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Introducing your child to your new partner

By Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D. Author of Smart Parenting During and After Divorce.

The advice in this article will be very difficult for some of you to agree with. That being said, let me also say that generalizing about people whose lives may be very complicated is difficult to do, so these are just general guidelines not informed by your particular story.

My rule of thumb is that divorced and separated parents should keep children out of their social lives until they have been separated or divorced for a period of at least two years and you have known your potential new partner for at least a year. Let me explain the easy things first.

New Partners

You might think your new partner is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but at one time you thought the same thing about the person whose name is on the bottom of the restraining order you just got. It’s hard to resist the power of someone who not only makes you feel good about yourself but reinforces your negative feelings about your ex.

With all of that conflict to concentrate on (especially if both of you are going through divorces), who has time to create trouble in the new relationship? What happens as a result is an extended “honeymoon period” in the new relationship. Having your kids along with your new partner helps legitimize the relationship, especially if your kids like your new partner’s kids and everyone gets along—but it might very well place unnecessary pressure on the kids.

Reasons to Take It Slow

One reason to take it very slow in having your children cozy up to your new partner is that often, the “second time around” relationship is just as bad as or worse than the first relationship you had, and you want to get away from that person too. That may be fine for you, but what if your kids like that person and the people who tag along with him or her? What happens then is that your children go through another round of sad separations, and ultimately they become mistrustful and suspicious of the next round of people you bring them into contact with. For kids, these separations can be as painful as the divorce from their mother or father.

Then there are the situations where you bring your children into contact with your new partner and they hate that person. What you have created in that circumstance is a pipeline of complaints that go from your children to the other parent, and that creates yet another set of problems.

Children of divorced parents often feel split loyalties between a new partner or parent figure and a biological parent. This is made worse when one of the biological parents is insecure or angry. It is very easy for children to pick up on, and as a result they try to please and soothe that parent by being critical of Mom or Dad’s new boyfriend or girlfriend.

With all of the problems that are associated with bringing children into contact with new boyfriends and girlfriends, it is a wonder why people do it with such frequency. There are two main reasons: One is that when parents separate they yearn for the return of a “normal” life with a companion. In their desire to create that normal life, they make decisions too quickly or without thinking through all of the possibilities and often end up replacing one dysfunctional relationship with another. As adults we are entitled to do this until we get it right, but we should try to avoid exposing children to our dating disasters. Related to this is the second main reason—when a parent adopts the philosophy that “My kids and I come as a package deal. If you think you want to be with me, my kids have to approve.” This is a perfectly reasonable philosophy, but it must be employed later rather than sooner. You should figure out whether the person is worth having your children evaluate them first.

Why the Two-Year Rule Works

I advocate the two-year rule because by the one-year mark most couples have seen each other at their best and at their worst. If you have seen your partner at your worst and he or she does not try to damage your self-esteem when you fight, and you have successfully solved many of the relationship problems you could not solve with your ex, then your relationship has a better than 50-50 chance of succeeding in the long term. I have seen quite a few complicated and difficult circumstances arise because people are in too much of a hurry to introduce their children to their new partners.

Another advantage is that after some time has passed, even young children will expect their mothers and fathers to want companionship, and the children will not be as focused on wanting to reunite the family. There is no guarantee your child will ever stop wanting this, but in most cases children will want it less after a few years or at least accept the reality that it’s not going to happen.

Once you have passed the two-year mark of being out of your old relationship, and once you know your new partner for a year, you can start talking to your children about meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend. If your children are old enough to understand what a boyfriend or girlfriend is, don’t beat around the bush. This is actually one of the advantages you have gained by waiting such a long time before introducing the person.

The Sleepover Question

Different people have different ideas about whether parents should invite their boyfriends or girlfriends to sleep over at their house. I would say avoid it, especially with young children. Children are growing up very quickly these days, and they will start to ask questions about whether you are having sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend because you are sleeping with them.  You could properly tell them this is none of their business, but the situation will nevertheless make them feel uncomfortable, and you will ultimately have to deal with what kind of model this presents to your children, especially when they are fifteen years old and want to bring their boyfriends and girlfriends home to your house to sleep over.

Finally, it might be very tempting to bring your little children into bed with you and your new partner to snuggle or watch television, but I have seen this cause problems between mums and dads who become furious at the thought of their children climbing into bed with someone who is a “stranger” to them and cuddling.  Before you permit your child to do this, ask yourself it is worth the legal fees you will have to spend in order to convince someone that you think there is no harm in it.

Quick Tips

  • When it comes to introducing your kids to the people you are dating, wait, wait, wait. Then think it through, wait some more, and start talking about the person who is becoming special and whom you would like them to meet. Even when you are careful as can be, children might not warm up to the idea of your dating for a long time. One thing is certain—if you rush it, there will be problems.
  • Split loyalties are common when children are brought into a relationship with a parent’s new partner. It will take patience and an ability to be warm, but stay in the background to get past this.


  1. Tracy Gillan says:

    I found this helpful as i agree. My ex and i have been separated 2 years & he met this woman 3 weeks ago he moved in with her after knowing her 5 days now after being there 2 and a half weeks hes got engaged to her and has been argueing with me as to why i wont let him introduce our 3 year old he wants to go straight to overnites i said in a year he refuses to see my point of view

  2. brokenangel says:

    My husband had an affair, after I found out and he left he signed the tenancy on a flat with her within a month. Now he wants the kids to visit there and introduce her at 6 months of living together. I don’t care what he does but my kids are both very young, one still a baby and I worry for their mental health.

  3. jodie says:

    This was helpful. Me and my partner split a year ago but we has various attempts of sorting things which haven’t worked. He got with someone else (behind my back). Who he has been on off with since Jan (9months). But its not a stable relationship, they have more issues in 9 months than we had in 11yrs! She was happy to introduce her kids straight away, again straight from a long term relationship herself and worse because the father of her children wasn’t around at all as being in prison. I said to him that she may be happy to do that straight away, but I’m not. Especially since they split every month, which was obviously met with alot of grief. But this is new split, they hadn’t got used to is seperated, let alone someone new . Would you say a year of a stable relationship or a relationship in general, between his on offs he was back and forwards so the kids feel like a new split now.

  4. Samantha Szczepaniak says:

    As the partner of someone whos ex wife is holding fast to a two year wait befor introducing someone, this in itself can cause issues.

    I perposed a long a introduction to his children. For example, just meeting and having lunch in the local food court. This could possibly be for just an hour. Do this for a couple of months and then see, (if the children cope well), if they then want to come to dads place for an hour because he moved in with me.

    Although, the ex wife has always said no, it has caused many tough times between us and 10 days befor christmas, finally caused our breakdown.

    • Peter says:

      Hi Samantha,
      Im so sorry to hear that you have broken up over your partners ex wife rules around meeting you.
      How ridiculous of her! I bet if she met someone wonderful, he would meet them in the first 6 months.
      Your suggestion of how to introduce the kids to a new partner is useful, thanks.
      I myself waited until i was sure it wasnt a 3 or 6 month short relationship, the kids dont need to get to know multiple partners, they only really need their mum and dad. When a permanent supportive new partner comes along and they are a keeper, then its up to the dad to decide when they meet the new partner.

      There’s someone else out there for you Samantha without all that drama!

      Best wishes.