Ex-etiquette: When can my girlfriend sleep over?

Jann Blackstone Ex-Etiquette

Q: I have this new girlfriend who I find very sexy. We are very attracted to each other. When is it OK for her to sleep over when the kids are at my house?

A: I’m not sure why this question is asked so often because it seems like a no-brainer to me. All you have to do is ask yourself what you want to portray to your kids. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1, “Put the kids first.”) If you want to demonstrate that relationships are frivolous, then have someone new over every weekend. If you want to teach your children discretion and commitment, go slow and wait until your relationship has grown into something lasting before your girlfriend sleeps over when the kids are there. That’s it. End of story.

No matter their age, your kids are sponges and absorb everything they see and hear. Everything you say from “pick your clothes up off the floor” to “be polite to the crabby lady next door, offers them suggestions on how to handle life’s obstacles. If you are no longer with their mother, your kids know conflict. They have not seen how to meet someone, court them, fall in love, develop a commitment, and if necessary, successfully handle conflict when faced with it. These are the things you can teach them now. Take advantage of the ability to pass on this very important lesson. It will serve them the rest of their life.

So, my suggestion is if you can’t keep your hands off your girlfriend, see her on your own time for a while. And, if it does blossom into something “serious,” be aware of how you act with her in front of your children. Sexual innuendos make children very uncomfortable. Even if you think they are too young to understand, many do get it and it puts them off. Then they start to make excuses that they don’t want to come over and you won’t understand why. It will be difficult for them to communicate that it’s because you are too free with your girlfriend. It usually comes off something like, “We don’t want to come over because of Lisa.” You might perceive that comment to mean that the kids don’t like your girlfriend — when that’s not it at all. They don’t like how you act when your girlfriend is around, but they would never tell you that. And, I’m not talking about affection — affection is natural and sets a positive example. I’m talking about open demonstrations with your tongue down her throat or groping that you think they don’t see. They do, and you’re setting yourself up for failure if you don’t use discretion.

All that said, you now can turn a negative — breaking up — to a positive — starting over. If you share custody, you have enough “down time” to explore this relationship before you introduce her to the kids. Figure it out, and when you think she’s a permanent fixture, that’s when you introduce her — and if you truly want to use good ex-etiquette — give mom a head’s up before you do it.

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. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.