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New Boyfriend at Family Celebrations

QUESTION: I am a divorced mother of three (grade schoolers) and just started dating a wonderful new man. Are the holidays a good time for him to meet my family and join in our family traditions?

ANSWER: Strike a balance between including this new man in your life in a manner that is natural at this point in the relationship and thrusting him into the center of your family's holiday activities. You will need to evaluate the pros and cons inherent in this situation, to decide on what is the right balance for contact between your new relationship and your family.

First, consider the potential downside that too much too soon could a negative impact on your budding relationship and on your relationship with your children. Because you are just getting to know one another, you cannot predict whether he will feel overwhelmed or pleased about the experience of being included in family rituals. Likewise you cannot be certain whether your children will feel his presence as an intrusion, or a welcome stimulation to your family's interactions at this time. Negative experiences could get relationships off to a poor start. It is not usually a good idea to prematurely include a new, unknown person in the family's most intimate rituals.

You should also consider the positive side of acquainting him with your family in some appropriate way at this time. The holidays, though enjoyable, can also be stressful. A certain amount of stress can give you feedback about the character of this new man and the ways he may be compatible (or not!) with your family's traditions. Sharing the holidays to some extent may cause the two of you to grow closer, or realize that the relationship does not have a future.

Gather feedback from your children about how they feel about meeting this new man. If all parties are open to the idea, consider a separate outing or lunch together to introduce him. Observe how this meeting goes and make your decisions about the holidays accordingly. Consider your own desires and your new friend's feelings, too.

Do take caution, however, that if things go exceedingly well and everyone is positive about the meeting, this is not a signal to jump in with both feet. Retain intimate family boundaries around special family time over the holidays. Consider smaller opportunities around these events to ensure gradual, rather than precipitous involvement in your children's lives.

Rather than inviting your new friend to all the family rituals, consider having him for the tree trimming before Christmas, but not for Christmas morning gift sharing. You might contemplate including him in a new family holiday event for this year, such as going to see a Christmas play or movie. In this way, you are introducing him into the periphery of your family's life, without altering core family traditions.

It is natural for you to continue to date through the holiday period, with some adjustments for family life. Pay attention to your instincts, gather feedback from your children and your new beau, but remember that you are the leader of the family. Reserve the right to make the decisions that you find to be in the best interests of yourself and your children.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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