So you’re back out there and you’ve got someone new you want to bring into the family fold. What are your kids going to think?
Getting buy-in from your kids on your new love interest, depending on their age and stage, is not always easy. Children can take a long time to accept new people into their lives if they are not ready. Your job – and yes it might not be an easy one – is to help them to get ready. Not to fret; we have some essentials to help you to help your kids to get there!
As we know, after a divorce, kids can often have a difficult time accepting a new partner in their parents’ lives. Introducing a new love interest to the children can be a delicate business and in order for the introduction to be successful, it needs to be executed in a child-centric manner. Read between the lines here: the child’s needs come before the parents’ needs. A desire to share your excitement with your kids and a strong wish for you all to get along is not enough and it’s not what should drive the introduction. To do this right, it takes time, thoughtfulness, a healthy parent-child relationship and for you to have a good finger on the pulse of your kids’ emotional resilience.
Essentials of a Successful Introduction
Introducing a new love interest can definitely go well or very unwell, depending on how you handle it. Let’s break it down for you:
3 Signs the Time is Not Right
- If this is just someone that you are casually dating after divorce – don’t introduce the kids! If this is a ‘just for now’ relationship, it’s not the right person to introduce your kids to. If it’s a forever relationship, then proceed while considering the next points.
- When kids are in the mindset of hoping that their parents will get back together it is absolutely not the time to even think about introducing a new love interest to them. Period. It means that you have more work to do to help them to grieve and accept the divorce. Time, child-centric parenting and maybe even counselling are what are needed for kids at this stage of the transition.
- Co-sleeping. We’re all for it under some circumstances – but if your child sleeps with you regularly post–separation, this has to be adjusted long before a new partner is ever invited into your bed for a sleepover. Kids will see this is a rejection and that they are ‘out’ and the new partner is ‘in’ – no matter how you wordsmith it.
3 Signs the Time Might Be Right
- Your kids are overall bouncing-back from the separation and divorce. They can easily talk about the new family situation, and the future with two homes. Their school, sleep, socialization and emotional life has levelled-out. Their increases the chance that your child might be in a place to potentially accept a new partner in your life. This is essential to any possible success with introducing your new love interest to your kids
- Your kids can talk to you, can tell you the ‘real deal’ on what they like and don’t like in their lives – either directly through discussion or indirectly via their play or their art. Your kids need to be able to say more than ‘it’s fine’ when they are upset or things are bothering them. Your kids need to have the confidence that you have the strength to listen and to respond to their distress, and that you have the space and time to help them to feel secure, settled and calm. If they cannot tell you how they really feel – you will not be able to gauge their readiness or the pace at which to introduce a new love interest. Working on open communication is the priority if this is the case.
- Your kids feel like they have ‘enough’ of you: enough time, attention and love. You hear very little of “I wish I could see you more” and feel that when they hug you goodbye that they are not overly clingy, desperate to stay with you or are unable to cope without you. Your kids need to feel like they are adequately topped-up and connected in their relationship with you – otherwise they will see that your new love interest is taking away from something (someone – YOU!) that they already do not have enough of. They will likely be closed and unable to share you with a new person if this is their reality. Especially when dating after divorce, working on your parent-child relationship and connection is key if this is the case.
If You Want to Do This – Do it Right
- Help your kids understand that there will be many things that will not change just because their parent has a new partner. Highlight to them that they’ll still have quality one-to-one time with you. This needs to be stated explicitly to your child. Children can make many assumptions about how it can be good or bad and it’s important that you address that what matters most to them won’t change – time with their parents remains the same (‘I will come to parent-teacher conferences alone’) and sometimes different with your new partner (‘When we play mini-golf we will include my new partner sometimes’).
- There’s no rush, pace yourself if you want to have a successful outcome! Gradual exposure to your new partner in non-threatening casual environments can help children adjust to this change in their life. Short activity-based experiences, such as enjoying an ice-cream at the park, can be a perfect micro-exposure for your kids to get used to the idea of a new partner in their parents’ life.
The Final Word
In most cases kids can build a healthy bond with your new love interest. Your new partner has the opportunity to add richness to your kids’ lives by becoming a new supportive adult in their circle. Depending on the personalities of your kids and your new partner, perhaps your new love interest could develop into a strong role model and bring meaningful added-value to your kids’ lives. The emotional needs of your kids drive the entire process of introducing your love interest to them. A premature decision will more likely than not lead to an epic fail – for your kids and yourself. Patience, attuning to when your kids are ready, upping your parent-child connection and helping them to be resilient are keys to a successful introduction. You can do this!
Revolutionizing the conversation around Divorce, one internal narrative at a time.
DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.