Dating again after a divorce or separation can be scary, even for adults. But imagine how it feels for the children to see their mom or dad with someone new.
The first step in moving on may be to examine the end of your relationship with your children’s biological parent. When did it end and how (divorce, death, separation)? Why did it end and do your children know the reasons? Was it due to an affair, was it a violent relationship, or did your ex just walk out? Did it end with anger, threats and accusations? Or was the end respectful and mutually agreeable?
Every breakup and the circumstances surrounding it may require a different amount of recovery time. Give your children an appropriate amount of time to grieve the end of that prior relationship. This approach will go a long way to help them adjust when you introduce a new partner into their lives. Moving on is a life-changing event and should not be taken lightly.
Realize that you don’t need to introduce every person that comes into your life to your children. Don’t forget, your kids may be protective of you and may not want a new person around. Or, they may form a quick attachment and it can be painful when that person is no longer a part of your life. The decision to introduce someone new to your child is a serious one to make, and there are many things you must consider first.
Jennifer Wolf, a single parent expert, discusses some factors you need to think about to decide when a new relationship becomes a significant one in her article for About Parenting, “Parents’ Dating Advice: How to Introduce Your Children.”
As Wolf says, “Being honest with yourself and your partner is key. Not every dating relationship reaches the level of commitment that necessitates including the children.”
When someone does become very important to you, and you feel you are in a serious, committed relationship, then it’s time for introductions. Discuss your children with your new partner: explain their relationship with the other parent; what life is like for you and your children; the importance of your family unit; how and why it works for you. Are you both serious enough to take your relationship to a new level of responsibility? Is your new partner ready to take an active role in your children’s lives?
Talk to your children about your new relationship/partner. Listen to their fears and concerns, and reassure them that you will always be there for them and your love for them will never change. You don’t need your children’s approval for an adult relationship, but neither should you expect them to accept your partner at first sight. It may be a slow, ongoing process for everyone concerned.
First meetings should be fun: go bowling, to the zoo or a movie. The place should be neutral so your children will feel comfortable — a new face in their home may make them feel as if their space is being invaded. A short first meeting is usually best. The worst way for the children to meet your new love interest is to find a stranger in the kitchen Saturday morning, eating their Fruit Loops after an overnighter.
Discuss this first meeting with your children, and then do the same with your partner. Acknowledge everyone’s feelings and needs. Dismissing these may discourage them from telling you how they honestly feel in the future.
Keep the second meeting relaxed, but provide more opportunity for your partner and kids to actually talk to each other. You might consider going to a park or playground. You should also keep the kissing and cuddling to private times for the first few meetings. Always take it slow; think of your children and how they may feel with each step.
If all has gone well, you might like to invite your partner over to eat with you. Always make sure your children know this person is coming and let them participate in preparing for the event. It’s also important to let them know that you will need to spend some time alone with your new partner. In order for time alone to work in a new relationship, you need to be sure to spend quality time alone with your children, too. Don’t make them feel they must compete for your time or attention.
If a partner plans to stay overnight, consider your children’s ages and feelings. A child under 12 can be told it’s like a sleepover. But a teenager needs to know how you feel about your partner and why you want them to stay over. Don’t forget you are a role model and act accordingly. Some ground rules need to be in place, like locking doors and dressing appropriately. You don’t want your children to witness anything that shouldn’t be seen.
If overnights happen often, it may be time for your partner to become a part of your children’s lives. An open discussion with your partner about how you parent and why things are done as they are is important. Be aware of how they interact with your children. This is when you decide on how you two will handle things such as discipline for misbehavior. This is the type of issue that can cause problems, so discussing them beforehand is vital.
Tell your co-parent about your new relationship only when it’s serious and you feel it’s going to last. Assure them that they are and will always be an important part of their children’s lives and that you want them to stay involved. Your new partner may need to do the same if they have an ex or children of their own. There are a lot of lives involved in today’s relationships and blended families are common. It all takes time and patience. Need to brush up on ex-etiquette? Read “Blended Families & Ex-Etiquette For Parents: Good Behavior After a Divorce or Separation” by Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe.
For your new relationship to work, it will take effort from everyone involved. If your children feel safe and loved, they will be more tolerant and adaptable when changes are made. Communication is always key to any relationship. Don’t forget, your children’s perspective is different than your own. Put yourself in their shoes and value their opinions.
Finally, since you’ve already experienced a previous relationship ending, building a healthy and respectful new partnership now will set a great example for your children.