think it becomes a big deal to them if he just disappears. (And children aren't always resilient, especially if they experience several household/caregiver disruptions in a row -- the first being the divorce.)

It's probably a good thing that this whole issue has come to your attention before everything's been finalized. You should definitely, for example, work out with your ex-wife some agreement on moving in with significant others.
posted by palliser at 8:56 PM on April 11, 2010

Response by poster: Read the comments - all much appreciated, seriously, and has given me food for thought as I expected / hoped.

I shot a bit from the hip so I hope to clarify a bit (for what it is worth).

A few responses:

1) Jealousy / control / not ok with dating - not an issue for me, honestly. I could go into reasons why but it would be a bit of "he doth protest too much" and I would be suspect as well. Am I stoked my ex is dating and apparently seriously? Not doing cartwheels as anyone married to someone wouldnt be (I should mention we are only separated still), but I am dating as well. Tit-for-tat, fair enough.
2) There are two main factors underlying what I've said beyond what I said:
a) I think introducing one's kids to anyone is serious stuff. I question, honestly, how serious anyone could be two months in (though I will nod to the person who suggests this incubated before that - in which case it is longer, but still not long enough IMO). In my case, I would wait at least a year regardless of the point at which "it is serious" hits. There are ways you can see one another without having to have your kids to bear witness to it (like I would happily babysit whenever she wanted to go out w/ this guy for instance).
b) I've had my kids used as a bargaining / manipulation tool through the entire period of my separation used as blackmail (to some extent), as a tool to extort more money (from an already very generous settlement), and as an excuse / stand-off ("you are not a good parent because there are not cabinet locks", "you cant have the kids overnight because it is not good for their development to be switched back/forth from two homes") to fight 50/50 physical custody.

In this (on the latter) where I have had barrier after barrier thrown up at me for my visitation rights under the auspices of what is proper child development I find complete hypocrisy. This forum aside, best practices dictate no one should enter a child's life unless it is a serious relationship (which again I question) some sites talk time (which is in excess of 2 months).

And while I am tired of the above, my concerns re: all of this are as I laid out - genuine, and not about her seeing / sleeping with this guy or even her hypocrisy (perceived). I guess I am laying this out there as the reason why I am a bit hostile about this whole situation.
3) Fair to say kids are resilient - I always hated being underestimated as a kid on what I could / couldnt handle. The fact they are so young is what bugs me a bit. 5+ maybe I would be a bit less concerned.
4) I am concerned about ambiguity / replacement as father - see above re: age. Also concerned about influence (that I dont agree with) and any kind of discipline (unacceptable). Also concerned about the opinions of the mother depending if she does intend on parading more men about.

Not sure if the above helps / hurts but there it is. Again, appreciate everyone's thoughts / input.
posted by gnash at 9:13 PM on April 11, 2010

Response by poster: I should note to the last comment - the situation seems to be getting comfortable to the point he was there helping putting my kids to sleep. I suspect that he may be waking up and eating breakfast with them in the morning as well.

It is extending (or appearing to) extend beyond daytime play dates.
posted by gnash at 9:15 PM on April 11, 2010

the situation seems to be getting comfortable to the point he was there helping putting my kids to sleep. I suspect that he may be waking up and eating breakfast with them in the morning as well.

Overnights by significant others are frequently something worked out in divorce settlements/custody arrangements -- for the very reason that this does tend to get more toward the "becoming a caregiver/household member" end of things, rather than just being a connection of their Mom's. I personally think this is a very different step from daytime playdates, though I'm sure there are other opinions on that.

If it were me, I'd ask to put a hold on overnights with significant others -- on your part as well as hers -- until we worked something out, maybe with the help of the mediator/whoever you'll be seeing as part of working out a settlement.

FWIW, I am sympathetic to your ex-wife's opinion that children that young should be in the same bed every night. It's not tit-for-tat: checking your own desires when they conflict with best practices, in terms of child development, should be something you do even if she's not doing it. You're still doing better for them than if you both ignore such things.
posted by palliser at 10:15 PM on April 11, 2010

Divorced couples rarely agree on the big things, but they duke it out over the little things. If you don't deal with the big things, your kids are going to suffer. You and your ex clearly still have a lot of emotional entanglements that have nothing to do with a new person entering the picture. You both need to deal with your separation/divorce and the emotional baggage you're dragging around before you start picking your next fight.

You have two options: work things out so that you have a co-parenting relationship that benefits your kids, or fight the same fight over and over again for the next two decades using each new situation as the catalyst. People think it's crazy to suggest counseling for couples that are no longer together, but sometimes an impartial third-party is just what you need to redefine your relationship as co-parents who both have their children's best interests at heart in all their decisions, not just the legal ones.

I don't mean to sound harsh. I can say from experience that there are some situations that are absolutely untenable, where one party really does try and the other party refuses to cooperate on any level (and in my experience that happened 3 years after the divorce, when a step-parent figure entered the picture; that person is no longer in the picture and the other parent is reasonable again). But you're not even divorced yet. You're still fighting the fights that led to your split.

Good luck.
posted by headnsouth at 7:38 AM on April 12, 2010

I've seen this a bit from both ends: I'm currently finalizing my divorce and have two kids (six and three); my parents divorced when I was about one. First, no matter how well your kids get along with a stepfather, they will always think of you as their dad. I never really knew my father-he moved across the country after the divorce. My stepfather married my mother when I was about four, was a very decent guy, and always treated me no differently than the kid they had together. And I STILL never thought of him as my father. You will be your children's father always.

Second, the most important thing you can possibly do is to be there for your kids. Take every advantage of the custody/visitation that you do have. Like I said, I had every reason for my father's absence to not be a big deal to me, and it still negatively affected me. Be the best dad you can be to them.

I definitely understand your concern about your ex's SO moving in. Easy to say, but try to express it positively to her, as wanting the best for the children, and not as a point of conflict. After all, the best possible outcome is that there are four people who love your kids. You should both try to get there.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:55 AM on April 12, 2010

How is she handling the meeting? Is she putting it as "hey kids, here are some new friends to play with" and leaving it at that? No lovey, lovey, kissy kissy with the guy or even saying "boyfriend"? If she's leaving it as someone for the kids to play with, then I wouldn't worry too much. But put rules as no alone time with him. You don't know him well. See how their relationship goes, get past your own anger, and meet the guy to get a better feeling.

You can't stop her from moving on with her life. You can put rules around the betterment for your children. But see clearly what this means. If it's just some kids to hang with--blow it off.
posted by stormpooper at 8:33 AM on April 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again to everyone for their advice. It went a long way to cool a heated head.

We are going to work out a mutually agreed schedule for kid interactions for current and future SOs.

As of now it seems current interactions are in fact restricted to play dates. While I still feel this was too early, the bell has been rung and we are going from there as people have suggested.

Seriously, my thanks to everyone on this thread, and the MeFite community in general.
posted by gnash at 9:19 PM on April 12, 2010

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