I am often asked as a child psychologist, “How long should a parent wait before having their child meet a new significant other?”
In speaking from the perspective of a child psychologist who has been working with kids dealing with divorce for many years, here are my thoughts:
1) Kids need time to adjust to the separation and divorce situation. They have a lot of different emotions they are going through. They need both parents to be present for them to help them understand and adjust to their new situation.
2) Parents need time to work through the legal and emotional aspects of a divorce. They are doing themselves a disservice if they too quickly begin dating someone else. The research says that it takes 1-2 years for an adult, whether the one who choose to end the relationship, or the one who may have not had a choice, to heal, understand, and grow the ending of the relationship.
3) If the kids are now seeing each parent ½ of the time, this is a loss for them. If there is then another adult involved in their life, they are actually losing more quality 1/1 time with that parent.
4) When a parent starts dating another person and the child is exposed to this relationship, it is very confusing for them. They don’t know if they are betraying the other parent by not liking them, or by liking them and enjoying spending time with them. They aren’t sure what to call them. It also creates feelings of JEALOUSY and ANGER/ RESENTMENT because in their perception, they have picked that adult over them, or over the other parent. This put the child in an emotional conflict.
5) When kids are struggling emotionally, they tend to either keep it in, which hurts their self-esteem and may cause health and sleep problems. Other kids will act out. They may choose to act it out at home toward to other adult, toward the parent who is dating, or towards the parent at the other house. They may have a decline at school, or regress to behaviors they did when they were younger. They tend to also get CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE of the parents conflict, which has been shown to be one of the most harmful things that can happen to kids.
6) If a parent does choose to date someone else, there is nothing wrong with this. I encourage them to work through their divorce issues, and when healthy and ready to date, DO THIS ON THEIR OWN ADULT TIME. You have built in time now when you don’t have your kids, use this time to do adult stuff, work extra hours so you have more time with the kids, do errands so you can spend quality time with the kids, date others and do adult outings, build your adult support system.
1) Don’t have a child meet a significant other for 6 months to a year after the legal divorce.
2) When it is clear that the relationship is strong and going to make it long term, slowly being to spend a bit of time with the child. Don’t overdo it, and perhaps make it their choice depending on their age.
3) BEFORE having the kid meet the other adult, it is polite and courteous to let the other biological parent know you will be doing this. Then they are not caught off guard when the kid starts talking about their weekend with the other adult/ and their kids.
4) Watch for warning signs that the child is not ready for these meetings. Increased jealousy, anger, emotionality, trouble at school, and especially becoming very clingy and anxious when not around the parent.
5) Build and continue to develop collaborative parenting. With young kids, you have a lot of years left of having to discuss and deal with your children. Learn to work together and keep your kids as your number 1 priority.
Dr. Steven Lazarus is a child psychologist in Littleton, Colorado. He has a specialty in working with children and parents before, during, and after divorce.