You've recently met someone whose company you enjoy; the two of you seem compatible. You want to include him in all aspects of your life, including your family life. You would like to meet his kids and vice versa but wonder if the time is right. How do you decide--and how do you handle the questions that children often ask about your single life?
For many singles, it can be tricky to balance parent, child and the person they are dating.
Ed Reder, founder and president of a county singles club, does not always feel comfortable introducing his 15-year-old daughter to his dates.
"I think it can scare off not only my date but my daughter," he says. "If a woman and I hit it off, there will be opportunities later on for introductions."
As for casual introductions, "if I go to pick up a date and she introduces me to her child, that's fine, but if she is too eager to involve her kids in our activities right away, I feel uncomfortable."
Linda Carty, who sells real estate investments and lives in Rancho Santa Margarita with her 9-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, has been divorced nearly three years. At first she was apprehensive about introducing dates to her children.
"I was uncomfortable because the kids were," she says. "But now, if I know a lot about the man, I'll introduce them. But when it comes to including him in our social activities, I wait until I know him a lot better."
James Taylor, 32, is an Irvine-based salesman, divorced six years. During his three years in the county, he has introduced his 11-year-old son to very few of his dates.
"I have been seeing someone special for about six months, but until I knew how we felt about each other, I didn't involve my son in our relationship," he says.
He believes that it is vital to know how the other person views certain things before involving the children: "I have to know how this person feels about many different issues: children, divorce, remarriage. I have to know about her character before I involve my son."
Linda Morvant, 35, who lives in Laguna Hills with her 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, has been separated for three years. "I haven't been ready for a big-time relationship," she says, "so most everyone I've dated I've approached as friendships."
Her son is very receptive to her dating. "His father is contemplating remarriage, so he wants me to have someone too. He's always got ideas about who would be good for Mom," she says, laughing.
John Flannery, 34, owns a printing company and lives in Laguna Niguel, where he spends nearly every weekend with his 4-year-old son. "He meets nearly every woman I date," Flannery says. "He enjoys their company, and they enjoy him. It's healthy. Most of them have kids of their own, and it's good to see them socializing with each other."
Flannery says it's not a major problem for his son when the relationship does not work out: "My son is at an age where these things don't leave a lasting impression. For example, one time I dated a woman with a child, and our kids became friends. When we stopped seeing each other, David missed the kid for a short time. But kids his age are very resilient, and I would rather he had the experience than not to have had it. I think overall it has been a very positive thing for him."
How do these single parents answer the ticklish questions that children ask about their dating lives?
When Taylor's son wanted to know if his parents were going to get back together, "I just told him the truth," Taylor says, "that I understood how he felt, but that, bottom line, it was never going to happen. Then I went on with my life.
"I included him as often as possible until he became more secure about me as a single father."
Morvant handled the same situation by letting her daughter know "that I understood exactly how she felt because I really did--after all, I was hoping at one point that we would reconcile too. Validating someone else's feelings doesn't mean things are going to change; it's just a way of letting someone know they matter to you."
Carty recalls her daughter's questions about dating. "She was 8 or 9 and wanted to know why I had to go out at night," she says. "I explained that a child usually sees their friends after school, during the day, but that parents work so they have to see their friends usually at night. It was a simple explanation, but it seemed to satisfy her."
Morvant agrees that simple explanations are best: "When I decided to start dating, I knew my daughter had some apprehension, so I just told her that I had met a friend and that we were going to have dinner together to see if we wanted to keep being friends. I said, 'I may go out with him again or someone else. I need to make new friends now. You may be with a baby-sitter sometimes.'
"The more platonic it looks to a child, the better for them, I think."