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When To Introduce Your New Partner To Your Child

It's complicated.

12/04/2017 12:39 PM AEST | Updated 12/04/2017 12:39 PM AEST
Alija
"There is a lot of new terrain to navigate when you become a single parent. And just when you find your feet, the terrain changes again."

There is a lot of new terrain to navigate when you become a single parent. And just when you find your feet, the terrain changes again.

The decision to date cannot, by any measure, be described as new terrain -- it's a whole new planet, one that you thought you had happily departed when you coupled up.

But, after countless dating apps, dates with nice but unsuitable men and politely declining seriously odd requests, you find someone you are brave enough to co-habit life with again. When to introduce them to your child, and to meet theirs, becomes a vexing, uncharted issue.

When I met my former boyfriend, a 47-year-old father of two beautiful girls, I lost sleep over when he should meet my two-year-old and when I should meet his girls.

There are solid reasons for doing it early. For me, this is two-fold.

Assuming you eventually want to have a child with this person, you are desperate to see, and see early, what type of parent they are. While you can elicit a sense of this through strategically worded questions, you really need to observe it at close quarters. You don't want to be six months into a relationship and realise their parenting style is not what you thought it was. It would be devastating to be six months in and realise your boyfriend was a shouter (or worse still a smacker).

Logistics are also a big factor. With limited time away from my two-year-old and with my boyfriend having his girls almost full-time, unless the kids were there, it was difficult to actually see each other apart from a few stolen hours here and there. Driving back and forth and syncing schedules three weeks in advance wears thin -- quickly.

When I met my former boyfriend, a 47-year-old father of two beautiful girls, I lost sleep over when he should meet my two-year-old and when I should meet his girls.

In the end, children were met after a month of dating. We were lucky. Friendships were quickly formed and a happy blended family was (almost) made. The ages of the kids helped -- not too close but not too big a gap, as did the carefully planning of activities that all three found interesting. We also each spent time with each other's kids without our own to foster singular bonds.

If you start dating someone without kids, I think the imperative is even stronger to let them meet your kids early. In my experience, introducing early lets you see first-hand whether their assertions that they 'love kids' can actually be lived. While well meaning, having experience with nieces and nephews in no way prepares you for how messy, relentless and emotional your life becomes once you are a parent. For boyfriends sans kids, I found that the real test comes once you let them see your life with kids (uncensored) and they decide to stay or go.

There are also solid reasons for waiting, the most important being that if it is doesn't work out, it's not only your heart that is broken, there are also little hearts at risk. And little hearts break hard. And, depending on their age, children can have long memories.

When I met my former boyfriend, a 47-year-old father of two beautiful girls, I lost sleep over when he should meet my two-year-old and when I should meet his girls.

When we eventually called it off, I was never given the chance to say goodbye to the two girls I had mothered and loved as my own, but I had no choice other than to respect it was not my decision to make. Months on, I know the girls still feel my absence and I wonder how it was explained it to them. How much did their hearts break and how long will they remember for?

I had done a lot of reading on when you form your first memory before I let my former boyfriend meet my son. The prevailing view is that it is not until 4-5 years, so I knew that, in time, my two-year-old would forget and there would be no lasting damage. What I didn't realise is that it would take a good 3-4 weeks before he stopped asking for the three of them. It hurt to see him bewildered by their sudden absence and it made it harder for me to shake it off.

The other reason, which for me only crystallised after the break up, was that you need time to get to know each other first. To understand, accept and fall in love with the man first, before you fall in love with him as a father and with his children.

Looking back, the speed with which we became an almost-blended family, blurred my feelings for my boyfriend with the deep love that formed in my heart for the girls. I couldn't separate the two and when things started to fray, my love for the girls kept it going for far longer than it should. And in the end that was damaging. To all of us.

What will I do next time? (And I remain hopeful there will be a next time).

It depends. On the age of the children, on how confident I feel deep inside my heart, on how much I want to be a couple again, because single-parenting is so lonely, and on how much I am willing to risk for the happiness a blended family can bring.

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