5 Tips for Introducing Your Children to a New Significant Other
Divorce affects not only the divorcing couple but also their children. The average divorce rate is between 40 and 60% for those recently married and up to 10% higher for remarriage. Orange County divorce rates are generally higher than average.
At some point after a divorce, most people seek out the companionship of a new significant other. This is a normal impulse, but when children are involved, the situation becomes much more complicated. The divorced parent must deal with legal and personal issues related to child custody, parenting rights, and visitation. Just because a parent is ready to move on, that does not mean the child is ready. They may miss having both parents in the home, resent the idea of a new parenting figure, or secretly hope that their parents will get back together. Those affected may include your new significant other, that individual’s children, your ex-partner, and others. How everybody reacts depends on how long you have been divorced, the children’s ages, and the commitment level of your new relationship. With all of these ticking emotional bombs, it can be daunting to bring everyone together and forge a new family arrangement. The family relationships may get better, worse, or stay the same, depending on circumstances. How can you help prepare your children for the new development in your life?
1. Timing is key
You may be enthusiastic about your new relationship and want your children to be just as excited and welcoming as you are. However, children need time to adjust to a divorce. Each situation is different, but helping your child heal is a priority. There is no set time limit for a child to recover from the anger, sorrow, and other highly charged emotions accompanying divorce. If you rush ahead and introduce your child to someone too soon, it may delay or damage the healing process. Consider how long it has been since the divorce, the level of commitment to your new significant other, and the age of your child. If it is too soon for an introduction, simply tell your child that you are seeing a new friend. Patience pays off.
2. The age of the child
Age is an important consideration when introducing a new partner. Researcher Constance Ahrons, Ph.D., conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce. She found that most children are confused and stressed by a parent’s new relationship. Younger children may be unable to understand what is happening and are typically more possessive of their parents. However, even an older child, such as an adolescent, may appear unaffected and accepting of the new person but still see that person as a threat.
3. How the child views the new partner
You may be infatuated by your new significant other, but your child may have a different view. They may see the new person in your life as a rival. Therefore, you must reassure your children that your partner will not replace the other parent and that you have an abundance of love to go around. Still, despite your efforts, be realistic in your expectations. Don’t be surprised if your child becomes angry or rejects the new partner at first.
4. What is the new partner’s role in the family?
Typically, both you and your co-parent will always be your child’s parents. If you consider making this new person a member of your family, either formally or informally, ask yourself whether this person is a good fit for your family. You may have great chemistry together as a couple, but your significant other may not be well suited to play a role in your family life. Pay close attention to your instincts on this issue.
New partners or step-parents are sometimes called bonus parents, meaning they add extra love and support for your child. You may plan to create a truly blended family. No matter what the circumstances, when introducing a new significant other, you and your co-parent must work together to address parenting matters. As your new family situation evolves, you should talk with your new partner and, if possible, your co-parent about expectations, discipline, money, education and any special circumstances pertaining to the child.
The key is to have clear expectations. Primary responsibility for important parenting decisions may be between you and your co-parent, but a new partner may have some role in the day-to-day responsibilities. The new partner may offer support and suggestions to make the best decisions for your child. However, if a decision impacts the child, it is essential to inform both the co-parent and “bonus” parent so that everybody can work together for the good of the child.
5. Proceed with care and respect
Once you are ready to introduce your children to your significant other, you may wish to talk with them about how and when they want to meet your partner for the first time. Simply explain that you have a new friend and would like them to meet him or her. Listen carefully and respond to any questions. Rather than planning a long or formal visit, it’s best to have a short, relaxed introduction. Don’t have high expectations for how your children feel or act towards the new person. This should not be a sales pitch. Let everyone meet and form their own expectations. Depending on the ages and personalities of your children, you may wish to keep the first meeting short or hold it in a group setting, such as a casual, relaxed gathering with the children, your new partner, and other friends. Treat your new partner as a friend and avoid being physically demonstrative. When planning future meetings, pay close attention to the children’s cues and, if necessary, slow down. If you have children in the home, be cautious about sleepovers with your partner. In the beginning, try to plan overnight visits when your children are with the other parent.
Respect is essential. Co-parenting with someone who is no longer your partner should not be a constant battle. Generally, it is best to let the other parent know that you plan to introduce someone to your children. Your co-parent may not be your favorite person, but be polite and do not criticize them. Always remember that the best interests of your child are paramount. If you need support or guidance, there are many co-parenting programs available in the Orange County area.
Meeting the challenges
If you have a new relationship in your life, keep in mind that it is not just your life that will change. It’s your children’s lives, too. Approaching the task of introducing a new significant other to your children can be challenging, but a caring new person in their lives can also have benefits. However, there may be custody, visitation, and other parental rights to consider. If you cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, these issues may have to be handled through mediation, negotiation, or the court system. Your attorney can explain your legal options and guide you through the process. If you have questions or concerns or wish to arrange a free evaluation, please call the experienced attorneys at Pedrick Law Group, 949.558.2069 (Orange County) or 818.351.7862 (Encino), or contact us online.