There’s a fair bit of revision here. Partly to make the post inclusive of single parents and LGBT families. But a lot because my view on this has evolved over the years. My opinion at this point is decidedly non-standard, but my approach has worked well with my family and other’s I have known. Like so much else, treating romantic relationships like any other relationship makes your kids and SOs meeting a lot simpler. Reposted 4/6/17.
Much like a single parent entering the dating scene again, how children react and respond to new SOs is a major issue for polyam folk. Of course, it’s also a secondary issue. First, you need to decide if you will be introducing your SOs to the kids.
This is very much a ’use your own judgment’ rule, but in general, you want to keep your children’s lives (regardless of how old they are) as stable as possible. So it’s important to keep in mind the difference between introducing your SO and making your SO a part of your kids’ lives.
Most of the time when people ask about “introducing” an SO to their kids, they are conflating the two. As if you would never introduce someone to your kids unless that person was going to be a major and long-term part of their lives.
I mean, you introduce a babysitter to your kids, you and the kids both know they may never see the babysitter again. If your new co-worker stops by to drop off chicken soup when you are sick, do you tell them to sneak in the back door so your kid won’t see them or do you have them come to the front door and ring the bell? If your kid answers it just say, “Oh, this is Carla from work, Carla, this is my kid.” They say polite how-do-yous and that’s it. If your company does those company family picnic things, next time your kid will at least recognize one other person there.
If you are in the closet about being polyam, don’t introduce your SO to your kids. If you aren’t in the closet and you and your SO aren’t talking entwinement, then if SO and kid happen to be in the same place, introduce them. If not, don’t worry about it.
The key here is expectations. If you are open with your kids, it’s important that they understand that not everyone you date is a potential new parent. There is a presumption in monogamy that anyone who is dating is automatically looking for a spouse. Do your kids the favor of debunking this early. It will make it easier for them to accept your relationships and easier for them when THEY are figuring out what kind of relationships they want.
“Hey, kid, you know how I’m doing the polyamory thing, right? Well, sometimes my SOs will be coming by to pick me up. I want you to know now that I’m not trying any of them out for a new/another spouse and if you meet them it doesn’t mean this is some big deal. It’s like when I introduced you to my friend Carl—someone you may see around and I want you to know who they are so you have a name to go with the face.”
Then when enbyfriend gets the time mixed up and comes half an hour early, it’s easy to say, “Oh, kid, thanks for getting the door. This is enbyfriend. I’m gonna park them in the living room while I finish getting ready. Go do your thing, okay?”
See? Introductions don’t need to be a big deal.
Okay, but let’s assume you and your SO have been in a relationship for a while, and you want to be more involved in each other’s lives. That can mean anything from wanting to share holidays to talking about moving in together. If your kid hasn’t met your SO yet you may want a more in-depth introduction.
A lot will be depending on how your family handles things and what you and your SO are looking to change. For instance, our family holidays, especially big celebration holidays like Passover, we invite a whole bunch of friends and family over to celebrate with us. While we have special family time during holidays, the main celebration is a (for us) large get together that always has room for one more. For polyam families with similar holiday traditions, inviting an SO to join the Seder or Christmas dinner is a non-threatening first meeting. The children won’t need to interact with them beyond saying ’hello’ unless they want to, the SO’s presence won’t be an intrusion, and any awkwardness gets lost in the fun and insanity of a three hour meal that involves origami frogs hopping around the table, singing songs, and pelting each other with marshmallows (or whatever your holiday traditions might be).
For another family, whose holidays tend to be private affairs, inviting a new person to a holiday celebration would be a horrible way to introduce them. It all depends on how your family handles things.
It can also depend on the child. For some children, bring your SO to your home to introduce them will make the child more comfortable – they are on their home turf. For others, it will feel like their space is being invaded. In that case, a get together at a park, a diner, or some other neutral space is a better idea.
Personally, I like the idea of having some activity to help people break the ice. A museum trip, a sports outing, whatever. But again, for some kids, a better idea is just to have them meet in a quiet place where they can talk and ask questions.
What to Say
Here, a lot depends on the child(ren)’s age, but in general, keep it simple.
Before your child(ren) and SO meet, sit down with your kids and (if you live with them) your children’s other parent/your primary partner(s). Just tell them that you are going to be introducing them to X, that X is important to you, but that it is ok is they don’t like X. Explain how your relationship with X is changing and how it will affect your child(ren). “X and I want to be more part of each other’s lives, so they are going to be coming over sometimes to hang out with me or watch movies together. I’m also going to be inviting them to our family barbecues this summer. You don’t need to talk with them if you don’t want to, but I’d like you to meet them.” Answer any questions they may have. (By now you should long ago have had the ’we are/I am polyamorous’ discussion.)
Depending on how your child(ren) tends to handle things, you can have this discussion a couple of days beforehand so they can think about it, or right before meeting your SO. You know your children best.
When you introduce them, keep it simple again. ‘Child, this is X. X, this is Child.’ Younger children generally aren’t much interested in strange adults, so you may want to mention something they have in common to help young children see your SO as a person, rather than Random Adult 1.
Take it slow, and keep it easy, let the children set their own pace. Remember that even if they have known about polyamory from a young age, they have grown up in a monogamous culture. They may be jealous on their other parent’s behalf, may feel (and resent) that the SO is taking time and attention away from them. Basically (again) everything that a divorced or single parent can face introducing an SO to their children, you might run into as well.
Introducing an SO to your children can definitely be a major step, especially if you want your SO to be a part of your family life. But with some thought and care, you can tone down the stress and pressure, and make it easier for everyone involved.
This post is part of the raising children in a polyamorous family blog series.