The question: I've been divorced for a few years and have two children, 10 and 8. I've been dating my girlfriend for about a year and half. I want to introduce my children to her, but I'm unsure if it's too soon. My girlfriend wants to meet them as well and is very supportive. But I fear putting them in an uncomfortable emotional state, if perhaps something doesn't work out or they struggle with the new person in my life. What should I do?
The answer: It is extremely difficult for many people to gauge just what the right timing is for introducing a new partner into the lives of their children. Concern about distressing your kids, worry about their reaction and acceptance, and the uncertainty of your future with your partner are all very common, natural and valid concerns.
But, here's the bottom line: there is never going to be the perfect time to take this pivotal step.
There are, however, multiple considerations for you to be mindful of before you proceed: how serious your relationship with your girlfriend is and whether you picture her in your future; the willingness, interest and expectations she has about being a part of your children's lives; and the developmental and emotional state of your children.
A year and a half is a pretty substantial period of time to be together. Ask yourself candidly where you see the relationship going – are you in love with her? Do you picture her in your foreseeable future? And most importantly do the two of you have shared values when it comes to the big ticket items – love, respect, kindness, fidelity?
Her willingness and support when it comes to meeting your children is a positive sign. If you haven't already, be sure that you have a discussion with her about your worries. Ask her what her expectations are for the role she wants in their lives. Does this match up with what you desire?
Are there any hurdles you anticipate when it comes to your children's biological mother's acceptance of your girlfriend, and if so are you in a position to have a respectful, helpful conversation with your ex about how she feels about this next step? Are you able to enlist her support in speaking to your kids (if this is at all possible, it can be extremely helpful).
There's no perfect age for kids to be introduced to a new partner. Most children – kids, teens, and adults alike – are likely to have some mixed and negative feelings about the introduction of a new partner. The best thing you can do is prepare your children and given them some amount of control over the process. For all of us, having some element of control (even just perceived control) and predictability over potentially upsetting events helps us cope better.
Let them know you have someone important in your life that you would like them to meet. Follow their lead with questions – and answer as honestly as you can (Is she your girlfriend? How long have you known her? Is she going to live with us?).
Then let your children know you would like them to meet her. Be careful to not place them in the position of making a decision about whether or not they want to meet her (as that would place an undue burden on them) but where and when would work ("would you like her to come to our house for dinner one day, or would you like to meet her at the park?"). Reassure them that it's ok if they feel confused about her being in your life. Make sure that throughout the process, you communicate two key messages: that your love for them will not in any way be impacted, and that your girlfriend will not take the place of their mother.
Keep in mind that there is never any certainty about the future of any relationship, that your children will probably be upset for some period of time but they will adjust, and that you have a right to move forward in your personal life as well.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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