Dear Straight Talk: I have been separated/divorced for 15 months. About nine months ago, following a rebound relationship, I met someone I'm serious about. I'm as surprised as anyone at how fast it happened. Because this woman is a big part of my life, I would like to introduce her to my son and daughter who are in college. Trouble is, my kids are still upset about the breakup even though it was mutual and there were no other love interests. I believe they feel protective of their mother, who is taking the divorce harder than I am. However, if I wait much longer I'm worried they will be upset that I've kept secrets. What do the panelists think is the appropriate time to know about a divorced parents' significant other? It's not like she is 20 years younger. She is my age and respectable. I want to make things best for everyone. -- Monterey, Calif.
Hannah, 17: My parents divorced many years ago and it still hurts. My father began dating seriously, but he never told me or my siblings. When I discovered his secret girlfriend(s) through my own investigation, I was very hurt that he kept things from me. I felt I was less a part of his life and that he was separating from our "family" even more. Tell your kids. If they aren't comfortable they don't need to meet her yet, but it's important that they know you care enough to keep them involved in the bigger aspects of your life.
Elise, 19: Here's what I learned from having divorced parents: Although you might find this woman respectable and wonderful, your kids may disagree, especially if they are protective of their mother. However, they still need to know. It is not fair to them, her, or your ex-wife to keep a serious relationship secret.
Lennon, 24: Just tell them. Yes, initially they may be angry or passive aggressive, but they'll come around.
Omari, 17: Tell your kids! Keeping a secret like this can damage your relationship with your children. Since the separation was mutual, your kids probably understand that you are not meant to be together. Also, please know that finding someone else quickly is not a bad thing. Life is about finding happiness. And if you are happy, this will make your kids happy (though maybe not at first). That the woman is your age helps, too. It's not like you're seeing someone your daughter's age. It's been nine months. Telling your kids is essential. It lets the woman know you are serious and lets your kids know they are important parts of your life. With no secrets, life is a lot easier to live.
Dear Monterey: Divorce is one of the biggest stressors a child goes through. However, a bigger stressor, as I've noted in earlier columns, is a "missing" parent. Kids want and need emotionally connected relationships with their parents -- this is the primary thing. It exceeds in importance the survival of the marriage. I agree with the panelists completely. Once a relationship is deemed "serious," it shouldn't be kept a secret (as opposed to less serious ones, which kids are best spared from). Even if your kids were younger, I'd tell them. Not doing so only separates you. Part of you becomes "missing" and they can feel that.
Children don't need to know everything about a parent's life; some things are best left unshared. And younger children should be sheltered whenever possible from topics beyond their scope. But teenagers and emerging adult children should be kept in the loop of important issues and events in their parents' lives, including work, finances, health problems, and significant relationships. Finally, no child is ever too old to be told, "Nothing about this divorce is, or has ever been, your fault."
To ask a question or inquire about being a youth panelist, visit straighttalkTNT.com or write to P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA 95628