Introducing the Kids to Your Partner: Meet Mom's New Friend
A few months shy of her 30th birthday, writer Ashley Simpo and her husband separated. Suddenly, all the stereotypes she learned growing up bubbled to the surface, and, for a moment, she felt like a walking statistic—a drop in the bucket of the 4.5 million Black single parents across the nation. But, single parents aren't statistics: We're families. We're worthy of love and intimacy and a nice night out with someone who doesn't disrupt our delicately balanced lives. Is it too much to ask? In Kindred's recurring column Dating w/Kids, Simpo explores the answers to that big question.
A few weeks ago, actress Drew Berrymore, whose four-year marriage ended six years ago, was asked if she would ever get remarried. She said tearfully that she was, "Not there yet," and expressed how impossible the notion of introducing a new person to her daughters was for her. I'll admit, when I read this, I felt a twinge of guilt. One of the first thoughts I had when my own short-lived marriage ended was, "Ok, well I guess I have to find someone new now." The prospect of forgoing partnership as the only way to ensure consistency for my child seemed unrealistic. After all, I was barely 30 when I became a single woman, I had oats to sew.
For a while, my dating life and my life as a parent didn't have to converge. My son was only 2 years old at the time, and I wasn't ready for a serious relationship with anyone; I was still healing from my marriage. But as the years passed, and dating around became less fun, I started to open myself up to more serious prospects.
This Doesn't Have To Be Awkward
There have only been two serious boyfriends that have had a relationship with my son. Both times, the circumstances surrounding our courtship had the biggest impact on how I approached introductions, so, the two experiences were vastly different. Before my son met my first post-divorce boyfriend, I considered a lot of things: the seriousness of our relationship, his interest in kids, my son's age—he was 4 at the time—my ex-husband's comfort level. The new boyfriend and I carefully planned a trip to the Museum of Natural History hoping to woo my son with all the big dinosaur bones. The strategy was to break the ice by doing something fun together. The plan went off without a hitch and he and my son got along great.
Two years later, post-divorce boyfriend number one and I broke up. Of course, my son, who was six at the time, had questions about the sudden absence of my ex. This presented the opportunity to explain that it's ok for relationships to end when two people aren't compatible, a lesson he's reflected on from time to time as he navigates his own friendships. After a few months, a little therapy and a lot of self-care, I picked myself up and went to a dinner party that my friend was throwing. There, I met post-divorce boyfriend number two (queue the aria).
The circumstances surrounding this introduction were quite a bit different. Our courtship was very casual (read: a hook up), and we had a lot of mutual friends. By the time he met my son, who was seven at the time, we had no intention of building a relationship yet. In fact, the first meeting wouldn't have even occurred if I hadn't caught a horrible cold out of nowhere. Being the thoughtful type, he asked if he could stop by the store and pick up some sick supplies—ginger tea, lemons, chicken noodle soup—and drop them off on his way home from work. The plan was to hand me the stuff at the door and go, but then, it started pouring rain.
Suddenly, making him hand this adorable care package to me outside in a storm felt more awkward than the alternative. What was I so afraid of anyway? He was a friend doing something really nice. What could be traumatizing about that? So, leaning heavily into my instincts, I let him in. When my son inevitably crept out of his bedroom, prompted by the baritone voice in the living room, I introduced them and everyone survived.
After the Intro
How you break the ice with kids and new romantic partners is really up to you. In my experience , the greatest determining factor of whether or not my child was "traumatized" was what happened before and after the introduction. Here are the hills I'll die on:
Talk about it with your kids.
I always had an age-appropriate conversation with my son about what dating is: getting to know new people. I always let him know that whether it's mommy's dates or mommy's career, he was at the center of all my choices. As my son got older, it became more important that he felt included in the choices that constructed his life. For example, my boyfriend only came over to hang if my son consented to the visit. Because he had a voice in the matter, a beautiful relationship formed organically.
Check your trauma.
Trauma doesn't happen because the first introduction is awkward, it happens when we date the wrong people. So, it's vital to maintain healthy relationships that don't bring chaos into your home. Do what you need to do to release trauma and work through whatever you might be dealing with that could impact how you show up to relationships and how you choose partners. The people we date, hopefully, become part of our village and our story, so start within before you explore that big wide dating world.
Set expectations early.
Obviously, we're not showing up to Tinder dates with a list of questions about parenthood. But once things head in a serious direction, and introductions are looming be sure to clarify what you need from the situation. What are your short-term needs? What are your long-term needs? It can be as simple as saying, "I want an active partner," or "Eventually, I want you to be a mentor." Instead of minimizing our needs because of all the stigma surrounding being a single parent (especially, for single moms), say them with your chest.
Do your research.
Remember that everyone we introduce to our kids, whether platonic or romantic,can have a detrimental impact. This impact could be positive or it could be negative, and that matters. Do your due diligence to ensure that the people you bring into their lives are not strangers to you. Meet their friends and family, hell, run a background check, Insta-stalk them, there's no shame in being thorough. And when you're done searching Google, search your soul; your instincts are the best source of information.