Q: I am very serious with my current boyfriend who is legally separated, but not officially divorced. We love each other very much and practically live together. His two children do not know about me yet (they are two girls, ages 7 and 13). When they come over to spend time with their dad, I have to pack up my clothes and split. I understand.
We want to eventually tell them about our relationship. He keeps saying that when he does introduce me, he’ll refer to me as a friend (who is with him, by the way). He thinks the 7-year-old will buy the “friend” story and the 13-year-old will figure it out. I think that if we are going to introduce me at all, we should be up front and honest.
When is it the right time to tell children? How should you introduce a new significant other? Right now, I’m sick of waiting until the day off to find out I have to pack up my stuff and disappear. When should I tell him that he needs to come clean about me or I’m splitting? I want to protect his children too, so I understand why he hasn’t said anything.
He is not ashamed of me. I have met his mother and siblings, as well as some of his friends. And he has met my parents and many of my friends, as well.
A: I’m really impressed. You two are putting the needs of the children before your own comfort. That speaks well for you both. I don’t have a definitive answer to your questions, of course, but I can offer an opinion based on years of working with divorced and blended families.
First, I agree that it’s important to be honest with children. It’s true that the older one will figure things out. But why should she have to wonder and put it together on her own? Why should she have to worry about whether it’s okay to let you know that she knows? The younger one will buy the story but when the truth comes out may well feel betrayed. Both will wonder why you found it necessary to lie to them. Both will worry that there are other things you aren’t telling them. It’s not a good foundation for a loving relationship with them.
The time to introduce you to his children is when you two decide that your relationship is a permanent thing. Kids, especially young kids, love easily. If they meet you and know you are important to their dad, the 7 year old will probably try to be your friend. The older girl is likely to be a harder sell but if she does accept you, it’s a big deal. If it then doesn’t work out between you and your boyfriend, the girls will once again have to deal with the break up of a “family” and feelings of loss. They’ve already been through that. In my opinion, it’s not fair for adults to do that repeatedly to kids. After a few such break-ups, they become wary and distrustful. It gets harder and harder for them to accept a new person into their hearts. Even more important, it makes it harder for them to believe in relationships. This often has a negative impact on a kid’s ability to make a good relationship when she (or he) becomes a young adult.
I know this may be hard to hear when you are in love and wanting to move forward. But you are an adult and the kids are kids. It’s far better for you to be inconvenienced by having to “disappear” when the kids come than for the kids to have to deal with an unsettled relationship.
You seem to be more ready than he is to move forward. He isn’t yet divorced. You want to be part of his family. On the other hand, he has introduced you to his mom and friends and he has met your family. I think the argument about meeting the kids is distracting the two of you from a much more important and perhaps anxiety-laden issue. The two of you need to be focussing on what is getting in the way of your own relationship moving toward commitment. Once you’ve settled your relationship, meeting the children will be a natural next step.
I wish you well.