Q.My adult kids think everyone I spend time with is a potential partner. No matter if I am just meeting a new male friend from my hiking group for coffee, they think it’s my next big romance, and the introductions become very awkward. I reassure them that it’s nothing, but they don’t seem to accept it. A good friend’s wife passed away three months ago. His family is stationed out of the country, and this will be his first Thanksgiving alone. I mentioned that I would like to invite him for Thanksgiving dinner and my oldest daughter had a fit. She automatically assumed he’s my new guy and does not want him sitting at our table so soon. My thoughts are we are supposed to reach out to our friends and loved ones on a holiday like Thanksgiving. But she will have none of it. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Most family holidays are steeped in tradition, and many family members, particularly adult children, like to keep it that way — especially after a parental breakup when family members cling to the way it used to be and long for a sense of unity. However, without the proper preparation, the kids (of all ages) are inclined to see their parents’ new partners as interlopers and simply resent that they are being included in their holiday without knowing them well enough to attend. Bottom line, moving too quickly could interfere with the potential bond between a new partner and your children. That’s why timing for introductions is so important.
For this reason, my advice is usually don’t introduce new partners the first time on a holiday. But this gentleman is not a potential partner. Your kids just think he might be. I’m wondering if this is a misconception, or could it be your dating boundaries have not been that clear in the past? If you do want to include him, you must be transparent in your intent. Be succinct when you speak of the invitation and clarify the difference between dating someone and reaching out to a friend. Allowing your dating boundaries to blur will confuse everyone.
Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule #1, “Put the children first,” does not mean to allow your children to dictate policy. It means we remove our self-interests and make decisions when co-parenting with the children’s best interest in mind. Your children are adults, and this situation is proof that teachable moments don’t stop when the kids reach adulthood. Inviting someone to share a holiday dinner under the circumstances you described is a lovely gesture and should not be confused with anything else. Although I’m sure your kids know this, they must clearly hear it from you. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.
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