Help! When should I introduce my partner to my kids?

Louisa Leontiades Advice Column, Epic Relationships

Dear Louloria,

I’ve recently started dating again now that maternity has finished and my daughter has started pre-school. I’ve met someone who I think could be a potential partner. I agreed with my husband a while ago, that we wouldn’t introduce someone to our child unless it was serious, but now I’m thinking I can’t get serious with a partner until I know whether he would be good for my child. I’ve asked in the forums, but got a ton of conflicting advice.

Can you give me any further insight into this? What things might we not have considered?

Ms. TimingIsTricky

Dear Ms. TIT,

The reason you got conflicting advice is because every family and their environment is different. But here are a few things to consider (so many things)!

Arguments against non-monogamy where children are concerned generally fall into two camps. There are arguments about the morality–the ‘setting a bad example’ argument–and then there are arguments about inviting drama and upset–the ‘unstable environment’ argument.

Whilst the former ‘bad example’ argument is one used commonly by those against non-monogamy, I’ve seen plenty of polyamorous people also argue along the same lines when considering early introduction, especially if it turns out to be the first of many such introductions. What example are you setting the children!

I believe those people operate with a mindset that a long term relationship is more valuable than short term encounters per se. I don’t agree. Connections come and go, some relationships are wonderful but fleeting, others long lasting and detrimental. The length does not determine the ‘wellness’ of the relationship. And if you are introducing your prospects simply as friends (more about that in a moment), then I don’t see any issue at all with him coming over to meet your child. Thus your agreement with your husband might be rooted in traditional relationship escalator thinking. Examine your assumptions. Just because you invite your new boyfriend home, doesn’t mean that it is or has to become serious. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it (in fact, far better that you do not). But if you do invite him home, because he might interpret it as a milestone of ‘seriousness’, you should make sure to communicate this with him.

Why should you consider not being romantic with your boyfriend in front of your child?

Romantic behaviour infers intimacy. For me, it’s not about whether intimacy is a harmful thing (or a ‘bad’ example – we’re not talking sexual behaviour, just ‘closeness’). It’s about the signals that you send your child regarding your new partner. Your intimacy with them is a demonstration of trust. Your child is attached to you, and implicitly trusts your judgement. It is healthier for them to be able to develop their own relationship with your new partner without ‘undue’ influence. They must have the agency to choose to be close to your partner (or not). And these things should not be forced.

There is of course little advice out there for new partners in polyamorous relationships, but analogous advice regarding ‘step’ parents((http://www.smartstepfamilies.com/view/attachment-difference)) suggests that attachment to an additional parenting figure may occur within one to two years in optimal conditions with the overarching principle of ‘let the children set the pace’. You should therefore be aware that your demonstrated level of intimacy puts an underlying pressure on them to get along with the new partner. And this advice is particularly pertinent if you have ever worried (as all parents might) about the potential for abuse.

Having said that, I personally think there’s a case to be made–for parents of young children–to introduce prospects early on, so that the relationship doesn’t get too serious before you know what kind of interaction they will have with your children. Doing so, will help you evaluate what kind of relationship it has the potential to be. Which leads me to discuss the second argument; the unstable environment. This, to me, is a far more interesting and valid argument than any negative moralising.

Open relationships are more prone to generating change. Change equals stress. All change equals stress. If your open relationship means your child has to deal with constant change, drama, or bullying, these adverse experiences have the potential to be harmful to them. As a parent you should consider monitoring your child’s environment for changes, because all change whether positive or negative will generate stress. Some stress is good, but too much can have long lasting negative effects. If you get serious with a boyfriend and he does not get along with your husband or children, then you are more likely to suffer when the conflict of interests arise. Drama ensues, with a knock on stressful effect on your child.

You have a very young child who no doubt takes up a lot of your time. That means any prospective partner may well have more contact with your child than they would have if you were a parent of a teenager. There is a risk – if your prospective partner is not able to interact well with your child and/or your husband – that you may choose to divide your time and keep the relationship separate, thus making it appear to your children as if he is ‘taking you away’ from your family.  Children, who are born survivors and who clamour for attention, will be quick to pick this up and it will set the stage for an uncomfortable interaction in the future. They will start to resent his presence in your life, and that’s not a good outlook.

Do also bear in mind that children talk. Don’t do anything with your boyfriend in front of your children that you are not totally prepared to assume responsibility for in public. They are too young to be able to learn about privacy at this stage and the burden of keeping secrets, if you are not ‘out’, should be on your adult shoulders.

Good luck,

 Louisa