“I’m really starting to fall for you, but I still don’t know an entire side of you – you as a parent. Your daughter is such a huge part of who you are, and I can’t truly know you until I know you as a father.”
A couple of months into our relationship, I got my wish. I met my then-boyfriend’s daughter. I was a ball of nerves, I wondered if I had made a mistake and rushed into this decision.
What if she didn’t like me? Would that mean the end of my relationship with this incredible guy? What if he didn’t parent in a way I agreed with? Would I change my mind about this whole thing if she was bratty? What if her mom didn’t like me or if she caused a lot of drama? What if she thought the activity I had planned was dumb (Am I out of touch with what’s cool?!)?
I proceeded to give myself a pep talk… and to call my mom. My stomach was in knots and I was a nervous wreck, but I put my brave face on and ended up thoroughly enjoying my first meeting with my now-stepdaughter. But that didn’t happen by chance. My boyfriend and I were very intentional about every part of our plan for that night.
Tips for Meeting Your Partner’s Children for the First Time
Get the timing right.
Do not meet the kids if you’ve only dated for a couple of weeks – that’s not appropriate. Your partner can’t (shouldn’t) introduce their children to someone they don’t know is in it for the long haul. Your relationship hasn’t been tested in the first month; you don’t truly know each other.
When dating a single parent, you must think about the children also; them meeting many new partners is not a healthy option. Give it time, and then when you know it’s a relationship that has been tested and you’ve built trust, developed a strong foundation, and have gotten that first inkling of love, start planning.
I’m not sure there’s an exact timeline for the waiting period but give it at least 2 months of steadily, exclusively dating before you meet the children. And make sure you’re both on the same page about what this step means and the expectations for your relationship afterwards. You don’t have to have all the answers yet, but it’s a big step for a lot of people – you, your partner, their kids, (even the ex!) – so plan accordingly.
Make introductions as a friend.
Heaven-forbid something happens and your relationship doesn’t last – you want to try to spare the kids. Friendships fade all of the time (unfortunately) so it would be less alarming to the kids if a friend stopped coming around as often. However, if you’re known as the girlfriend, there’s a lot more pressure for a relationship to form quickly. It’s natural for that kind of title to be much higher on the child’s radar than a simple friendship.
An added bonus for the child and for your partner is that the child will be more willing to provide honest feedback on a friend than a girlfriend. When it’s something or someone we really care about, our kids are in tune with that and will tell us what we want to hear. If the child really doesn’t like you or feels uncomfortable, she should be empowered to say as much. It’s only fair to her. And gives you the opportunity to work on certain areas (if you want!).
Meet in a neutral environment.
Don’t meet at their home or yours. Meeting at the home your partner shares with their child can send a message of intimacy that is directly contradictory to the “friend” designation. While you want your partner’s child to feel at ease, she may feel protective of her home or hide behind the comfortable atmosphere to avoid the unknown (you!).
You also don’t want to invite the child into your home – depending on their ages, that can be really scary for children! If the place is completely foreign to the kids but super familiar to you, then that puts the children in a power imposition. Even if they can’t put it in those words, kids can feel the shift and can get really uncomfortable.
Choose to meet somewhere neutral instead and put everyone on an even playing field.
Try something fun or relaxing.
My boyfriend and I opted for a trampoline park for our first play date with his daughter. We were able to spend time getting to know each other’s personalities without the added pressure of keeping a conversation going.
While we were there, we ended up playing school, and she of course wanted to be the teacher. We had a great time just playing. I was able to ask her questions casually and get to know her better, but it enabled us to bond in a much more relaxed environment.
Keep it short and sweet.
It’s been said there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, but trust me, you’ll want to start out with short meetings and ultimately progress to spending more time with each other. It’s better for both you and your partner’s child.
There are lots of different factors for this suggestion, but to cover a few –
First, younger children can get a little too comfortable. Case in point, on our first play date, my boyfriend’s daughter requested my assistance wiping her bottom after using the restroom. That alone could be enough to send some women who aren’t actually ready for motherhood running for the hills.
Second, it could be overwhelming to the child to hang out with someone new. There’s natural pressure on them (whether intentional or not) to act polite and be on their best manners. Limiting the experience to a couple of hours will help everyone show up better.
Third, kids have a short attention span. Play dates in general last a couple hours tops. And this “casual hang” shouldn’t be any different. It would likely send off alarm bells if you hung out too long.
Save the handholding and pet names for later.
Remember, you and your significant other are “just friends”. No holding hands or calling each other “Babe,” “Baby,” “Lovebug”, or “Tushy Buns”. Don’t do anything on the play date that could cause your partner’s child to feel uncomfortable!
This part was really hard for me. My boyfriend and I held hands all the time, had our arms around each other when we stood, and kissed… a lot. But none of that could happen when we were around his daughter.
At least not until she and I had built a really strong relationship (and then his brother accidentally called me his girlfriend and spilled the beans… but that’s a story for another day!).
Why I Care So Much About the First Meeting: Horror Stories
I care so much about making the first meeting perfect because it matters. I’ve heard countless stories of women dating someone with kids and referring to feelings of love, futures that will last forever, and intense butterflies… that ended after the first meeting with the kids.
It’s certainly true that some women just aren’t ready for stepmotherhood. It’s difficult, I get it. But I have noticed that many women of the stories of these first meetings made some of the mistakes I warned against in this list. The meeting lasted too long, and the child got fussy – something a single woman who hasn’t been around children isn’t prepared for! Or there was the play date the family tried to host at their house, and his daughter hid in her room the entire time. Or she met her partner’s teenaged kids in a quiet ice cream parlor with nothing to do but talk…eek!
For this event, every decision matters and there are so many factors to consider. Trust your partner to know what’s best for their kids, but feel free to share your thoughts as well. After all, if you’re not comfortable, the kids won’t be either!
I’d like to end by saying, there’s no need to stress yourself out. Plan the first meeting as a relaxing, fun day date, and enjoy yourself! Get excited that you’re meeting your partner’s children for the first time (it’s a good thing!) – don’t let it overwhelm you. It’s going to be okay!
The fairy tale stories where you have a great first play date and then subsequently better dates each time after do exist – I’m living proof!
I believe in you,
P.S. Are you ready to meet the ex-wife for the first time?