You’ve winked, poked, and prodded; you’ve met for coffee, had yogurt, and almost broke your pelvis in that yoga class; you’ve spent countless man hours and burned through half your kids’ college fund on dinners and nights on the town where you’ve culled out the emotional basket cases and daddy’s girls. And finally, after thinking all the good ones were either married or lesbians, you’ve met someone you believe has staying power. She has the potential to be around – for a while. And the time has come to put all your cards on the table and throw in all the chips – it’s time for you to introduce her to the kids.
I know well the terror that can strike the heart of a man when faced with the task of arranging that first ‘meeting’. The three days prior are spent in constant prayer to God that your five year old son doesn’t try to hump her leg and your teenage daughter doesn’t turn into Ms. Drama. It’s a performance that would challenge David Copperfield himself.
If you’ve read me for a while you already know I was divorced when my kids are painfully young – both under three. Besides the brutality of diapers, bottles, baby food, and being on house arrest from 11-3 every afternoon for naptime, I was able to botch the girlfriend introduction with minimal shrapnel. A child’s naivety can be a wonderful thing.
But I know that not every divorced dad has it like that. More often than not you’ve got a few teens or tweens who either think you’re the reason for the divorce and would rather see you roasted alive or they’ve become so possessive you can’t take a moment for the loo without sending up smoke signals so everyone knows where you’ll be. But through my years of experience I’ve learned to navigate these treacherous waters and since I’ll never sail those seas again I’ve decided to pass on my wealth of knowledge.
Just remember to pay it forward – and follow me on Facebook.
There are a few things to think about before commencing with introductions.
For starters you should be decidedly honest with Ms. Wonderful. That doesn’t mean you over sell it but you can’t under promise either. If you’ve got a nine year old that needs daddy to lay with her before she can fall asleep every night then say so. If your son spends more time in detention than he does math class then you need to call it like it is. I’ve been on the ugly end of these situations only to discover that her kids were Children of the Corn when she made them sound like the Walton’s – don’t be that guy.
Next, give the kids a bit of heads up before the big day. Start talking up the new girlfriend telling them her name, what she’s like, what she looks like, even show them her picture if you have one. You don’t want to blindside them as they get off the bus one afternoon. Let them know a few days in advance that you are going to introduce her, that way you can judge reactions, see if behaviors change, Barney Fife any issues before they become big, and if necessary scrap the whole thing until the timing is better.
I’ve laid out a play by play for the perfect first meeting when it’s your kids and her kids, and this follows the same rules. But to recap the first meeting always should be in a neutral setting, in public, and brief. Arrange the first shindig somewhere like an ice-cream parlor, a park, or the carousel at the mall. Keep it to under an hour and preferably thirty minutes; chances are your kids will be bored after ten anyway. And what this also means is DO NOT make the first introduction a sleepover, dinner, or a weekend trip to the beach – don’t be that guy, either.
After you’ve gotten everyone together the first time let it marinate for a while. Give it a few days or week even to allow things to sink in and see how everybody is feeling about it. Hopefully she keeps returning your texts and the kids don’t come back with the conviction that she’s out to replace their mom.
And above all else, and I can’t type this loud enough, don’t do any of this until you’ve had a chance to get to know her and she’s had time to learn about you. I see so many of my buddies introduce their latest ‘girlfriend’ to the kids after the second date only to end up dumping her two weeks later because she’s actually deranged. For more observations on that I’ve written here about when the right time is to introduce the kids to the new girlfriend.
As divorced dads we’re always trying to balance the emotions of the girlfriend and the kids. And while there’s no guarantees a good start makes the job much easier.