Introducing a New Partner to Your Children
Meeting someone new and falling in love, especially after separation or divorce, can be one of the most positive and exciting times in our lives. Introducing a new partner to your children is something that requires some thought before you go ahead and a decision not to be taken lightly. Questions that spring to mind include: When should I introduce a new partner to the children? What role does a new partner play in our child’s life? Read the following tips to help you plan how to go about it...
When is the right time?
Introduce a new partner to your children when the relationship is happy, stable and you are sure that the relationship has a future. Kids learn about how to behave from us. Try to avoid exposing them to a succession of fleeting partners. Adults arriving and then leaving their lives, once they have become attached, can impact on our children’s ability to form long lasting relationships in the future. It can also be very unsettling for them.
Keep things slow and casual in relation to your children
You may be excited by a new relationship but your children may feel frightened, threatened, angry or confused. Respect their feelings. Take things slowly. When it feels right to introduce them to a new partner, keep things as casual as you can - This is mum or dad’s boyfriend or girlfriend, not a replacement parent!
Talk to and listen to your children
Before your children meet your new partner, talk to them, explain the situation. Then listen hard to what they say and give them time to talk about anything they are worried about. Reassure them about how much you love them (they may be nervous, particularly if they sense that you are acting differently). Quite reasonably they may fear that you will pay them less attention.
Whilst you don’t want to let your kids think that they can decide whether you keep your new partner or not, the relationship they form with your partner will have a huge impact on how things work out. If the children aren’t presented with a ‘done deal’ i.e, if they feel that the future of their family has been decided with out their feelings being considered they are less likely to feel angry or upset.
What’s in it for me?
If your new partner has children, your children may be more interested in their children than they are in your new partner. What’s in it for them will be different from what’s in it for you. On the first occasion that you introduce the children to a new partner, it may be worth all meeting together, rather than you meeting your partners kids then they meeting yours. (It also means that no one is likely to feel left out).
Having someone new in your life may mean that you pay your children a little less attention – this is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be good for your children to have ‘space’ to become their own person, and it is good for them to see you happy and to see that you have a life of your own. See Time with your kids below.
Your new partner and your ex
If your ex plays a role in your children’s lives it is your responsibility to tell them about your new partner, ideally before you tell the children. Tell your ex as a courtesy and in relation to it being an event in your children’s lives, rather than it being an event in your life. Don’t use the information as a way to score points. Don’t allow your child to become a ‘go-between’ in terms of breaking the news to your ex also don’t expect them to ‘keep secrets’ from your ex.
Ideally, you should wait for your children to have met your partner on a number of occasions and hopefully everyone feels relaxed with each other before they stay for ‘sleepovers’ if the children are in the house. Tell your children that your partner will be sleeping over. Ideally try and involve you partner in family meals rather than your partner only turning up when the children have gone to bed.
Spend time with your kids
Don’t let time with your new partner consume all the time you spend with the kids. Make sure you still have plenty of one-on-one time with your children. During any transition or change children are likely to need to see more of you.
Changes in children's behaviour
If your children are acting up and behaving badly, try not to get angry (because you think they might be showing you up or trying to sabotage your new relationship). It probably means they are trying to tell you something. Create some alone time with your children individually and show that you really want to know what they are feeling. Try not to shut them off because you don’t want to hear or don’t like what they might have to say. Whilst you are feeling that you have a lot to gain they may feel that they are losing you. They may also feel conflicted in their loyalty to their other parent. Give your children space and time to form their own relationship with your new partner. Respect your children’s feelings even if they are not what you’d like them to be. The outcome is more likely to be happy that way.
Introducing a new partner to your children can be a rocky time and emotions can run high. The more anxious you are to make it work, the more the children will pick up on this and possibly rebel. Take it slow. Be prepared to create breathing and thinking spaces. Most importantly, give your kids love and attention (rather than gifts and bribes!) and show them that they are still your priority. The fact that you have someone new to love and love you back is one of life’s gifts; it’s something to be cherished. Show your kids that if anything there is more, not less, love to go around.
It's important that we trust our own judgement - only we know the individuals involved and the details of our own situation. However, it can be a tricky and stressful time leaving us feeling torn in different directions.