Can I Have A Sleep-Over With My Boyfriend?

Dear Mamas,
I am a divorced mother with young children and want to date. Is that a good or bad idea? Do I have to wait till they grow up or can I just go for it now? I’m lonely and want to find a new relationship.

You might know this mama. You might be this mama. You’ve definitely heard about this mama. It’s 2013 after all, and divorce and single-parenthood are as common as Cheerios stuck to the bottom of the diaper bag. It happens. And mommy going out on romantic dates happens right along with it.

The funny thing is, we don’t actually hear alot about that. People are certainly doing it, but many are a little uncomfortable about the whole business and have a lot of questions about the do’s and don’ts of single-parent dating. Rather than responding to each one separately, I’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions about divorce and dating and will address them together.

For the most part, these answers will work for single-parents in general, whether divorced, widowed, or raising a child alone by choice. Whatever the circumstances, the impact on your child will have many of the same effects.

So what exactly are the rules here? Is it okay? Will it damage my kids?  Should I introduce my dates to my kids? What should they call him? What if they don’t like him? Can he sleep over?

These are confounding questions because as a culture, we don’t have a long history with single parenthood resulting from divorce. In less than two generations it has gone from being a relatively rare occurence surrounded by shame and stigma, to one that is very common and socially acceptable by most folks.

But even so, there isn’t a lot of information out there that tells you how to go about it with your child’s best interests at heart.

The main things to keep in mind if you find yourself in this boat are:

  • Children take the idea of your dating very seriously and can feel very threatened by it. Divorce, although sometimes necessary, is an extremely challenging event for kids to negotiate and they often have secret fantasies that you and your ex will reunite. So even if you are looking at your date as no big deal, chances are they won’t be. They won’t be keen on sharing you with someone else and may see your date as someone who can unbalance family life even more.
  • On the other hand, they may be dying to have a male presence in their life. They may have a romantic dream that some wonderful man will step in and be the father they never had. So they may make an enthusiastic, emotional attachment to the new guy that could put them at risk for further pain and loss if the relationship doesn’t work out and he goes away.
  • When children have to deal with a parade of new boyfriends, they may lose trust in the idea that a loving, committed relationship can last between adults. This can interfere with their ability to form strong relationships of their own as they grow up. It can also interfere with their ability to trust that it’s safe to bond with other adults who come into their lives.
  • When boyfriends spend the night, it often causes considerable anxiety for children. They need to know who lives at home with them and which adults are real members of their family. And the closed bedroom door can be confusing and anxiety-provoking for them. It can leave them feeling that their own needs are being tossed to the side and that you will not be available if they need you.
  • By school age, that closed bedroom door will also put the whole idea of you having sex front and center in their minds. This can create feelings of embarrasment and discomfort that are difficult for them to deal with.

Despite all the potential land mines that can show up as you begin to date, that’s not to say it can’t be done responsibly and successfully. It can — and it’s not necessary, or even healthy, to put your own life on hold until your kids are grown. But it’s critical to remember that your children may not be thrilled by it. Given that, there are some basic guidelines you can follow that will make it easier for them to handle.

To minimize their discomfort and to protect them from possible hurt and disillusionment, keep your dating low-key and off-their-radar until you find someone you are serious about and the relationship is on solid ground.

At that point, you can slowly introduce him into your child’s life, a little at a time. Give your child plenty of time to get used to the idea that there is a new man in your life so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed, threatened, or invaded. And reassure her that she is not losing you by continuing to spend lots of quality time alone with her, minus the boyfriend.

Don’t confuse your child by introducing your boyfriend or date as “uncle” this or that. She has a right to know who is and is not part of the family. Friends are one thing, family is another, and to kids, knowing who belongs is really important. She needs to see you demonstrate that although friends may come and go, family is forever.

And finally, skip the overnights completely unless your child is out of the house, spending the night with her father, a friend or another family member. Why add unnecessary stress, confusion and anxiety to your child’s life when you don’t need to?

Anyway, you’re likely to be more relaxed and have a lot more fun if you don’t have to worry about middle-of-the-night stomach aches, bad dreams, or curious children.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.


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3 responses to “Can I Have A Sleep-Over With My Boyfriend?”

  1. Sheila Cat

    My brother has been married for 8 years to an verbal/emotionally damaging women. My brother had been a good provider and wonderful father. In these 8 years the wife has had an abortion (without my brothers knowledge), 3 affairs that he knows of, 3 restraining orders and 1 current protection order placed on him based on lies. Her current boyfriend just got out of jail in March 2010 for making and selling Meth and is currently in the home with his daughters. She has moved her girls in and out of 6 homes in the past 6 years and in and out of schools. Her parents have money and her mother pays for all her changes in wants and her daughter is never wrong in her eyes. When she sends the girls for visitation (my brother meets at a Police station for his own protection) she sends them with old clothes that don’t match, dirty shoes and nothing personal from home that they want to show their Dad or bring for security. When he called me to tell me this I was sad for the girls and him and knew he would be at my home in an hour and a half. So, I went out and bought new swimsuits, new clothes, brushes and all the pretty girl things I could get my hands on. He said as the soon to be ex walked backed to the car she yelled out “You will need to feed them” as loud as she could. I am worried for these girls and this mother is creating problems. I gave the girls pink lip gloss and I saw the youngest hide in and then she took it out and said you keep it, Mommy will get mad and take it. I am looking for support and my story is so long. It seems like the system does not care about the kids, the process is too long (every day away from a child makes life a sad place to be). Dads love their children and in some cases are probably the better choice as the fulltime parent. Women are hurtful and only want to see the Dad’s suffer at the expense of the children. Children are smart, they see this and it chips away at who they really are. Everything seems to be Polital and all about money. False claims are made and never need to be proven and Fathers are labeled for life and their children taken out of their homes. My brother had moved his family to the West Coast of Florida until he could find work and transfer over there. He was working P/T and in 2 months she took the car away, had a boyfriend, filed for divorce and she and the boyfriend drove over to the East Coast, broke into his storage unit and took everything he owned. Even taking the personal things my Mom gave him when he was younger. This woman is sick and is hurting these children. Please, please lead me in the direct of hope and offer any advise. It has only been 6 weeks and it feels like a lifetime. I am worried for my brother and wonder what keeps him going in this world. AND, this is the 2nd time this has happend in his life. He has 2 boys that he seen 1 time in 14 years. The first girlfriend did the SAME, EXACT THINGS. Women are working the system, costing everyone but themselves and destroying families and don’t care. We are glad he is finally away from her, but, now he is away from his girls. His girls are the reason he stayed for all of these years. She also has a 10 year old Son that she has done the same thing to. However, she gave up custody to be able to move to Florida recently. She has left each father homeless, broke, and taken their children. Our Justice System is broken and no one seems to care. I have so much more to ask. Time is ticking. Please help! Sheila

  2. Do Your Kids Hate Your Boyfriend?

    […] or not. If he is this may all be even trickier. You may need some counseling to sort it all out. Take a look at a post I wrote about the difficulties that can surround single-parent dating to get a better handle on some of the issues that come up and how you can deal with […]

  3. Concerned MN Dad

    My ex-wife says it’s ok to have sleepovers with her boyfriend when she has the children. The children have been around him a half dozen times or so in the last 2 1/2 months. Our boys are 11 and 13 years old and our daughter is 15. My ex and I only live about 5 miles apart. I’ve told her numerous times that I don’t care what she does EXCEPT when she has the children and asked her not to sleep with her boyfriend when they are with her. I will take them at bedtime and return them in the morning to her so they are not exposed to what I believe is an unhealthy environment for them. If she is at her boyfriend’s parents, an hour away, I told her I would do the same thing, no matter what time of day. She says that I’m the only one with an issue and the children are fine. My boys said she has never talked to them about sleepovers and they come to me with resentful comments about the boyfriend. She is also a pre-school teacher, who I believe should know better, but seems to find a way to justify her selfish motives. One of our children said she told them I am messing with their heads. What can I do to protect my children?

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