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Dating with Children: How and When Should You Introduce the Kids? 

After contemplating what to do about a recent text I received from The Question Mark, I ultimately decided to respond with a simple “Great -- hope you have a nice Thanksgiving.” I hated that part of me that wanted to engage him with more flirtatious repartee, but I know too well that it leads nowhere. He needs to expend a lot more effort than one text to reengage me. Plus, I have had another, more important relationship dilemma to occupy myself with as of late....

I have not been able to see The Consultant much the last few weeks due to his travel schedule. When he is in town, our ability to find time to spend together has been further complicated by the fact that we both have kids. Faced with the possibility of not seeing each other at all over the long Thanksgiving weekend because of our childcare obligations, I proposed “running into each other” at a local museum. He was looking for something to do with his tween girls anyway, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Soon after we made plans, I started to worry that such an introduction, even a casual one, might still be premature. We only started dating a few months ago, and I am not ready to get too serious too soon. Many divorced mothers worry about how their children will react to new romantic partners,1 and repartnering, or taking up a new romantic love interest after divorce, is considerably more complicated when there are children from previous marriages.2 The majority of children experience the repartnering of their divorced parents, with one study reporting that about 1/3 of divorced women have 10 or more dating partners before meeting a new marriage partner.3 I have no desire to remarry, but a serious, committed relationship at some point is not out of the realm of possibilities. Despite the frequency of repartnering after divorce, there has been little research on dating experiences for the adults and children involved.4 Thus, I’m left with questions like: When would be a “good” time to introduce my boys to The Consultant? When would be a good time to meet his kids? When should all the kids meet each other? Do we really want a Brady Bunch-like situation (which I will call the Brady Bunch Dilemma)? What would happen if all the kids grow attached to each other and then my relationship with The Consultant did not work out?

I grew more and more anxious on the drive to the museum as I pondered these questions. One survey of parents found that children typically meet two different dating partners of their parents within 1 year of filing for divorce,4 so perhaps I have protected my children from this part of my life for long enough. It is, after all, inevitable that my adult dating/social life will intersect with my mommy time at some point. 

We “ran” into each other in the cafeteria at the museum. Talk about awkward. I wanted to hug him and give him a kiss, but we had to make it appear platonic, as the kids did not know we were dating. After my boys gobbled down a bag of chips, we started walking towards the dinosaur exhibit. As no beverages were allowed, I offered my half empty bottle of lemonade to The Consultant, who then took a sip. Busted. Immediately, his girls asked whether I was his girlfriend, because we “shared spit” on the bottle. Glad acting is not our day job.

We both want to let our kids know that we have dating lives, but what is the best approach for doing this? Should we come clean all at once or break it to them slowly? Gatekeeping tactics involve regulating the flow of information about one’s dating life with children.4 This research proposes that dating itself may not be a problem for kids, but rather it is how the children are prepared for the introduction of a new romantic interest. I guess I am fortunate -- my boys are young enough that they have not asked questions about my dating life. I feel bad for The Consultant, though, as he had to field questions from his older girls for the remainder of the museum trip and the days that followed.

During a post-museum encounter powwow, The Consultant and I decided to use a graded gatekeeping approach, which means gradually increasing our kids’ exposure and awareness of each other as we get more serious. This approach is apparently very common (used by about 47% of individuals), and is believed to be the best strategy for informing children about one’s dating life, as kids can form a relationship with the dating partner over time through a number of different experiences.4 Given that neither of us knows what the future holds for us, this seems to be a better strategy than a transparent approach, which would mean the kids would know everything about our dating lives from the start. Full transparency is likely to be more harmful to the dating relationship, as it would unfold under the full attention and eyes of the children.4 His curious girls are not thrilled about his lack of full disclosure, but in the long run, it seems to be the best strategy as things move forward.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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1Mitchell, A. (1985). Children in the middle: Living through divorce. New York: Tavistock Publications.

2Lampard, R., & Peggs, K. (1999). Repartnering: The relevance of parenthood and gender to cohabitation and remarriage among the formerly married. British Journal of Sociology, 50, 443-465.

3Montgomery, M. J., Anderson, E. R., Hetherington, E. M., & Clingempeel, W. G.  (1992). Patterns of courtship for remarriage: Implications for child adjustment and parent-child relationships. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 686-698.

4Anderson, E. R., Greene, S. M., Walker, L., Malerba, C. A., Forgatch, M. S., & DeGarmo, D. S. (2004). Ready to take a chance again: Transitions to dating among divorced parents. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 40, 61-75.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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Reader Comments (1)

I discovered your journal as a recent follower of the Science of Relationship website. My background is in Psychology and I write frequently on relationships. Your situation is very interesting (and may I add, entertaining). I am watching my college-aged son work his way through the maze of relationships and the angst that comes with seeking a compatible partner. I wish you much good fortune and thank you for sharing and educating along your way.

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSally Bishop
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