New relationship - advice on meeting her child for the first time?
December 3, 2013 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Never had children of my own - how do I handle meeting a new partner's child for the first time?

So I'm in a new relationship that I'm very excited about. We're both in our early 40's. I was raised as an only child, I've never had a child of my own or had a previous relationship where my partner had a child. I haven't spent much time around young children at all.

She is previously married and has a 5 year old daughter from the marriage. She has invited me this weekend to spend a day with her and her daughter. I think the day was already planned as a "mother and daughter time" day and I'm a recent addition to the day.

I know this is a big deal for her and I'm honored that she thinks highly enough of me to introduce me to her child.

Any advice on how to handle the day with grace and good etiquette? Do's and/or don'ts? Single parents, what have been your good/bad experiences when introducing a new partner to your child(ren)?
posted by de void to Human Relations (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Disclaimer: I am akin to the daughter in this situation, not the single parent/new partner.

Show her you're genuinely interested in her. Maybe you can get some tips from your partner as to what she's interested in, so that you know what to talk to her about in the shy first few moments. Be very respectful to her mother - I assume you are, because this is generally a thing people should be, but it's especially important for her kid to see that in order for you to gain her trust. Also be respectful of the fact that the child was expecting a day with her mom, even if she was told of the change of plans beforehand (which she definitely should be), so make sure to give them a bit of space while still remaining a part of things - so she's reassured her mother's main focus is her.
Most importantly, don't stress out too much if she takes a while to warm up to you. It's new for her and kids her age (and any age, really) take time to adjust and open up. I'm sure that with each meeting, you two'll feel more and more comfortable in each other's company.

Good Luck!
posted by alon at 1:25 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Single parent here, now happily coupled! Have done this in the other direction too, years ago.

It's great if you can be a little bit fun and playful. Maybe bring a little something - a bag of small stickers, an inexpensive and small stuffed animal, an unusual toy like a kaleidoscope or kid binoculars. Be friendly and open. Show openness with your body language. You're making a first impression. It should be the real you, but tap into the open, warm, friendly parts of you.

Avoid asking many questions or physically touching the kid. These are things uncomfortable adults often do to connect with kids and they tend to be off putting especially on first meeting. Maybe you and this kid will have zero dialog. That's fine. They connect better through play, so if you are able to do a little spontaneous playing (pick up a character from the doll house or start building with the legos), great, but if that doesn't come naturally, don't worry about it. It will come with time.

Let mom take the lead on everything to do with the kid. She is your guide and you can follow her lead on how to interact with the kid. Of course, don't follow her if she gets irritable - which may happen.

Know that the kid may be nervous, or more likely, may pick up on mom's nerves and your nerves, or may just be in a randomly shitty mood, or may not have slept enough, or for whatever reason, may be a total brat on that day. Do your best to be Zen about it. Don't assume this represents her behavior every day. If she and mom get into a conflict, just ghost out of the room and read a magazine for a while, or better yet, wash whatever dishes are in the sink.

You have a delightful attitude about this and I'm sure it will serve you well. I hope you just take your time getting to know this family and enjoy it!
posted by latkes at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hi. I've been on all sides of this: as the kid, as the single parent with the kid, and as the guy meeting the other person's kid.

Be genial and friendly, but don't try too hard to win the kid over. Acknowledge the kid as a person of equal standing on the outing -- don't make her feel like an unwanted tagalong. If the kid throws you some weird curveballs, stay chill and roll with it. Some kids might like to be talked to and want your attention and others might prefer you keep your distance until they know if they like you or not. Figure out what you're dealing with (it shouldn't be too difficult) and follow the kid's lead.

Some kids get possessive of their single parents and sneaking off for a few moments of alone time, whispering private jokes, showing physical affection, or otherwise doing things that explicitly exclude the kid will set them off big time.

If the kid has a meltdown or any other kind of issue requiring parental intervention, step back, adopt a neutral attitude and posture, and stay completely the hell out of it.

You might hit it off with the kid right away. Great. Don't go overboard with the bonding. Adult relationships don't last forever and it can really suck for a kid who thinks they've made a new friend/parental figure for life when that connection is lost and they have no say in it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:37 PM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

It will largely depend upon the personality of the child. You could be the most experienced with children and still be disliked by the child.

That being said I echo the be respectful of the Mother comment. Be yourself and don't try to hard. Children have great bullshit detectors. Don't feel like you have to fill silence or come up with clever ideas or conversation. Be relaxed and happy to be spending time with them.

As background my wife had a 3 year old son and 8 year old daughter when we started dating. I am also an only child. The daughter hated me at first and has never completely warmed up to me. She is now 27. I believe I made the mistake at trying too hard at the beginning but I'm not sure it would have made a difference. I would also say that going from being a bachelor to suddenly having a wife with two kids was one of the most difficult periods of my life.
posted by incandissonance at 1:38 PM on December 3, 2013

Best answer: Hi there - I'm the mom (and stepmom) of a blended family that is comprised of two former single-parent families, which means I've done both sides of this simultaneously.

All you really need to bear in mind - now and forever, really - is this: It's Not About You, It's About the Kid. As long as you've got THAT in mind, guiding your words/actions, you'll be a-okay. That doesn't mean to coddle the kid, or to totally self-negate FOR the kid (although you're obviously SUPER-early in the game)... it just means that the kid's comfort level and needs and feelings MUST be respected, because the kid is the only participant who's there involuntarily ("I didn't ask to be born!" and all).
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:45 PM on December 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Don't use baby talk, talk down to her, or speak loudly. People used to do this to me when I was her age and it drove me nuts. Squat down when you first meet her, say hi, and yeah, a small bag of stickers would be great. Hope you all have fun!
posted by Specklet at 1:57 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I could track down my mother's ex-boyfriends, I'd apologize to them for being such a complete jerk when I was a kid. I mention this because, although I think I was an extreme case, the people who say the kid may resent you can be right on the money. I didn't want their presents, I didn't want to have to listen to (much less laugh at) their jokes, and I sure as hell didn't want them taking my mom anywhere at all that was away from me.

As I said, I think I was an extreme. But absolutely respect that the kid is a person, with her own likes and quirks and desires and needs, not just a generic "kid." Listen more than you talk. Don't treat her like an irritation or an impediment to getting to her mom. Be a grownup--by which I mean, I think, be gracious and kind. And best of luck to you!
posted by newrambler at 2:00 PM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also be respectful of the fact that the child was expecting a day with her mom, even if she was told of the change of plans beforehand (which she definitely should be), so make sure to give them a bit of space while still remaining a part of things - so she's reassured her mother's main focus is her.

THIS. And my folks have been married 40+ years.

But I know how it feels to have another person shoved into what was supposed to be a special occasion for me. It sucks. Some acknowledgment or thanks to gf's daughter about this on your part might help. Like, "[name], thanks for sharing your Mom with me today."

Caveat: I don't have kids, but I used to be one.
posted by luckynerd at 2:02 PM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am a single father with a girlfriend now, though my daughter is younger, at two. All I can say is that kids (even little kids) are people, and they need to be treated like people. They want to be paid attention to, not ignored, and have their feelings considered. Yes, kids do childish things, but they really just want to have fun and they want people to be interested in them.

Kids will warm up to new people (or not) agh their own pace. Kids like people that like them back. If you're only interested in this girls mom and ignore the daughter to the degree that you can get away with it, she's going to notice and she's probably not going to like you much because it seems that you don't like her much. On the other hand, if you talk and play with the daughter because it's fun and enjoyable and you like spending time with her, she's a lot more likely to like *you* because it seems like you like *her*.

In some sense, you can act like this little girl is your girlfriend's sister, and treat her not entirely differently than that, except that she'll want to talk about her toys and go on amusement park rides instead of talking about her job and going out to dinner. She doesn't have to be the focus of everything, but if she's talking she should be acknowledged and the things she wants to do should be given weight, just like anyone else you might be visiting with. This doesn't mean you need to do everything the daughter wants to do, but you at least have to consider her input and let her know that you thought about it and decided to do something else.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:17 PM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Thank them BOTH for including you, at least a couple times throughout the day. My husband's daughter was almost five when we started dating, and he did it right, I think - giving her lots of preparation and choices so that she had some control.

Now, she latched onto me immediately (I had rainbow sharpies and paper and stuffed monkeys at my house!) and I wasn't quite ready - be prepared for her to follow you around, ask all sorts of blunt questions, throw her arms around you, anything - kids that age are unpredictable, is she shy? A comedian? Pre-K or kindergarten?

Let mom take the lead but don't be afraid to talk to the kid when mom gets a phone call or goes to the bathroom. Most kids like to talk about animals, places they've been, toys, things they like, their family, anything in the room that looks interesting - five is a great age, I bet you have fun!
posted by polly_dactyl at 2:24 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a single mom. I would suggest only spending a short amount of time with them, so that the child feels like she still has the rest of her time with her mom.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:30 PM on December 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

Similar questions to this have been asked before, here, and also here. You might find something useful in there.
posted by smoke at 3:12 PM on December 3, 2013

Mod note: A couple comments removed, if you need to reach the mods about a moderation or user issue do so via the contact form, not in-thread.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:28 PM on December 3, 2013

Best answer: Talk to her like another new person you're meeting -- which she is -- rather than someone's kid. Be friendly, but not overly friendly, and don't try to get physically between them or interfere with her mom's attempts to discipline or otherwise deal with her. Just treat them like they're old friends and you're a new addition to the circle, and remember you're a guest on their day out together.

Also: if in doubt, ask her a question, and listen to her reply. "Did you enjoy that?" or similar is a good followup question. She basically needs to see you're not there to take her mom away, and that you're going to show her an appropriate level of respect.

That includes being gentle but firm if she tries to do inappropriate things (like climb on or hit/kick you, or take your food, or call you names.) Her mom should be disciplining, but you should be setting the boundaries of what you will and will not tolerate (i.e. you can say "please stop hitting me", and if she doesn't, move away and say "stop. that's not appropriate behavior around me", but let her mom handle the talking-to about why that's wrong for her to do.)
posted by davejay at 10:01 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a five year old daughter. Kneel or sit down to interact with her. Show sincere interest in her (kids can tell when it's not sincere). Ask her questions about what she likes and participates in (books, movies, games, toys, school lessons, sports, food). Be a patient listener. Joke around a little bit. Smile a lot. Don't walk too fast for her to keep up. Don't talk about yourself too much unless she asks. Don't ask her about her mom. Don't talk to her as if she's a toddler - use a normal voice and vocabulary but soft in volume and tone, and talk just a little more slowly than you would to an adult but not too slowly. Adjust as needed.
posted by Dansaman at 10:35 PM on December 3, 2013

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