Dating and family post-divorce
December 15, 2016 5:57 AM   Subscribe

Finally dipping my toes back in the waters after years of separation and divorce proceedings (see previous AskMe posts ...). I don't need dating tips as such - it seems complicated at this age and stage in my life - what I am really interested in here is what happens if any dating turns into something more serious, and how to bring a partner into an existing household with a kiddo. So: How can I think about introducing any new partner to the current household? Thank you!

One kid, 9 years old, I have 50%+ custody. I'm sure there's loads of issues here. I'm also sure there are multiple ways to possibly address this. So I'm interested in either personal anecdotes or online resources that just talk about this in general. What happens when a new person enters the picture? Sorry if this is vague. I don't want to post an autobio here, but I can drop in below to provide clarifications when I can.
posted by life moves pretty fast to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think slowly and gradually is the typical advice. You date for an extended period of time, often using your non-custodial days, and only introduce your partner once you feel fairly sure that this a relationship that is likely to last for a while. After introducing the new person to the kid, you gradually ramp up the time you three spend together and see how things go before moving someone in to the house.

The book Stepmonster might be a useful read to get some insight on what a future partner would be dealing with. It might also make sense to ask advice from the stepparents subreddit.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 6:34 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think it's ok to acknowledge that you are dating, but I agree with the advice above that it's best not to involve potential partner and child with one another until you reach a point you think the relationship is going to be a lasting one. If you think your parenting partner would be supportive, looping them in to model that they are ok with the new relationship can be helpful. It's also helpful to set ground rules up front about how you will all be relating to one another. Like will the new partner be having a hand in discipline? What will that look like? Will they be spending time together without you? What are the rules there? What if child and partner don't get along? How will that be managed? Child is probably going to have mixed feelings about the changes in their household. How will you acknowledge that? Having a therapist who knows you and knows your child can be helpful with all of that.

Dating is hard enough as an adult. Trying to understand and navigate those relationships and alliances as a child is very complicated. Whatever you can do to make it a clear and positive transition will help.
posted by goggie at 6:53 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, and don't lie about what's going on. Some people in this situation will "run into" a "friend" at the park and just happen to introduce their kids to that "friend." Maybe they don't want word of a new boyfriend or girlfriend to get back to the ex. Maybe they think that will be a low pressure way to introduce the new boyfriend or girlfriend. Whatever the reason, the kid will eventually (or immediately, kids can be savvy) realize the nature of the relationship and then have to deal with their distrust or anger on top of everything else.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:34 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Slow down. Waaaaaay down. Don't introduce your kid to anyone until you are in a very serious relationship with that person. Not just dating that person, but in a serious, exclusive, long-term relationship. I say this as a person whose parents divorced when I was little, and then grew up in a world where "friends" and "bf/gf" and "partners" and "insert every other euphemism here" you can imagine were in and out of my life. The lessons it taught me, as a child and teen, were that relationships were entirely disposible, and that anybody who existed as a semi-parent in my life was bound to disappear next year. You can imagine how well that served me when I got to be an adult. Don't do that to your child.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:42 AM on December 15, 2016 [11 favorites]

There is a post somewhere in AskMeFi that addresses this all really well, but I can't find it on my phone at the moment... oh wait:

I recently went through this with my own daughter who is turning 8 next month. Luckily, we have lots of male friends with children that we hang out with, so "going to play with some new friends" at the park was not strange. And it was VERY important to me to see how this new guy interacted with his kids and mine before the stakes were high. If I had any red flags I would have ended things right away. I think that's important to know before you get too involved. And it was all very very low-key. And this is the only person that she's been introduced to (to be honest, I didn't really date at all before meeting this person).

We are still largely in this phase after just under a year, although I have now explained to her that "our friend" is more that that (I used a script VERY similar to one in a comment in the thread above). It has gone well and I don't believe she feels any resentment or that I hid anything from her. This is almost 99% definitely a long-term relationship that will result in our all living together but we aren't rushing that right now. I think both of us having kids makes us both very aware of their needs and feelings.

My advice: the fact that you're asking this question makes me believe you'll make the right choices for your family.
posted by stefnet at 8:03 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

It is a long slow process and can be fraught with hidden pitfalls. I speak with some experience (see below), it is good to constantly check in at a gut level, not only your feelings, but those of all involved, your children, their children, and sadly maybe even their exes. In my experience most online resources, and my own story, are horror stories, there are other paths, if all parties are HONEST and OPEN then you have a good shot. First my story and reason for emphasis.

I was divorced 3 years, living with my 7 Yo son 90% of the time, figured I would just wait until he went to college as my limited tries at dating on the few nights I had free were depressing. She was recently divorced, had 3 kids 50% of the time. We hit it off, thought it would be nice to have a female friend, then something happened, and wow. At a year we started doing family things, at 2 years her oldest decided he was going to break us up (with the help of his father). I was accused of bullying and abuse by the son and his father, I got to talk to the police.

We still deeply love each other, would marry in a second. But due to completely fabricated accusations it will be years before we can even consider blending our lives.

Yet I know several couples, with multiple kids each, that somehow managed to just move in and make it work.

TLDR:dating post divorce with children still at home is exceptionally complicated, even if you do "everything right" it might not work out.
posted by oshburghor at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2016

Thanks very much everyone! I certainly had 'take it slow' in mind, but these answers have given me some good new perspectives on what 'slow' can actually mean. Thank you.
posted by life moves pretty fast at 8:01 AM on December 17, 2016

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