Living Columns & Blogs

Carolyn Hax: Widow is dating again; how and when to tell her preteen sons?

DEAR CAROLYN: I am a widow with two boys, ages 8 and 10. My husband died 10 months ago. I started dating about five months ago, a fact I have not shared with my in-laws or children. A counselor advised that if I meet someone special, I should wait six months to introduce him to the boys.

I have met someone special and we have been dating for two months.

I will wait the six months to introduce him, but what course should I take to properly bring this man fully into the family?

My thought was to wait until after the anniversary of my late husband’s death to say that I am dating – let them get used to that – and then later introduce. I know I cannot control the outcome, but I want to set the situation up for success as much as I can.

Hopeful But Scared

DEAR HOPEFUL: What a terrible time for you and your family, I’m sorry. Good for you for finding yourself some happiness, and for being so thoughtful in handling it.

I do think, though, your announcement plans come from too adult a perspective. Adults tend to want information straight up, with time to adjust. That’s what you’re proposing here for your boys.

Kids, though, often aren’t far enough along in their understanding to process a full information drop. What is your 8-year-old, after all, to make of “I’m dating,” whatever that means? You can spell it out, that you’re … going out to dinner and shows with men because you enjoy their companionship? Meeting men with the hope of eventually getting married again? Feeling ready to share your life with someone again? But that adds a lot of explaining to an already loaded cart.

Not that there’s anything wrong with these things in their purpose or phrasing – in conversation with a peer or a mature teen. For 8 and 10, it sounds like TMI.

Even if they’re at a deeper level of comprehension than I’ve granted them, you don’t have to anticipate that in your words. Kids reveal in their questions what they’re ready to hear (“Is this your boyfriend?”) so not just now, but also anytime you’re in doubt, you can simply give them the most basic facts (“I like him … we’ll see”). Wait for any follow-up questions, repeat as needed.

As for introducing him to your kids, please don’t label him a boyfriend unless they’re already on to you. Think instead how your kids have gotten to know your friends: “This is my friend Kate.” Kate comes over sometimes, and talks to your kids in the course of doing things with your family and others, and your boys get to know her without giving half a thought to what Kate means. It’s the un-self-conscious business of adults being adults. Perfect.

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