Ex-Etiquette

Q When is it OK for my new girlfriend to sleep over when the kids are at my house?

A: We aren't sure why this question is asked so often because it seems like a no-brainer to us. All you have to do is ask yourself what you want to portray to your kids.

If you want to portray that relationships are frivolous, then have someone new over this weekend. If you want to teach your kids discretion and commitment, go slowly and wait until you are committed before your girlfriend sleeps over. If you believe in marriage and want to communicate that to your children, then openly plan for your future together when you meet the woman you would like to marry. That's it. End of story.

No matter their age, your kids are sponges and absorb everything they see and hear. Everything you do — from picking up your clothes off the floor to being polite to the crabby lady next door — offers them suggestions on how to handle life's obstacles. If you are divorced, your kids know conflict. It's very likely they have seen their mother and you argue and break up as a result. They have not seen how to meet someone, court, fall in love, develop a commitment and successfully handle conflict. These are the things you can now teach them — all of which will help them to live a happier life.

So, our 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.

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 with your girlfriend, but they would never tell you that. We aren't talking about affection — affection is natural. We're talking about groping that you think they don't see — but they do.