Meeting Your Date's Kids

Ready to introduce your sweetie to your kids—or to meet your date’s kids? Here are the tactics you need to know.

By Lisa Lombardi

n some relationships, the moment comes after a few weeks. In others, it takes months and months. But at some point, you’re ready to do the scariest thing imaginable: Let your kids meet your new significant other. “It’s so stressful,” says Emmy Horstkamp, a single mom of two from Madison, WI, who now lives in Germany. “But I try to keep stress at bay by keeping the situation as casual as possible.” (Read: No restaurants with multiple forks.)

A few ground rules will help ease the tension, adds Lisa Cohn, coauthor of One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies. One: Don’t let the
A pizza lunch makes for a great casual get-together.
kids pick the activity (they’ll never agree, and if one chooses, the others will feel slighted). Two: Don’t attempt any PDA with your significant other. Three: Do choose an outing that promises to be fun for everyone. To get you inspired, here are our picks for great meet-and-greet dates:

1. A walk in a new park
Sure, it may sound cliché, but there are good reasons why this plan jumps to mind. “In the beginning, it often helps to stay out in public,” says Cohn. “If your kids don’t feel comfortable with your date or his kids, they’ll have the option of simply playing and won’t have to interact much.” It’s also a smart idea if you’re mixing a wide age range of kids, adds Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of Diary of a Mother. “You can walk with a stroller while your boyfriend’s 8-year-old skates along,” she says. “Just make sure there’s an ice cream stand in walking distance.” Clincher? It lasts an hour, max. So your children won’t feel forced to become fast best friends with mommy’s new friend and his, um, high-energy kids.

2. A pizza lunch
Don’t overlook the power of pizza. On a purely practical level, “it’s the one food that’s universally loved, even by picky kids,” notes Hohlbaum. Also, having to figure out toppings provides a welcome icebreaker — it gives everyone something innocuous to talk about. Just don’t attempt to do that pepperoni or veggie pie over dinner: “Lunch is always better, because it’s light outside, and it’s more casual,” says Hohlbaum. Plus, since it’s early, you have the option of taking the party to a playground if everyone seems to be hitting it off.

3. Cooking
If you like to cook, why not pull out your mixing bowls and whip up a meal together? “The best dates with my boyfriend have been where we all cooked,” says Emmy Horstkamp. “I think it works out well because there is
Watching a local team’s batting practice will dazzle the kids…
interactivity between everyone, and nobody feels left out. It also puts my boyfriend at ease and lets him interact with my two daughters without any awkwardness.” It helps to stick to kid-friendly menus: Set up a taco bar and let each person assemble his or her own. Or make spaghetti and meatballs (you or he can prepare the meat ahead of time), then leave the rolling to the kids. Even little ones can get in on the act by carrying napkins to the table. And you’ll get something out of the experience, too, says Hohlbaum: “Cooking with young kids shows your boyfriend’s tolerance for chaos.” Or lack of it.

4. No-pressure sports
Leaning toward an active date, like ice skating or biking? Proceed with caution, warns Cohn. “It’s important to pick an activity that will allow everyone to feel successful,” stresses Cohn. Bowling (in mixed teams) is generally a good bet, because it’s fun and makes everyone feel klutzy. If you’d rather eliminate performance anxiety altogether, head to the nearest minor- or major-league ballpark and leave the hitting and catching to the pros. “The sights and sounds will dazzle the children,” notes Hohlbaum. And the process of cheering and consuming their weight in cotton candy together will help both sets of kids feel like they’re on the same team.

5. Charity walk
Why sign up for a walkathon? “It’s a good way to go for newbie daters meeting each other’s kids,” says Hohlbaum, “because it isn’t particularly intimate.” (Funny how 10,000 other walkers have that effect!) Shy kids may especially like this option, because marching means you don’t have to sit across a table and tell a strange grown-up how you like your teachers. One caveat: Don’t choose a cause that’s particularly close to your family or his. It would be too sad and personal to attend an event for an illness that’s affected one’s home.

The bottom line? No matter what outing you opt for, there may be one or two tense moments. But if you and he are both sensitive to your kids’ feelings, the meet-and-greet can be a true watershed moment. “I never took my son, Alexander, on a date with me before I met Vic,” recalls Laurie Sue Brockway, an interfaith minister and mom of a then 7-year-old son. “But my son and I knew Vic through our house of worship, so I knew it was safe to begin our relationship as a three-piece. The key is to do this with the right person. Five years later, we got married.”

Lisa Lombardi is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Redbook, Marie Claire and Child, among others.
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