I hope you have enjoyed my series on dating after abuse. If you have been dating someone, and you think you may seriously have a future with him,* you may wonder when is the right time to introduce each other to your kids? Also, what is the best way to do this?
I recommend you wait to introduce your kids to your potential husband until you are fairly certain you will marry him. This is to protect your blooming relationship, but mainly to protect your kids. Your children have been through a lot of emotional upheaval in their lives already. They no longer have their original “intact” family unit, so they have suffered the loss of living with both parents. Even if their other parent was abusive, this is a great loss. In addition, they have lived with domestic abuse. Whether their father abused them directly or not, the abuse you experienced will have affected them in many ways. They have their own healing to do. They may have trouble attaching to new adults in their lives. Bringing a potential mate into their life that eventually leaves will be another loss for them. The more people they bond to and later lose, the more trauma they will experience. The more men you date and introduce your kids to, the harder time your kids may have bonding with them, as they get their hopes dashed again and again.
On the flip side, your children may hate the idea of you dating and remarrying anyone. Women often use their children as a kind of barometer, helping them decide whether to marry someone or not. If your children have decided they don’t want you to remarry, they may do everything in their power to sabotage your budding relationship. You may mistakenly think there is something wrong with your fellow, and let a wonderful man go, when in reality, the children would treat anyone poorly at first.
My advice is to carry on your dating life apart from your children as much as you possibly can. Meet him at a neutral place as long as you need to, to protect your relationship and your kids. When you have decided he is the one, (and he has shown he is serious about you), then you can introduce him to the children. Both of you should be prepared for the chance your children will react badly. If they do, you will need to work through this together. Don’t wait so long to introduce them that the wedding plans are already made and cannot be changed. You don’t know how your potential husband will react, and how long you all may need to get used to each other.
When your potential mate meets your kids – or you meet his
Everyone is likely to be nervous. Allow the first meeting to be short, and in a comfortable place. If you have small children, don’t take them to a fancy restaurant and expect them to be on “best” behavior for two hours the first time they meet. That is just begging for disaster. Ask your date to be respectful and interested, but not to immediately act like your kids’ best friend. He isn’t their father, and they may never treat him that way. Right now, he is simply a friend of yours that wants to get to know them as people.
I find adults often don’t know how to treat children with respect as people. Sometimes adults are overly friendly with kids, calling them “pal” or “buddy” the first time they meet. Kids hate this. Often adults will try to buy a child’s affection, by bringing them gifts, or taking them out for ice cream or for junk food every time they are together. Children may like the gifts, but will often have no respect for the person that does this.
Alternatively, potential step-parents may try to assume a parental role way too early in the relationship, ordering the child around before the couple is even married, mistakenly believing they must “lay down the law” right away. This is also a big mistake. If the child is in your date’s home, he can set appropriate boundaries about rules in his home, such as “no jumping on the couch,” or “don’t pull the dog’s tail,” but ask him not to go overboard, and ask him to say “please” and “thank you” to your kids, just as you will ask your kids to do the same.
When my second husband and I were dating, I used to bring a board game or two with me to his house when I knew his kids would be there. We would sometimes have a meal together, and then we would play a game or two. If his older kids didn’t want to play, we didn’t force them. Playing the game gave us a chance to talk while doing something else, taking away some of the awkwardness. When it was time for me to leave, I took the games back home with me. This is just one idea, one that worked for our emerging family.
No matter when you introduce your kids to your potential mate, things may not go as smoothly as you hope. Or they may seem wonderful at first, and get hard once you actually marry (this was my experience). Whatever happens, be prepared for some difficult days ahead. If your relationship with your new spouse is strong, you will be able to weather the storms together with the help of the Lord.
Children are a heritage of the lord, offspring a reward from him.
* This blog is written from the point of view of the woman as the former victim of abuse, but the same principles apply for men.