When the divorce dust settles, the papers are signed, and life returns to some semblance of normalcy, many fathers will begin to date again. And because the love bug is a vicious little creature, they’ll find someone new. But when do you introduce this new love to your kids? As with all things divorce-related, the question is tricky. While it might be a touchy affair, there’s a good way to go about it, says Bill Benson, a licensed therapist and family counselor. Done thoughtfully, not only will things be more comfortable, but you’ll model for your kids how to be a functioning adult in a hectic emotional world.
Make Sure Your Kids Are On The Same Page About Divorce
In Benson’s view, when to introduce a new squeeze will be obvious when you’ve figured out the how. And the how is all about laying the groundwork.
The intro is really just an extension of getting your kids used to the idea of their parents’ divorce. If you haven’t already done so, take the opportunity to remind them that Daddy’s split from Mommy is crucial for getting his groove back, and is likewise important for everyone in the long term. And he says to touch on these main points:
- Reassure Them That They’re Not The Reason For The Divorce
As you’ve probably heard before, kids’ brains aren’t fully formed until they can legally order a Manhattan. As a result, they’re prone to a lot of black-and-white thinking. “Their brain can’t compute in shades of gray, and often they’ll apply blame to themselves,” Benson says. So always reassure them they’re not the reason for your divorce. You don’t have to explain that they are responsible for your Netflix queue recommending Lalaloopsy.
- Reiterate That They Won’t Be Abandoned
This is another common misconception kids harbor, Benson says. “Kids are very concerned with being liked and approved of, and they’ll often think the worst about this.” Daddy might be getting his own bachelor pad, but that doesn’t mean the kids aren’t welcome.
- Refrain From Dissing Mom
Slinging mud at the other parent doesn’t do any good. Not even if you say, “Zing!” to imply you’re kidding.
Use The Bouquet Metaphor
This metaphor sounds absurd, but Benson says to the best way to explain the new situation to your kids is to get botanical.“There are different flowers, and the flowers can be exchanged,” he says. “Children make up one variety of flower. Just because the daisy is no longer in the bouquet, the bouquet is still there.” Mommy may not be in the bouquet any longer (and be a bit of a Venus Fly Trap), but you’d still put that arrangement on your table.
If you’re fumbling to say something less flowery, Benson recommends saying: “This is somebody special to me, and because I care about you so much I wanted to introduce them to you, too.”
Give Them Reassurance
This new life stuff is messy business, so offer your kids constant reassurance. “They need to know how you think and feel and be reassured that everything’s okay,” says Benson. “If you can function from those tenets, everything else follows suit.” Ask your kid their perspective to get a read on what’s going on inside. If they’re aware of the big picture, meeting a new special lady friend should be a breeze.
Be Honest About Your Deal
Whether the new person is going to be a parent figure or a special friend with benefits doesn’t matter as long as your kids generally know what to expect. “If you don’t want to get married again that’s okay if you normalize it for your kids,” says Benson. Whatever the situation, they just have to know that you’re sticking together — even if you’re going through metaphorical roses like a Bachelor contestant. “Don’t forego your life.”
You Might Be Teaching Your Kids A Valuable Lesson
Whatever the reasons for divorce or break-ups, they’re a reality of modern adult life. Showing your kids there’s a sane and polite way to go about it could be valuable. “Part of parenting is teaching kids to be appropriate and healthy adults,” says Benson. “You’re showing them how dating and relationships work.” Don’t show them how Tinder works, though.