On telling the kids

My single mama friend called me last night.

“Hey lady, I really need your advice on something, she sounded fearful and scared. I thought the worst. Maybe she and her new man were breaking up.

“Charles and I are definitely going to get engaged, they just know – as Seth and I did– that they are meant to be. And it’s lovely.

“That’s so exciting! I’m so happy for you. So, what’s the problem?”

“He will be moving in with us in December. So, it’s a long ways away, but I’m scared about how to tell Sarah. It’s always just been the two of us. What will it be like? Will she be upset? How did you tell Benjamin?”

She sounded so worried and concerned. Just this fact alone, told me her heart and head were in the right place. If a mother cares that much about her child’s transition into a new relationship, all will definitely be fine. I have met too many mothers over the years who put their relationships over their children. Welcoming, with open arms, ex-boyfriends who abused them or men who cheated on them back into their lives and their child’s lives. It’s upsetting, to say the least.

My friend’s daughter, Sarah, is in Kindergarten. A sweet, quiet, little girl who has never seen her mother with any boyfriend, not even her father. Here was my advice to her:

1. Don’t be so scared. Love is a wonderful, happy and beautiful thing. If you are scared, your children will be scared. If you are stressed, they will be. And subsequently, if you are happy they will be happy. It’s really that simple. That, I believe, is truly how Benjamin recovered so well from John and I’s break up. He knew I was happy. He knew it was for the best. As for children feeling your pain when relationships don’t turn out, that’s another post for another day. And I’ve written a few. Here and here.

2. Be honest with your children. My friend was particularly worried about her relationship with her daughter changing. She said, “I’ve always shared everything with her, everything, and we are so close.” That will only change if you change that precedent. Obviously, we don’t want to share the nitty-gritty romantic details of our relationship with the kids, but we do want to share our daily joys and our happiness about the relationship. When Seth and I felt the time was right, we stopped hiding our affections (cuddles, hand holding, kisses). We decided we wanted our kids to experience what we had experienced as children – witnessing two adults in love. Something his children and Benjamin had never truly seen before. Read more on PDAs and creating a healthy relationship for your children to witness. With that said, we also let them see us work through disagreements. It’s important that our children learn what a healthy relationship is, so incredibly important.

3. There will be change. Change is inevitable in life. Unless, of course, you prefer a drab, boring life with zero personal growth. I, personally, enjoy the challenges change brings. At first, when I became a single mother, I feared the change set before me. But as I emerged, far stronger and happier than I had ever been before. I have since learned that all change (positive and negative) is just part of life. So, while my friend’s relationship with her daughter will change, that’s okay. The trick, as a couple and a family, is to make sure you change together and stay on the same path – never faltering in your commitment to each other and your love.

4. How to tell the kids. We slowly introduced the children to each other and when the time was right. The timing may be different for each family. When we told them we were going to get married! They were all thrilled, as you know and eventually pushed so hard for said wedding, they actually planned it for us in the back yard. I think, if you truly have found a wonderful man, your children will be happy. For those of you with older or teen-aged children, I would love your perspective in the comments, as I realize that’s a different boat entirely. If your children can’t stand your significant other, in my opinion, he’s not a match. You do have to remember, you are responsible for finding someone you all love. In some cases, your kids may love him more than you do. Also not a good match. It has to be right for everyone.

5. There will be bumps and bruises. Your family is about to change. Period. And while that is exciting, and while you should be happy, you should also be realistic and rational about what to expect. It won’t all be flowers and rainbows. There will be fights. There will be adjustments and adaptations. Especially if you are also blending a family with additional children, like we are. And while these growth spurts have been painful for all of us, once they pass, we are stronger and happier. I feel, as a whole in our society, we try so hard to avoid pain at any cost. But there’s no way to avoid the pain that comes with evolving into your future self. Embrace it, be okay with it and know that it is perfectly normal. If you and your man are on the same page, everything will be alright. If you fall off of the same page – get back on it. Stay up all night sorting it out, whatever it takes.

For those of you who are in a new relationship without the intention of marriage, or without marriage certainly as the outcome – unless you children are under the age of three – I would tread very carefully on introducing him into their lives in a big way. But you never know, and there is only so much you can do to protect your children from pain. With John – we were engaged – and then it was over, just like that. I will never forget the day I told Benjamin John would no longer be in his life. The pain I felt for bringing him such pain (and yes, I blamed myself) is seared forever on my heart, unforgettable.

As a single woman, you need to date and give yourself the right to fall in love again and again until you find your soul mate.

As a single mother, you need to have the strength not to expose your children to all of those relationships and only the ones that truly count. You’ll know which ones they are.

Cardinal rules, obviously, that I forget to mention – never, ever expose your children to an abusive man, a man addicted to drugs or alcohol, or a man who mistreats or harms them. Remember also that by forgiving a man for something like cheating on you (and them) you are teaching them that is okay. 




  1. Perfect timing…. just thinking about having my daughters meet a guy i have been seeing, in a public setting as friends, they haven’t seen me with any other man since their father and that was a year ago… thanks again!

  2. As a newly engaged single mom, I just wanted to chime in that you are spot on, Alaina. Take fear out of the equation. Luckily The Boy and The Man get along really well (most of the time), and The Man has been there to do the things his dad hasn’t, like teach him how to ride a bike, wrestling moves, etc. When I called The Boy to tell him we were engaged, he said, “Cool!” and meant it. He likes the concept of a “Bonus Dad”. It’s not always sunshine and roses, but you can’t go wrong with honesty and love.

  3. this post is so timely for me. i’ve been dating someone for the first time since splitting with my ex-husband before my youngest was born. we’ve been together for 6 months now, and we both just know this is it for us. i absolutely want to spend the rest of my life with this man, but i still haven’t really had him around my daughters much. i don’t really know how to go about jumping that hurdle. it’s scary!

  4. This is perfect! I just introduced my 13YO daughter to my boyfriend after 4 months of hiding everything…now she sees me happy and is so excited that I have finally found someone who will accept hers and my relationship and treats us both so great! Thank you!

  5. I don’t have kids but I can only imagine how hard it must be for parents to know when to introduce them to someone they’re dating. I wish my parents had been this thoughtful 40 years ago when they divorced. It would have made a world of difference for my brother and me.

  6. What do you do when you have the added stress of the ex disliking the new boyfriend? My ex knows my current boyfriend or rather knows of him and doesn’t know him personally and he doesn’t think highly of him. Of course he’s not gonna like anyone I’m with. My fear is he will sway the kids’ adjustment and my ex and I have great communication when it comes to the kids and I fear that this will stop and things will get nasty. Its been 11 months though and I’m so tired of living two seperate lives. I want to join all the people I love together.

  7. to tell is so hard but also i agree with every thing you said mmmm…… and i think to be honest in first and to be clear that make them feel more comfortable

  8. It is so nice to have a forum to discuss these issues. I have been dating a man after my divorce for two years now. After dating prior to him, and living what I felt like was a separate life from my children, I decided to introduce this man fairly early in the relationship (3 months). I knew he was special and that I would be spending a lot of time with him, but I did not want to move forward until I witnessed him around my children, and I really did not want him to fall in love with a person that I could only be part of the time. A single mother is easy to love when the kids are away with their dad or staying at the grandparent’s house, but a woman in the thick of responsibility is another person. I wanted him to see the full picture of my life. With that being said, I have always been concerned with the level of expectation for his role in my two children’s lives. I have two boys (6 and 8) and their father has been living in another country because of the military. So, my new boyfriend has been filling in the gap that their father has left over the years of being geographically absent. My expectations began small in the beginning because we were just getting started, but as the relationship continued to grow and we started spending more time together, and he eventually moved in, my expectations began to grow too.

    It is one thing to introduce a person you are dating to your kids. This is only the first step. What about parental expectations? What role do they now take? How much do you ask of them? How much should you expect as far as time put in with the children? Our relationship has evolved very naturally for the last two years, but I am at a point where I want more shared responsibility. My partner will now watch the kids one night a week while I go to yoga class, and he will watch them for my work or other things when needed. He also enjoys spending time with the family, but I do not see him jumping into the role with much more than this. Maybe he will as time goes on, and maybe he is still evolving? We are only two years into the relationship, but we are committed and we do use the term stepfather, although very loosely. He is thinking in those terms, but I am still the one that takes the kids to school every morning, picks them up, cooks dinner, washes their clothes, does homework, does bath time, etc. If I ask, he will do any of these things at times, but I am afraid to expect anything more, even after two years. He has never had children, so none of this stuff comes natural to him. I would like a little relief and more shared responsibility with the man I am dating, but I also do not know exactly what I should expect. My youngest son has really bonded with him and loves him so much, but my older son has had more difficulty connecting. In general, he is a much more emotional child. I would love to hear how those of you that have been in a relationship for a while deal with shared responsibility with the kids. What suggestions or struggles do you have?

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