Monday, June 16, 2014

The 9 Commandments for Meeting Mama Ex's Kids

I've been single. 

It wasn't fun.

Okay, I take that back, it was fun for awhile. I mean, at ages 18-24, it was a lot of Coyote Ugly moments with brief glimpses of "maybe this guy could work if I work on him a little." 

I actually cringe just thinking about it.

I was lucky that at the young age of 26, I found Hubs. He and his two girls changed my life in so many positive ways and I am eternally grateful. We were lucky - Hubs' kids pretty much liked me instantly. They were 3 and 6 and ready for Daddy to find someone that he loved. I fit the bill pretty well...and I loved to play with Barbies. 

10,000 brownie points to Ruby, please.

When I met the girls, their mom was married. She seemed relatively happy, but a year later we were told that she was splitting from her husband. They separated and now, six years later, Mama Ex has yet to find someone to settle down with.

Here's the problem, though. Dating when your kids are 3 and 6 is different than dating when your kids are 11 and 14. The rules change. When children are still young, you can shift reality a little. It works to say, "this is mommy's friend Dave" without having to follow up with any other pertinent info. They couldn't care less. Does Dave smile at them? Great. Does Dave do a great Donald Duck impression? Even better! WE LIKE DAVE!
But the tides have changed. Hubs' girls aren't little girls anymore. They are wise, (like, scary wise) mini-adults who have seen their mom go through several relationships, and they have expectations for the type of guy they want to see her end up with. 

So, here are some basic commandments that I think men (or women) should consider before they "meet the kids" for the first time.

But Ruby, you say, you aren't an expert on this!!

Aren't I? 

I'm pretty sure I dated Hubs, a guy with two young girls. I went through this first hand and learned the hard way on a few things. So yes, I have self-qualified myself to give some advice. So there.

(But if you mean a licensed expert, no I'm not. That's what the OWN network is for.)

1. Thou shalt not bring gifts.

You may think I'm crazy, but I'm seriously not. You are meeting the children of the woman you are dating, not your future mother in law. (Potential mother-in-law's love gifts.) You might think "this gift will set me apart," but it's just showing the kids that you hope to buy their love. The first time I met my future stepdaughters, I came with myself and an open heart. I looked in their eyes and listened with my ears. I was present. After a few dates, sure, bring a little gift if you'd like. But don't use a gift to set an impossible precedent.

2. Thou shalt wash your hair.

Would you go to an interview in sloppy jeans and a t-shirt? No. Same goes for meeting the kids. I'm not saying you need to rent a tuxedo, but how you dress is saying something about you. Do you care enough to dress nicely for this woman? I would hope so. Believe it or not, kids notice everything. Holey jeans and a Metallica tank top circa 1996 may be your go-to chick magnet attire, but these are different kinds of chicks. These are little chickens that need to feel they are as important as the hen. You probably dressed up for your first date with Mama Ex, right? Follow suit with the kids.

3. Thou shalt not drink.

Think this rule is ridiculous? Then you aren't ready to date a man or woman with children. If you can't say no to booze for three whole hours while you meet her mini-me's, just move on. Nothing says, "I hope this is over soon" louder and clearer than ordering a double tall whiskey tonic. You never know what the kid(s) have seen before your time. Maybe their mom's last boyfriend was an alcoholic. Maybe their DAD is an alcoholic. Maybe the smell of beer makes them queasy. It doesn't matter. If you're nervous, just tell them that. 

Liquid confidence and children do not belong in the same sentence.

 4. Thou shalt not stay over.

I know it's early and you have googly-eyes for Mama Ex. I know she's the hotter than doughnut grease and you're having mind blowing, amazing sex when the kids aren't home. Let's keep it that way. Come over, stay for a bit, and then leave. This is especially true if you are meeting children of the opposite sex. Imagine you're a 10 year old girl and you wake up in the middle of the night and need to pee. What if you run into that big guy you just met tonight on your way to the bathroom? 

No thanks, I'll just pee myself and blame it on the dog.

Let's be honest, it's not like you're in Mama Ex's bedroom playing Monopoly (unless it's strip Monopoly). And the kids know that.

Think of it this don't walk into a gym after a four year absence and run three miles, do 40 minutes of the stairmaster and then 600 crunches. You ease into it. Ease yourself into this home. There's a right time for, "Mommy's friend is going to stay over." 

So when is the time right for a sleep over? A good indication is when the kid says, "Mommy, can Jack stay over so we can eat pancakes with him tomorrow?" If you hear that, you're golden. 

Chances are, you won't hear it on the first meeting.

5. Thou shalt not play touchy touchy.

This is similar to Rule 4, but on a more macro level. The kid(s) are watching you with their mom. Are you holding the door for her and easing her through the entrance with a respectful hand on her back? Or are you smacking her ass and saying, "Good GOD, woman!" as you walk into Applebee's? Both of those things are sending signals - make sure you're sending the right one.

 6. Thou shalt not discuss the kids' Dad.

I don't care what you've heard. I don't care what you have proof of. Daddy-O is off limits. If the kid(s) mention him, simply nod and change the subject. You have not been around long enough to give your input. Mama Ex may hate him. The KIDS may even hate him. But you get to be Switzerland - nice and neutral. Even if Mama Ex brings him up, simply quietly say, "We don't need to talk about that, I want to know more about these cuties!" Easy, simple, respectful.

Are you sensing a theme??

7. Thou shalt be interested in the kids.

This is as much an interview for you as it is for them. Children are not optional - they are the free (and amazing) gift that comes with mom. It's okay for you to wonder and discover if this is going to be a good fit. Ask about them. What do they love to do? What do they hate to do? What's their favorite movie? Who is their favorite singer? By showing interest in them, you are learning about your girlfriend's parenting style while at the same time learning about them. There's a lot to be gleaned from this first meeting if you pay attention.

8. Thou shalt be yourself

Kids have amazing bullshit detectors. And you can't beat them. So if Tommy asks you if you like to camp and the idea of sleeping outside gives you hives, don't lie. Try something like, "You know, Tommy, I don't really enjoy camping outside, but I LOVE to set up a good fort in the living room. Have you ever done that?" Boom.

Understand that there's a very good chance that, if the kids are in a stubborn mindset, nothing you say will be the right answer. And that's okay. This is an adjustment for everyone. If you spend the whole evening weaving a web of falsehoods to impress them, it's all for naught if you plan on sticking around for awhile. You can't be everything they want you to be. You can't be their dad. 

Be yourself instead - it's a lot easier.

9. Thou. Shalt. Wait.

Meeting the kids is not for date number two. Or four. I'm not going to tell you what number to pick, but it should be higher than eight. In addition, the children should already feel like they know you before you meet them. Trust me, it will make it easier. In fact, Mama Ex should have mentioned you in several light-hearted conversations before the meeting. It's not okay for the kids to come home after school and be told, " You get to meet Mommy's boyfriend tonight! YAY!" 

Like I said before, ease into it. This isn't an easy process and it takes time. Lots of time. If at first it doesn't go well, just regroup and try again. I mean, even Julie Andrews had to work awhile before those von Trapp brats liked her, right? And she's Julie friggin' Andrews.

(That was a joke, people.)

If you need me, I'll be sitting behind this computer, ready to give you my un-professional and often un-asked for advice. :)

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