How I Introduced My Partner to My Child
I am no parenting expert, and I have made plenty of mistakes while seeking to do what’s best for my now-15-year old son. For one thing, I had him while I was still pretty young myself (20 years old and still in the midst of completing my undergraduate degree). While my relationship with my son’s father did not last, I didn’t want him to grow up having the impression that the men in our lives were transient. So when I eventually did introduce The Right Guy (who I married this past summer), I wanted the foundation to be in place for the introduction and the relationship that followed to be a positive experience for everyone involved. Here are the things I kept in mind that helped with that transition.
Know your child and your situationEveryone’s situation is unique, and the steps outlined here are definitely not the only right way to introduce your partner to your child(ren). Similarly, what worked for my friends, did not always work for me and my son. What I did do is I did take the time to think through what was best for my family, and understood that the decisions I made had serious implications for my son and not just me. For this reason, I knew I didn’t want to introduce him to anyone who wasn’t a serious romantic prospect too soon.
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Be willing to waitTransitions of any variety can be challenging and take up lots of time, energy and money. These can be even more limited when you have a tiny human depending on you. You may be tempted to leap into a new relationship (especially if you’re not used to being on your own). You may be seeking comfort, support or any other variety of reasons we seek connecting with others. As legitimate as these reasons are, don’t rush yourself — especially if you’ve recently just ended one relationship. Take time to ground yourself and build your community with trusted friends and family instead. It’s better to be on your own, than to be with the wrong person.
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Work on you and your lives firstI became a single mother while my son was still a baby. For this reason, my focus at that time shifted to doubling down and completing my university degree and working part-time as a teller at a bank, because I understood that financial independence would help improve both our lives down the road — guy or no guy. I also felt there was personal and emotional work I still had to do to heal from my previous relationship so I can grow as a person and be the best mom for my son. For this reason, I did not really date or look for partners at this time (though I often felt tempted to!). Get to know yourself. Invest in self-care. Date yourself!
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Consider your childcare optionsSooner or later, you will have to take time away from your role as the primary caregiver (whether it’s for a little self-care, work, or other obligations). For this reason, it’s good to know what your childcare options are and who you trust enough to leave your child with. In my case, I was fortunate enough to have the support of my parents and four close girlfriends I knew I could trust with my child's safety, as well as daycare (I realize not everyone may have the benefit of these things). You may want to explore trading babysitting with another single parent friend.
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Put yourself out thereWhen I felt that I was in a good enough spot personally, and generally felt I had my life together enough to introduce a new person into it, I started dating (in my case it took about 4 years altogether for me to put myself out there).
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Don’t see what you like? Keep looking!So I started dating. And kept dating. I understood that whoever I introduced into our lives had to share the values I worked hard to establish with my young son. Similarly, I also understood that sharing a life with a young single mother and her son was not a task every person would be willing to handle. Because parenting is hard. And at that age, most of my peers were at their peak partying days. For this reason, I did not introduce any of these dates to my son. Don’t feel the need to introduce every promising date to your child.
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Found someone? Sit tight!In my case, I met three different men (at different times) over the course of three years who seemed to share my values, and seemed serious enough about me to be in it for the long(ish) haul. Also key: They understood and appreciated my role as a mom (and not just their girlfriend). However, knowing relationships are complex, I also wanted to first spend time with these men one-on-one to truly get to know them over time, and in a variety of different situations (to see for myself if they walk the talk in other words). This allowed us to first have a chance to forge a relationship on our own terms and as a couple first. This was important so that we had the ability to first establish our own dynamic as a unit before introducing another person into that dynamic (in the same way, I had already established a tight bond with my son). Each of these three relationships lasted at least six months. Look for a guy who is patient, understanding and who wants to meet your child(ren) when you’re ready. You shouldn’t feel pressured.
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The actual introductionThe one year mark is the timeframe I felt worked for us to take our relationship to the next level in both cases (the first of these relationships didn't make it past six months, and I was glad I hadn't rushed the introductions). In both instances, I was hyper-aware that should things go south for our relationship, the impact on my son might be even greater than it is on me, and so here too I wanted to gradually ease us into a dynamic where my son saw my partner as a constant and a father-figure over a period of time (not all of a sudden). It was a good way for everyone to have an opportunity to adjust to a dynamic of three.
The first time he met my long-term ex, my son was ten. And in this situation, I introduced my then-boyfriend to my son as a friend in a group situation (some friends — including my then-partner — came over for dinner). So this would be my tip: Introduce your child first in a group setting to your partner. It takes the pressure off of everyone.
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‘Mom has a boyfriend’Gradually, we started doing more and more things just the three of us, so my son and my partner would have an opportunity to bond as well. At this stage, I candidly spoke with my son and asked how he would feel if I told him that this person is my boyfriend. In both cases, my son was receptive and my partners were great with my son. While my son may not dictate my relationship, I felt his opinion was very important to me. So take time to listen to your child and hear them out.
Sadly (or perhaps luckily), that first very serious relationship did not work out in the end (as much as the guy said he wanted to be a father-figure, he wasn't quite up for what it took). The thing that got me most was having to break the breakup news to my son, who already established a close relationship with this person. His response: ‘I’m sorry it didn’t work out, mom. He was a nice guy.’ My son’s mature response only made my heart ache more for what he lost too. Should this happen, understand that you may need to be a source of emotional support for your child, while also looking after your own well-being. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone; reach out to others in your circle of trust.
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The Big LeapIn the end this breakup was for the best, because another wonderful person came into our lives and this person was a much better match not only for me, but for my son as well: After three years of dating this person, and one year of the three of us living together, we married this past summer, with my son walking me down the aisle and ‘giving me away’.
In the case with my current partner-now-husband, I followed the same steps I described above, and gradually combined households (first starting with multiple one-day sleepovers over several months, then a March break sleepover, and then giving my son a clear idea of the timing of when we will be moving in together a few months down the road). I found it was important to loop my son in and share my plans as well as my reasoning for my decisions. It helped establish trust — especially at his age.
The common thread in all the steps I took was that each was intentional, focused on my son’s best interest (with his stage of development in mind), as well as my partner, and constant communication on all fronts. While it is what worked for us, you may find your child would best benefit from something different. Whatever that is, never feel that you have to compromise on a situation that just isn’t right for you and your child(ren). The most beautiful families come in all shapes and sizes.
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