I got divorced a number of years ago. I’ve been going out with the same person for a few months now and things are getting serious. She and my kids haven’t met yet, but I think they should. Is there a right way and time to introduce them? What kinds of reactions can I expect from my children when I do make the introduction?

Getting the kids and the new person in your life together for the first time can often be a very stressful event for everyone involved and requires a lot of preparation. I strongly recommend waiting until you’re "serious" to introduce your girlfriend to your kids. That doesn’t mean you have to be engaged, but as long as your relationship is exclusive and committed, it’s safe. When, how, and where you set up the initial meeting is up to you, but here are a few general things to keep in mind:

  • Later is better than sooner. Make sure your children are ready–or at least as ready as they can be. If you’re a widower, your kids may need longer to adjust to being without their mother. If you’re divorced or separated, your kids may still be hoping you and your ex will get back together.
  • Shorter is better than longer. A few hours is probably enough for a first meeting. You all need time to ease into things. A week camping in the wilderness is way too long and puts way too much pressure on everyone.
  • Have a plan. Don’t just arrange for everyone to get together to hang out. Plan some activities or a short outing. And what will you do afterward? Drop your lover off? Drop your kids off?
  • Prepare your children. Tell them you want them to meet someone very special, but don’t tell them how they’re going to feel about her. Doing so puts too much pressure on them and can make them feel horribly guilty if they don’t like her right away.
  • Go easy on the physical stuff. You or your girlfriend may think that hugging and kissing each other in front of the kids will show them how much you love each other. It might, but it also might make the kids very uncomfortable, jealous, and resentful.
  • Warn her that you may be somewhat distracted. Your kids may be not be on their best behavior and you may need to devote a lot of attention to them. As a result, your girlfriend may feel jealous and left out. She may want you to reassure her that everything is okay, but that may be harder than you’d think. But try–even if that means holding her hand under the table.
  • Don’t expect perfect behavior from everyone-including yourself. Your kids may be anything from angelic to horrible and snotty and everything in between. Your lover may be friendly or aloof. And you may find yourself snapping at everyone, especially if they aren’t getting along well enough soon enough.
  • Don’t get your expectations too high. No matter how much you want it to happen, your new girlfriend and your kids probably aren’t going to be instant best friends. The purpose of the first meeting is simply to have them get to know each other a little. Best friendships take time to develop.