CHILDREN need structure, and so it's the view of many experts that you shouldn't introduce a new guy to your kids until things are pretty serious. After all, you don't want the kids to think a revolving door of uncles sharing your bed is normal behaviour, even though you may believe in playing the field until your new Mr Right comes along.
Child psychologist Camille Lemonious says it's not a healthy scenario to have various partners coming around your kids and to keep changing the scene around them on a regular basis. This she compares to the child changing teachers or caregivers at various points in the school year, which makes for an unnerving situation for the child who needs structure.
So when do you do the introductions?
First, Lemonious says, make sure that the relationship is serious.
"You have to first decide that this is a serious, serious relationship," she says. "And you have to be very, very certain about that to a great degree, and that you are not going to introduce somebody else in another year's time or another two years or anything like that."
Of course this does not mean that you shouldn't introduce male friends to your children, but if it's going to be a situation where it's obvious to the child that you are romantically involved with these 'friends', hold off the introductions.
Lemonious says whether it's a dad introducing his new girlfriend or a mom introducing her new boyfriend, certain questions should have already been asked in relation to how they feel about children, and observations made of the spouse in situations where they have been with children.
"Unfortunately, in our environment, sometimes I think adults don't take their children's real concerns into consideration when they are getting into a relationship," Lemonious says. "They just say, 'oh, I'm in love with this guy so they're just going to have to work with it', and they don't take their children's feelings into perspective or allow the children to warm up and get to know the person. They don't give them the time that they need. But it is very important that children get the time they need and that they can be comfortable, because it's a new family."
She says parents may need to wait and hold off on the relationship in the best interests of their children if the children are not accommodating to the new spouse.
Also, ensure that you:
1. Do background checks. "You have to be certain this is not somebody who is going to come in and harm your kids because you hear the different stories and various atrocities everyday as it relates to children," Lemonious says. "So you need to ensure that you have done all your checks. Check his background, family, friends, etc, and make sure that there are no red flags that you haven't seen or dealt with."
2. Sit with your kids. "Sit down with your kids and explain to them that mommy has found somebody who is very interested in her who would like to be a part of the family," the psychologist says. "Tell them that it is very important to you that they get to meet him also. Because if they are going to be a family, which is what the woman may be thinking, it should be important that the kids are also happy and comfortable with the person. So call the kids together, sit down with them and talk about it."
3. Invite him over to dinner. "Invite him over to dinner so the children can get a chance to meet him, talk with him and ask him questions," Lemonious says. "Or you can plan some time out with them (children and boyfriend), for instance going to the beach, or doing other things together as a family as an opportunity to really meet him so that everybody is relatively comfortable with each other."
4. Don't allow sleepovers. Don't allow sleepovers until after marriage, if you can. Sure he may be your new, serious guy, but you still want your child to learn that romance should be within the confines of a secure, long-lasting union.
5. Cut down on the excessive shows of affection. If you realise that your child is uncomfortable with the new mate hugging or kissing you in front of them, cut it out. Focus your attention on the child's needs and let the child see that you can be friends with your new mate, without constant PDA.
Remember, children need stability and structure and are very territorial. A child who is used to just mummy will probably resent the intrusion from a new daddy, especially if he/she adores the biological dad. Don't force the child to love the new spouse, take things slowly. If your new spouse is worthy, he will understand the need to allow the child to come to terms with the new family arrangement at his/her own pace.