The other night, the man I’ve been dating seriously for a handful of months complimented one of my six-year-old daughter’s stuffed animals. “Well, isn’t he a big stuffed dog!” my man announced.
“You bought that for me!” my daughter responded.
My newish boyfriend looked confused. In reality, another man had bought my daughter the stuffed dog a year earlier. Your mother and I are dating and that means I like you too. I looked at my new boyfriend, rolling my eyes, saying without words, “Six-year-olds! What do they know?”
Obviously, my daughter remembered that some man had bought the dog for her. But she had forgotten the guy. It made me wonder: What are the rights and wrongs of bringing a new love into your child’s life? After dating a string of men after her divorce, one mother I know decided to rent a “secret” apartment so she could bring back men without the worry of introducing her three children to Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now). It’s good in theory, if you have the extra cash, and it shows the lengths some will go to avoid having their kids and a new flame cross paths.
Likewise, another friend, who’s been divorced for a decade, has only once introduced her son to a man, after much consideration, when they had been dating for a year.
Men, too, agonize over introductions. Dan, 40, is the father of two boys. “I never introduced any women to my boys. I didn’t want them to meet anyone until I knew it was going to be very serious and had a chance of leading to marriage,” he says. He waited three months. “At that point, I knew it was going to be a committed relationship, though I still wasn’t sure if it was going to end in marriage.” (It did.) “Nothing is forever, and children will eventually learn that not all relationships last, but you need to put their interests, feelings and security first, no matter how much the woman pushes you!”
I’m not convinced that putting kids first means they can’t meet someone you’re dating. What about our own happiness? Doesn’t a happy parent make for a happy household? If a man makes me happy, why shouldn’t that joy be shared with my daughter, no matter how long (or how little) we’ve been dating?
Experts, however, disagree with me. Don’t introduce your kids to a love interest for at least six months, they decree. But I can’t seem to wrap my head around this magic number. What if you only see the guy once a week? Likewise, what if you see him four times a week? Does it apply to mothers who find themselves without a partner when their children are still babies? What about women who become mothers on their own?
I adored the first man I was in a serious relationship with (the stuffed dog purchaser) after I became single. I don’t remember the introduction to my daughter, but I know it happened within weeks. I know because I still look back on that relationship and think, “He was perfect at the start. He loved my daughter and my daughter loved him.”
I remember at the time, one of my best friends — who married a father of two — worrying that I had jumped the gun. “I didn’t see my husband on weekends for the first six months we were dating because that’s when he had his children. I think six months was the right amount of time,” she told me.
Kelly, a single mother with a son now in university, thinks the introduction decision is different when you’re the mother of a boy. “I actively made the decision from the time of my divorce not to introduce anyone to my son until it was very serious. I didn’t want him to think the guys were transient. Unless I knew there was any permanence, I didn’t think there was a point. Also, I didn’t know how he’d react if he saw another man in the kitchen making coffee.”
Kelly’s son was 14 when she made her first introduction. “It was very traditional and sweet. They shook each other’s hands and said, ‘It’s nice to meet you.’ It was pretty formal. Then we all sat down and had dinner.”
While I’m not sold on the six months theory, there is something called “too soon.” I was mortified when one blind date rang my doorbell. How could he not have thought I might not want to introduce my daughter! In reality, my date was a perfect gentleman by coming to the door. Only a single mother, worried about an introduction, would think otherwise.
That said, maybe part of the reason I resist an enforced timeline of six months is that being a single parent is time-consuming. You can barely squeeze in a shower, let alone date. I want to spend as much time as possible with my daughter and, sometimes, in order to do so while still having a semblance of a personal life, the line between the two must blur.
My daughter has met two men I’ve been serious with. When they stopped coming around, she didn’t ask why (remember the forgotten stuffed-dog man?). I think that’s because I didn’t make it a big deal to begin with, so it wasn’t a big deal — at least to her — when the relationships ended.
But as my daughter gets older, I know it won’t be so easy, if only because she is now starting to understand real (and sometimes raw) emotions. Once she comprehends why I might be “sad” over the ending of a relationship, will she worry about the beginning of a new one?
For now, while the men may come and go, at least there is something that remains stable. That stuffed toy dog. It’s not going anywhere.