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What do we say to our kids? How do we avoid scarring them for life? I asked Toronto psychotherapist Jana Brankov for some surefire tips. Whatever is happening, they sense it. Keep it simple Brankov says one of the biggest mistakes dating parents make is telling their kids too much.
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Baby steps Go really gradually, advises Brankov. Make sure everyone has slept and eaten.
Then listen, acknowledge and validate—no matter what their reaction is. Still, there's no right or wrong way to do the meet-and-greet, and there are so many potential variables, including the age, sex, and personality of your kids. Infants and toddlers won't register that this is Mommy's new boyfriend.
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Older kids' reactions could run the gamut from very threatened to seemingly indifferent. My friend Kristin Cole, who lives in Montclair, New Jersey, recalls that her year-old announced that he was going to say "I hate you! You're not my dad" upon meeting her boyfriend. What really happened is that they tossed a football around in the yard and ended up becoming pretty chummy.
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Much will also depend on how your beau handles himself. A few rules of thumb for you: Tell the kids about your new guy after you've been dating him for a few months and believe the relationship is likely to continue. There's no reason to put everyone through the meet-up if he's going to be history next week.
Maybe show them a picture of him or let them answer the phone and hear his voice to help de-mystify him. Feel them out, and keep a first meeting brief and casual, and expectations low. For instance, don't say, "You are going to just adore Jeremy! No matter if your kid is 3 or 13, she does not want to witness you sucking face with someone who's not her father. As a single mom with a boyfriend, you need to lead something of a double life until a relationship gets serious. Have sleepovers with your guy, but do them on your own time, when your ex has your kids or they're at Grandma's.
Once you're really, solidly a couple, how you handle this depends a lot on your own values and the age of your kids, and how long you and your guy have been together. Fink feels strongly about keeping her sex life and her parenting life completely separate. Cole, who's a little more freewheeling, has her boyfriend stay over frequently, but they've been together for a few years. The one time my boyfriend stayed over, we both wore full-coverage flannel pj's--and kept them on all night.
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When you're out there dating, there's a good chance that you will end up breaking up with someone along the way. If your kids have become close to the man, they may be bummed but they won't be destroyed. And they may even manage to stay in touch. When my boyfriend of 18 months and I broke up, I dreaded telling my daughters.
I was frankly a little embarrassed that another relationship hadn't worked out and wondered what kind of role model I could ever be. I avoided saying anything for about two weeks. Then my older daughter asked me point-blank if we'd broken up.
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