Dating with Children: Advice for Single Parents

When and How to Make Those Initial Introductions

Mom and baby with arms spread open.
Photo © Peathegee Inc./Getty Images

For many single parents, dating is exciting and scary at the same time. On one hand, you can hardly contain your enthusiasm for your new love interest. Yet, you may be plagued with questions about when and how to introduce your kids. Before you take that all-important step, consider this advice for dating with children:

Look at Your Relationship

A lot of single parents ask, "When should I introduce my kids to the person I'm dating?" Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, and the author of I Can't Believe You Went Through My Stuff!: How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need, advises parents to first examine the quality of the dating relationship before worrying about how or when to introduce the kids.

"The commitment is the most important piece because, when there's commitment, that becomes obvious to the kids."

Be Honest

Being true to yourself and your partner is key. Not every dating relationship reaches the level of commitment that necessitates including the kids. You may very well be enjoying a casual, lively social life with a person who is fun to be around, but with whom you simply don't imagine a future. This is critical, because once you introduce children, you leave them vulnerable to becoming attached. Doing so before you've even determined for yourself that this will be a long-term relationship is unfair to the kids. And in the event that the relationship doesn't last, parting ways could potentially be as painful for them as your initial separation or divorce from your ex.

The Big Takeaway

When you're dating with kids in the picture, ask yourself the following questions before you introduce your new love interest to your kiddos:

  • Do I see this as a long-term relationship? If not, and you still want him or her to meet your kids, consider introducing your partner as a "friend" and keeping things platonic in front of your children for now.

  • Can I envision making this person a part of my family? If yes, then introducing the kids at this juncture may make sense as the most fitting next step.

    Once you've both decided that this is a serious, committed relationship, you'll want to begin a meaningful dialogue with your children. Most importantly, you'll want to affirm your commitment to the kids and respond to any questions they have. The following tips for dating with children will help:

    Calm Your Kids' Fears

    Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, and the author of I Can't Believe You Went Through My Stuff!: How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need, explains, "Kids' fears are more fears of abandonment than anything else.

    They're afraid that when push comes to shove, you'll abandon them for this new dating relationship. Therefore, it's useful to make your commitment to them explicit before you even introduce the person."

    Keep Things in Perspective

    Sheras also emphasizes that you're not asking for the children's approval of your relationship. Just as important, you're also not issuing some type of ultimatum about accepting your partner. Rather, you're initiating a conversation about how important your children are to you, and what you each want for your future. Sheras recommends this: "Begin by making your own statement of love and support for your family. Then ask the children questions like 'What would you like for our family? What are you looking for in someone that we might bring into the family?'" This ongoing and honest dialogue is an important part of including your children in a relationship that has become important to you.

    More Tips for Dating with Children

    In addition, you'll want to:

    • Realize that your children may be afraid of being or feeling abandoned as you embrace a new dating relationship.
    • Affirm your own personal commitment to your children. Consider writing each child a letter expressing your feelings and hopes for their futures, as well as your own.
    • Share your genuine enthusiasm for the person you are dating. Let your kids know why the relationship is important to you. And remember that this is a valuable opportunity to demonstrate that how a person treats you is the most important quality of any relationship.

    Coping with a parent's new dating relationship is rarely easy on kids. Once you've begun to talk about it openly, though, you can begin thinking about how you'd like to make the initial introductions. Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, and the author of I Can't Believe You Went Through My Stuff!: How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need, recommends that parents plan on introducing the kids "within a couple of months of declaring yourself in a serious relationship."

    How to Introduce Your New Love Interest

    When it comes to making the actual introductions, you'll want to plan an informal outing or activity. Ideally, it helps to create a situation where everyone can be themselves, relax, and have a good time. A brief activity, such as going out for pizza or playing a quick round of miniature golf, gives everyone a chance to meet, but doesn't create a situation where lengthy conversation is needed. 

    Tips for Planning the Initial Introductions

    • Plan something fun. Think about what you already enjoy doing together as a family. If your kids are old enough, get them involved in the planning, too.
    • Be yourself. No need to get stressed and start talking in that high-pitched 'could-this-be-more-painful?' voice. Instead, let your kids see that you're comfortable in your own skin in front of this special person in your life.
    • Include your kids in an activity you can all do together. Keep it light and let the activity naturally fill in any gaps in the conversation.

      Offer Reassurance

      Accepting parental dating relationships may be a slow process for your kids. Ultimately, your top priority is reassuring your children that you love them unconditionally and that you intend to always be with them. In time, they will see that including another person in your life is not about splitting your affections; it's an opportunity to widen the circle of people you all choose to care about and welcome into your family.