Divorce is the end of a relationship, but how soon should divorced dads introduce the next relationship to their children?
While co-parenting with their former spouse, adjusting to a new routine and establishing a separate household, dads may meet someone new whom they want to share their life and family with.
Children are adjusting too, and introducing a significant other too soon — or someone who is not a positive influence — can have damaging psychological and emotional effects.
Every mental health professional underscores the same rule: wait.
"Don’t hurry to introduce someone new to your kids," says Aaron Welch, a licensed therapist with The Lifeworks Group in Winter Park, Fla. "The tendency is to be very excited that you’ve met someone you really like—especially after a tough divorce. Because of that excitement, people believe their kids will share that same feeling."
Welch explains that children become attached to new people in their life. If the relationship doesn’t work out, then the bond the children established is broken. Kids begin to expect instability and will lose focus and attention in school work and their own friendships.
Welch is a firm believer in waiting until fathers and their new partners are committed for a long-term relationship.
Even though it may take patience and time before children are introduced to a new partner, should divorced dads even talk about their dating life?
According to Dr. Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka "Dr. Romance"), licensed psychotherapist and author of "The Unofficial Guide to Dating," children should not have any clue that their parents are dating.
With 30 years of counseling experience, Dr. Tessina says, "Until the relationship is a serious one, children shouldn’t know about dad’s new partner."
She stresses to fathers that they need to really think about what they're looking for in a new partner. Fathers are not only looking for a partner for themselves, she explains, but also a stepmother for their children.
Dads need to learn as much as they can about their significant other before inviting them into their lives. And when dating, fathers should make it clear early on that they have children and they need to ask the right questions to learn exactly how their significant other feels about children.
If a father knows he’s found someone he can trust around his kids and is certain they will be present in his life for a long time, most experts recommend waiting at least six months before coordinating a meeting between children and the new partner.
Nancy Fagan, divorce consultant and owner of San Diego’s Divorce Help Clinic, says that six months is essential, but it must be six months of exclusive dating. For some families the time may be longer.
"If any of the children are still in pain over the separation or divorce, dads will need to wait longer," Fagan says. This is to eliminate confusion while kids process their pain and grieve the loss of their former family unit.
Other situations prompt more time. Fagan stresses new partners who happen to be friends with the ex-wife, have a significant age difference, or are the first partner after a divorce are all very likely to upset children and the father’s former spouse. Relationships that share any of these features, more often than not, do not last.
If a father identifies with one of these situations, but they know their new partner is committed for the long haul and will be a good influence on his children, it’s best to wait much longer than six months to test the relationship on its own.
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Tara Lynne Groth is a full-time freelance writer residing in Cary, North Carolina. Her work has appeared in places such as GO (AirTran Airways’ in-flight magazine), the Providence Journal and Chesapeake Family. Learn more about Tara by visiting her website www.taralynnegroth.com.