“The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.” — Brene Brown
I had a great conversation with a friend last week. I’m not sure we ever landed on an answer, but it was a worthwhile discussion that I want to share here. I would love to get your feedback and suggestions.
It’s a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” scenario! There may not be an answer, and you can circle yourself around and around the question, and still not know the “right” thing to do. Here’s the deal: my friend (never married, no kids) is dating a guy (divorced, two school aged kids). They get along really well … “opposites attract” would be a great way to describe them. By way of background, they have been dating for nearly a year and have a ton of fun together on his “free” weekends (from his kids).
Here’s the thing. He is hesitant to let her get too close to his children until he “knows this is going to work out for the long-term.” She says, “I have a hard time figuring out if this is going to work out for the long term if I don’t have a chance to get to know his kids and see what it’s like to be their stepmom.” She has met his kids, but he has kept her at an arms length. She wants to do more with his kids and really get to know them.
Do you see the conundrum? He doesn’t want her to become a part of his kids’ lives until he knows she is the one, and how can she know if she is the one until she gets to know all of him – which includes his kids?
All of this begs the question, “When is the right time to introduce your date to your kids?” My belief is that it is somewhere in between. I didn’t introduce my now-husband to my kids until I knew that we had something serious going on. I also knew that we wouldn’t be able to advance to the next level of seriousness until my kids had met him, he had met my kids, and I was comfortable with how they all interacted with each other. I was falling in love with this guy, but I also knew that if he and my kids hated each other that I wasn’t prepared to deal with that drama. That would be a deal-breaker. At the same time, he was falling in love with me. And, he knew that I was a package deal. You get me AND you get two bonus kids. He needed to be able to spend time with my kids to get to know them and confirm that he could be and wanted to be their “bonus” dad in the future.
I was so fortunate that my kids fell in love with him, just as much as he fell in love with them. He has never tried to be their dad. In fact, when he asked me to marry him, he also asked my kids for “permission,” and told them that he knew they had a dad, and he would be thrilled to be their stepdad. But, he wouldn’t have been able to do this if he hadn’t already built a relationship with them, and he wouldn’t have been able to build a relationship with them if I hadn’t given him access to them to start developing a relationship in the first place.
I didn’t grant access right away. I didn’t want my kids to ever just see me dating a revolving door of men every Saturday night (not that I ever did that anyway). I knew that introducing my kids to my now-husband was a big deal. This is why I understand where my friend’s boyfriend is coming from. As parents, we want to protect our kids. We want to protect their innocence and shield them from having to understand the complexities of life — lessons like “mom and dad got divorced, and now mommy (or daddy) is spending time with (and falling in love with) someone else.” These can be tough changes for children to understand, but it’s also real life.
Can you understand my friend’s boyfriend not wanting to introduce his kids to her right away? Can you also understand him wanting to wait until he knows they are in a relationship, and not simply casually dating (remember, they have been dating for a year)? Can you understand my friend’s perspective saying she wants to spend more time with his kids getting to know them better because like it or not, he’s a package deal now? She knows if she continues to fall in love with him, that means loving his kids as well, and she wants to love them. Being a stepmother is a tough job. She wants to get to know them and become a part of their lives – all of their lives.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? When do you introduce your relationship to your kids? When do you introduce your kids to your relationship? At the end of this discussion, here’s what I truly believe: it depends! The answers to those questions are going to completely depend on you, your children, and the person whom you want to introduce or don’t want to introduce quite yet. Everyone is at a different place – in their maturity, in their ability to handle change, and in their emotional readiness. As parents, we must best assess when the timing is right for our kids, and go from there. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t!
“I’m not a parenting expert. In fact, I’m not sure that I even believe in the idea of ‘parenting experts.’ I’m an engaged, imperfect parent and a passionate researcher. I’m an experienced mapmaker and a stumbling traveler. Like many of you, parenting is by far my boldest and most daring adventure.” — Brene Brown
What do you think?
Author Monique A. Honaman wrote “The High Road Has Less Traffic: honest advice on the path through love and divorce” (2010) in response to a need for a book that provided honest, real, and raw advice about how to survive and thrive through one of life’s toughest journeys, and “The High Road Has Less Traffic … and a better view” (2013) to provide perspectives on love, marriage, divorce and everything in between. The books are available on Amazon.com. Learn more at www.HighRoadLessTraffic.com.