Especially for children still struggling with their parents’ divorce, this can really be a minefield in a take-no-prisoners war. The best advice is to wait until you are reasonably sure that this will be a lasting relationship before broaching an introduction. There is no need to introduce casual dates, which can confuse kids. If you are struggling with the best way to integrate your new love into your family circle, the following may be useful.
Ages 4 to 9
The tendency of children in this age group to be extremely possessive of their parents can complicate introductions. Observing courtship actions can anger them and stir up feelings of jealousy.
A good low-key way to introduce them at this age is casually in an open setting like a park or at the skating rink. Not making a huge deal out of the relationship, and couching the relationship in terms like “Mommy’s friend,” may help to de-escalate potential conflicts and keep things coasting along smoothly. Later, be prepared for more detailed questioning from the kids about your new friend.
Ages 10 to 13
Any attempts by you to mask the true nature of your relationship with your love interest to kids in this age group is likely to backfire spectacularly. They are old enough to grasp the situation for what it is and feel threatened by it. Inviting the person over to share a family meal and watch a movie is a good idea. That way your children can retreat to their own space after a while if they need time to evaluate their feelings about the relationship. Don’t make a big deal if they decline movie night after the meal is over. Instead, tap on their door gently and reassure them that they remain your number one priority and that your new friend will never replace them or even their other parent. Give them some time and space to get used to the idea of parental dating.
Ages 14 to 18
Children in this age range are probably involved with or interested in pursuing their own love interests and may cut their parents some slack in this department. But it is a good idea to keep the sexual side of your relationship, if there is one at this point, on the down-low to your kids. Otherwise, you run the risk of appearing hypocritical if you attempt to put the brakes on your children’s own sexual explorations with their peers.
On an intellectual level, well-adjusted young adults should be able to handle the idea of their parents forging meaningful intimate relationships with others. But viscerally, it can still cut pretty deep. Especially for those parents who were in decades-long marriages with their children’s other parent, it can still be a bitter pill to swallow to see Mom or Dad on the arm of their new love. If the other parent remains bitter over the split, and especially if this person was the cause of it, your adult children may feel like their loyalties lie with their other parent. They may outright refuse to meet the person or decline invitations when the love interest is present.
Engaging adult children in a forthright conversation about your right to pursue happiness post-divorce can soothe ruffled feathers and help them to view the situation with a more mature attitude. Even if the relationship between the kids and your love interest remains a bit rocky, it is possible to achieve détente by encouraging all parties to remain civil. If sufficient time has passed since the divorce, you may even try extending the olive branch to your former spouse in the hope that he or she might give their blessing to you to begin your new life. This could be the tipping point for your adult kids to finally let go of the past.