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Divorced Dads, Here’s How to Introduce Your Girlfriend to Your Kid

It's not just your relationship.

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“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly advice column in which Fatherly’s Parenting Editor Patrick Coleman provides frank answers to reader questions. Want evidence-based answers and some common sense morality? Email advice@fatherly.com. We got you. Want a justification for some parenting decision you already made? Ask someone else. Patrick is busy.

 

Hi Fatherly,

I’m a new parent, and after being home with for paternity leave, I’m heading back to work at roughly the same time as my partner. That means we’ll be putting our daughter in daycare. We live in Brooklyn and we’ve been shopping around. The good news is that there’s no shortage of daycares that are all about being organic and flaunt high early learning standards, but these daycare facilities are super expensive. On the other side there are some less pretty and education-oriented daycares that still have incredibly nice staff people. They seem fine and are less expensive, but they don’t offer all of the cutting edge programs. We’re kind of at a loss for what to choose. Does it make more sense for us to dip into our savings or to save some money for a rainy day and put the kid in a slightly more low-key situation?

Perplexed Parent
Brooklyn

*

First things first, Perplexed. Before fancy programs and nice daycare workers, you need to consider your daughter’s most crucial need: safety. More than anything else, your due diligence should be focused on ensuring that any daycare you send your child too is appropriately accredited and has a super strong history of safety. To do that, you’ll need to make in-person visits.

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When you walk into the daycare, use all your senses. Is something feels weird or off to you, trust those instincts. Does the daycare smell clean and fresh? Is it quiet? Are there sounds of play and laughter? What is the mood? Are the staff smiling and happy or do they look stressed? Does the daycare feel emotionally warm? Are toys and furniture in good repair? Take it all in. There is plenty you can suss out just from a walk-through.

When talking to staff, ask about CPR certifications and daycare policies. Pay attention to how they answer. Are they relaxed or do they seem evasive? Take notes. Give yourself permission to be wildly, even unreasonably, picky.

Finally, search for online reviews. You can learn a lot from other parents. Trust yourself to know what might be the gripe of an over-sensitive mother or father and what could be a real and ongoing issue.

The fact is that your daughter needs to be safe and to be treated well. At her age, that’s about the size of it. There’s plenty of reason to believe that most of the intensive educational programs and special bells and whistles that fancy daycares offer are nonsense. Most studies show that any gains she might have come from those super educationally-focused programs will likely even out by 3rd grade anyway. That said, those daycares tend to attract high-strung parents who are all about ensuring safety. So there’s something there. But if you’re willing to do your own due diligence, you can save a buck without losing sleep.

The one caveat here is this: The daycare you choose should have ample space and time in their program for kids to play freely and cooperatively. This should be open-ended, child-led play. There should be an emphasis on low tech toys that spark the imagination. If you see a ton of kids playing blocks with each other, that’s great. That’s exactly what your kid should be doing.
Also, consider the cultural diversity you see in the daycare. Your kid might be able to play with kids from other ethnic backgrounds and social classes. That’s fantastic. It will help her develop her ability to communicate and negotiate with kids different than herself. This is called socialization and is more critical than getting a jump on the ABCs.

Don’t get played by daycares offering big techy advances and stringent educational agendas
That’s not what your kid needs right now. She needs a ton of imaginative, open-ended play. And she needs it with you and other kids. Don’t worry. You’ll get her educated. You just don’t need to do it today.

 

Fatherly,

I’m a divorced dad with a 6-year old son and last year I got back into the dating scene, which has been stressful and strange. I’ve been out with a couple of women, but nothing has progressed much past the first or second date. That’s fine. I’m alright with just going out for dinner and drinks. In fact, it’s been pretty easy because I’ve never brought any dates home and I haven’t had to explain any new ladies to my son. But I’ve been seeing someone for the last couple of months and it’s getting pretty serious. She’s been over to my place but not when my son is home. So I haven’t introduced her. I’m kind of afraid to do that.

The last thing I want is for my son to get attached to a lady who he’ll have to say goodbye to. Also, I don’t even know how to explain her to him. Is she a friend? A good friend? A really good friend? How do I introduce my son to a woman that I’m honestly falling for, but who isn’t his mom? How do I protect him from getting his heart broken if it doesn’t work out for us?

Divorced Dad in Love,
Denver

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It’s good to hear that you’re thinking about your kid and not just trying to bed some strange. I wish it were so with every divorced dad. (It’s not.) You have given your son the gift of ignorance, which is incredibly sweet of you. Of course, that will have to eventually change if you want to have anything approximating a normal relationship with someone you care about deeply. But before that change happens — before you reveal you have a new love — you want to make sure your son feels confident with the relationship that he has with you.

I’m a child of divorce and when I was about 10-years old, I spent a summer with my dad when he went back to college. He was a young guy then, and not afraid to live it up. More than once I met strange ladies at breakfast or slept on strange woman’s couch. It wasn’t ideal. But the real reason it was a bad scene wasn’t the sex, it was that we weren’t communicating well. Because of that, it colored our relationship.

I don’t know how long you’ve been divorced, but I’m hoping it’s been long enough that your kid has a sense of the new family dynamic. If you don’t know, ask him. Does he know that you and your ex-wife love him? Does he know it’s not his fault? Does he understand that no matter what you and your ex-wife will always be his mother and father no matter what? If he seems unclear on any of those points, then hold up on your introduction. You have some work to do. Your son needs to be in a stable place before you start throwing a love story at him.

During this process, you’re going to be want to be very assuring. Over-communicate. Don’t assume he gets what’s going on with you and your new girlfriend. He’s a kid. He does not get it. That said, don’t be coy about who this new woman is. She is your girlfriend. By six, he’ll have an idea what that means. Girlfriend talk starts to pop up around first grade. It’ll help him orient to the fact that this woman is more than a friend, which apparently she is.

Now to the introduction…. Make it fun. Make it low-key, but let your son know you’re introducing your girlfriend because you care about her and you wanted to make sure she knows your son, who you care about even more. And when you’re all together be as kind as possible. The fact is, he wasn’t around to see you build a relationship the first time. He’s watching and taking cues. Model healthy relationship behavior. Be the man you want him to be when he grows up. And, whatever you do, never, ever, bad mouth your ex in front of your kid. Especially not when he is with you and your girlfriend. That shit is destructive and will be destructive to his relationship with the new woman in your life.

If your kid feels cared-for, this should go fine. I wish you the best of luck.

That said. Luck changes. And here is where we’ll address your second question about protecting your boy from heartache. Despite your best intentions, you were not able to protect him or yourself from the heartbreak after you got married. What makes you think you can do it in another relationship? Though it might sound harsh, you need to recognize that the situation is never going to be in control. Heartbreak happens. People get hurt.

So, what can you do? Be the person that doesn’t break your kid’s heart. Love the hell out of him. As long as he has you, he has something to cling onto when things get stormy. And that’s ultimately what you owe him.