You have had a marriage end. You have taken the time you needed to dust yourself off and move forward with your life. You have your own place, your own schedule mixing time with your kids and being alone. You have your own life. You are ready to move forward with that life and try your hand at dating again. You meet someone great and hit it off right off the bat. When and how do you introduce your kids to the dating process?
This is one of those divorced life rites of passage we all have to go through. It is nerve racking and not easy for anyone involved, and I must preface this by saying this post is not to be taken as advice, rather simply put, one woman's experience with the situation. I really wish there was a user manual to help maneuver through this aspect, but with the ever present "if this than that" shift in reality on a minute by minute when it comes to having kids, a manual would be very difficult to draft and maintain.
Have you talked to your ex about dating and establishing boundaries and how to bring the children into the know of the situation? While the ex doesn't have a choice on WHO you choose to date, they should be given the respect of the heads up that a new person will be around the children; and if you are on that level, the respect to meet the new boy/girlfriend. Once again, not because they have a choice in who you will date, or will be given the opportunity to "approve" the new relationship. That is not their place. Their place as a parent is to make sure the best interest of the child is always upheld. If you are at a place with your ex to where coffee with the new person is an option, I highly recommend it. It truly allows the new person to say "Hi, I'm not a serial killer, and I am not here to step on your parenting toes."
Having the discussion with your child letting them know that you are in fact dating is vital prior to introducing them to the new person in your life. That seems like common sense, however I have seen it happen all too often that the child is surprised not only to hear that mom/dad has someone new in their life but BAM here they are! Shake hands and get used to it.
The conversation should start prior to the day of meeting, if you are truly ready for the introduction, it should be a build-up. The child should be aware that you not only are dating and what that means, but that you are in fact dating just one special person.
The worst possible scenario is that a child is the one to expose the new boy/girlfriend to the ex-spouse. Imagine being in those shoes, just going on about your day when out of the mouth of babes.... "I met "Jane New" today Mom!" It would be hard for any mother not to react negatively to finding out their ex is dating and has introduced the child into the situation, from the child. Regardless of the level you are at with your spouse, you should always maintain the respect enough to keep in mind what is best for the child. If the child thinks he/she is just explaining their experience with the other parent and all of the sudden Mom starts acting weird or negatively, the child is going to feel as they have done something wrong and that is not what is best for the child.
Instead, if both parties are involved, when the child does talk about the new boy/girlfriend, the shock factor has already been taken away and the parent can react accordingly.
There is no magic timeline on when this introduction should happen, as much as we would like guidelines and outlines, they just don't exist. To quote Jane Austen, "Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others." Taking the leap to introduce children into a new relationship is not one to be taken blindly. There are many preparations that need to be made; more than the when and where easy part.
The majority of planning comes down to communication. Communication with your child, your ex-spouse, and your new love interest. Communication that all focuses on what is best for the child involved. The adults need to know how to put their opinions and drama in check to ensure the child is aware that this is actually happening, and it is a good thing.
Breaking up is messy. Divorce is hell. Co-parenting can be as awesome as you allow it to be.