I’m a straight man in my late 30s, and dating a woman with a child — first time for me. It’s been a few months now and things are going well. I asked her to be “exclusive” with me, which she agreed to, and we see each other once a week, the night that her ex has the kiddo. The thing is, I’d like to see her more often, and for our relationship to progress to a deeper level. The standard advice is to “wait six months” before introducing a dating partner to one’s children, but I’d like to be more involved in her life and to meet her daughter. Can I ask her? Is it rude to do so? If we break up will this hurt the child in some way? I’ll wait if I have to but I’m wondering if there’s another way. — Seeking The Expedited Path
I’ve never been a fan of arbitrary time stamps — “Wait three days to call him;” “Don’t move in until you’ve been together two years;” “Target’s return policy is 90 days, Ms. Pulley. Stop calling us.”
That said, I’m not a parent, so I called in reinforcements — the first being my girlfriend Vika, who has two children and has been dating with kids for the last five years. “Is it rude to ask?” she says. “No. In fact, it would probably mean a lot to her if he showed interest in meeting her kids. Also, if the girlfriend’s child has met other adults in the girlfriend’s life — friends, acquaintances, au pairs/nannies, co-workers, etc. — then the daughter has already encountered meeting new people, so knows that it’s common. Why not a romantic partner?”
Like you, Vika agrees that six months does seem like an arbitrary amount of time, though every parent is going to have different rules and levels of comfort when introducing a romantic partner. Vika does caution people against introducing a new paramour as, “This is Steve, your new dad!” She also says that the parent should trust the romantic partner and feel comfortable enough to have introduced them to other people in their life, such as friends, colleagues, etc. Ultimately, it’s your girlfriend’s decision, but I’d encourage you to ask for what you want, because as we all know, NOT asking is a surefire way to get nothing.
Another friend and mom, Jami, says, “I held hard and fast to the (six month) rule and it mostly served me well … But when I met my now husband (coming up on EIGHT years married and 10 together), I wanted him to meet my son after we had been dating for two months. But we both knew very early on that this was it for us — it was a forever kind of thing.”
Mark, whose daughter is 14, says he doesn’t wait to introduce romantic partners, because he wants to include his daughter in his life — love life included.
There are, of course, some good reasons why your girlfriend might say no even if she likes you a great deal and is invested in your relationship. Vika says if the breakup between your girlfriend and her daughter’s other parent is fresh or rocky, it’s probably not a good time for introductions. “Make sure the child is in an emotionally stable place. Ask how she is coping with the previous breakup. If a child is having difficulties, if there’ve been recent upheavals or a lot of change in her life lately, then she might have a hard time seeing her mom with anyone new.”
Patrick, another parent, agrees: “I think a lot depends on where the child is emotionally. If they are still upset about a divorce, make sure it’s a strong connection before you make introductions.”
And what if you meet the daughter and then later break up? Will it hurt the child to form a bond with someone new only to sever it? On this parents I reached out to were quite divided. Some wait even up to a year because they do not want their child to get attached, and others, like Jim, say, “Yes, kids may attach, especially younger ones who have lost their mother. But people come in and out of our lives all the time. Moreover, would you apply the same rule to a new nonromantic friend of either gender, keep them from meeting your child for at least six months? Not take your kid to any group event until you’d known everyone for at least six months? Of course not.”
Wanting to prevent heartbreak or loss in a child is admirable, of course, but waiting six months doesn’t necessarily prevent that. You could wait a year to introduce someone, date them for years, then break up, which might still have a devastating effect on the child.
Vika says that kids often form bonds that aren’t forever. “It already happens all the time, with teachers, who the child never sees again after one year, or summer camp counselors, or peers who move away or go to new schools, or grandparents who might not live nearby or who have died, and so on. It’s a part of life.”
While the consensus was divided, all the parents did agree that the child’s best interest should be put first.
Shorter: Do ask to meet them, but know that the choice is hers, that she might have reasons for waiting that have nothing to do with you, and she’ll introduce you when it feels right.
Good luck, STEP.
(Anna Pulley is a columnist answering reader questions about love, sex and dating. Send your quandary via email to email@example.com