Q: I was married for 13 years and have been separated for a year. I have two kids, ages 9 and 12. I have met someone I like — finally — but have only dated her once. We are both very busy and have not been able to arrange another date, but I know this relationship has potential.
My kids have seen me texting her and have asked what’s going on. I’m wondering when I should tell my kids about her and when they should meet. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: There are quite a few red flags in your question.
First red flag: You are not divorced. Now, I know all sorts of people date before their divorce is final, but it has been my experience that people who merely separate and do not finalize the divorce — even for a year or more — are in that predicament for a reason. Most attempt reconciliation at least once — so even though you want to be involved with someone romantically, it may be too soon.
Second red flag: Even considering telling your kids that you are seeing someone after one date. Even if you see the potential, it’s all speculation at this point and discussing potential with a 9- and 12-year-old is not good ex-etiquette. It will not make them feel safe and secure.
If they are like every other 9- and 12-year-old I have worked with, they are still holding out that Mommy and Daddy will go back together. Talk about this woman too soon, and you will break their heart, plus you are potentially sabotaging your children’s relationship with your girlfriend and setting up your co-parenting relationship with mom for failure.
Third red flag: That the kids know you are dating and their mother does not. If you truly see potential in this relationship, the one who needs the head’s up is mom. That way when the kids come home with the news of your girlfriend, their mother can say, “Yes, honey, your dad and I talked about this” and support the relationship positively in front of the children.
If you are afraid to tell your ex, that’s the fourth red flag. There’s unfinished business — which brings us back to the first red flag (you are not divorced). All this is very bad ex-etiquette.
What do I suggest? If you and mom have decided to date others, share that information with each other. My clients often question this suggestion at first until I explain that there are no secrets when you successfully co-parent.
If you think there will be privacy now that you have broken-up, you are sorely mistaken. Your kids will go back and forth between homes and tell the other parent exactly what’s going on. If you tell them not to tell, you are asking your child to lie to their other parent. You are also asking your child not to talk about half their life. “Keep your life with me a secret” is emotionally abusive.
So, congratulations on finding someone you like, but if you’re not ready to share this with the world, date her on your down time until you definitely know where it is going.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” and founder of bonusfamilies.com.