Amy is a single mom in Ocala. She got divorced five years ago and has been raising her daughter, Joanna, with her ex-husband, Ron. Ron has remarried, and Amy gets along fairly well with his new wife. Amy dates, but hasn’t yet met anyone she was serious enough about to introduce to Joanna. Joanna is thirteen.
A concern that is always in the back of Amy’s mind is how to handle it when she does meet someone she’d like to introduce to Joanna.
Ocala isn’t a small town, but it isn’t a big city like Orlando either. With only mall, a handful of movie theaters, and limited options for other entertainment such as bowling, skating, theater and more, chances are at some point you may run into your ex while on a date. If your ex doesn’t know you’re dating, this can be more than a little awkward.
“Ron’s wife is someone his family has known for years, and because of my marriage to Ron, I knew her, too. Joanna’s known his wife her entire life. So there was never any confusion – she was already a part of the fabric of our lives.”
Amy’s question isn’t an uncommon one among single parents. Co-parenting is complicated enough. Sometimes there is a lot of animosity among the former spouses and they can barely get along for the sake of the children, much less any other reason. And introducing a new romantic partner doesn’t just affect you and your children. It also affects your former partner, and can even affect extended families on all sides.
So, how do you figure out what’s right or wrong when it comes to this? Well, first, you remember that there is no perfect solution. Then, you ask yourself some questions and determine what’s best based on those answers:
What kind of relationship do you and your ex have? If you and your ex have a really solid, friendly co-parenting relationship, it’s a good idea to include him in the decision to introduce your child to your new partner. While your ex obviously doesn’t have a say in who you date, and ultimately doesn’t really have a say in when you introduce your new partner, in the interest of keeping the peaceful relationship you currently have, why not extend him the courtesy of at least a heads up? If, on the other hand, your ex has little to no contact with your child or you have a very antagonistic relationship, it might be better to not add complications by including him. If he’s not in your child’s life anyway, or not very active in your child’s life, he’s not likely to be all that surprised or hurt to learn you’re dating.
At what point do you make the introductions or discuss it with your ex? There’s always that question of when to do this. Many people offer up a time frame – it usually varies between about six months to a year after you start dating. But instead of worrying about a specific time frame, instead look at the relationship itself, as well as your child, and other factors. You might find that even after six months or a year, your child isn’t ready for this step in your life yet. Or you may find that the pace of your relationship is so quick that if you waited that long, you’d be introducing your child to your husband rather than your boyfriend.
Should you tell your ex before you introduce the kids? If you’ve determined that you should discuss this with your ex, then you should definitely bring it up before you introduce the kids to your new partner. You do not want him to hear it from the kids first, as that could cause problems.
So, let’s assume you’ve decided your situation is one in which you want to or have to tell your ex. How do you handle this?
Meet with your ex alone to tell him. You don’t need to be alone, just the two of you – but don’t bring your new flame to this meeting. And definitely do this in person – you can’t read body language in a text or over the phone, which means that it’ll be all too easy to misinterpret a silence or a tone. In person, it’ll be easier to tell whether one or both of you is getting upset.
Don’t expect him to jump for joy. No matter how good your relationship has been as co-parents, and even if he’s moved on, he may still feel a twinge of jealousy. It may not even be jealousy over you having a new man in your life – it might be about your child having a new man in his life. He might be worried that your new partner will take over his role as dad, or at the very least, overstep his bounds. Be compassionate and understanding if he seems less than enthused.
Arrange a meeting. No, not the one between your new partner and your kids – one between your ex and your new partner. Arrange a get-together where you, your new partner, your ex and any new (serious) partner your ex has can meet. Maybe have dinner together, but don’t plan something like a movie. The point of this is to give your ex a chance to get to know your new partner and see that he is not a threat. They need a chance to talk in order to have that happen.
Best behavior. Have you ever said a negative thing about your ex to your new partner? Probably. So sit down with your new partner before he meets your ex, and express to him that anything you’ve told him is in confidence and you expect him to keep it between the two of you. Also, ask him to please, for the purposes of this meeting, to set aside anything you may have said about your ex and have an open mind. You don’t want negative impressions he’s gotten when you were frustrated to color his opinion and cause him to treat your ex differently.
Take it slow. After your ex and new partner has met, don’t rush to introduce the kids. Give your ex a few days to think, and then talk to him. Ask his opinion, his thoughts and feelings on your new partner and how he thinks the kids will deal with it. Give real thought to what he says, too. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, it might be worth considering.
Introduce the kids in a public location. Even if your partner has picked you up at home when the kids were gone, use a neutral public location for that first meeting. It’ll make the kids feel safer, and if it turns out that the kids don’t like him, they won’t have negative associations with home.
Since Amy was interviewed for this article, she has settled in for a few in depth conversations with Ron on what to do if she meets a man that she’d like to introduce to Joanna. They’ve agreed that she will not do this unless she strongly believes the relationship is serious and likely to lead to marriage. They’ve also agreed that she will introduce her new mate to Ron and give them a chance to get to know each other a bit before she introduces Joanna to the new man in her life. They have also agreed that when the time comes, that Ron will sit down with Joanna and make clear to her that if, for any reason, she doesn’t like the man Amy is dating, if she is not comfortable talking to Amy, Joanna can go to Ron. He will listen to Joanna’s concerns and approach Amy with those concerns, and Amy will listen and consider the concerns.
“Although I’m not actively dating at the moment, I do feel better with a plan in place. I feel like Ron is supportive, which will help Joanna feel comfortable. I also like knowing that Joanna can talk to him and he’ll come to me if she has concerns. Joanna knows she can talk to me, but I know that sometimes kids just don’t feel comfortable, and I’m glad to know that she won’t feel like she has to bottle it all up.”
Because of Joanna’s age, Ron and Amy felt comfortable telling Joanna about that part of the plan. Joanna, nearly old enough to date herself, appreciates their concern for her. She knows her mother dates, and appreciates that her mother doesn’t bring home every guy she dates.
“I want my mom to be happy. I want her to fall in love and get married again. But I don’t want to meet every guy she dates. I just don’t see a reason to. I’m sure they’re nice guys, or my mom wouldn’t date them, but why do I need to remember their names and get to know them if they might not stick around?”
Joanna’s a very smart young lady, and single parents would do well to keep her words in mind when they consider introducing a new mate to their kids.