Psychologists peg divorce as one of the worst experiences humans endure, but those in the middle of a split cling to one potential future reward: the prospect of finding someone who will make them happy. Hope acts as a balm, soothing the pain of the breakup. The much improved, new relationship can appear golden from afar. While many do find love, it doesn’t happen magically. Creating relationships takes intention, education and effort. It all starts with new love.
Most parents have heard the rumors about how delicate introducing a new partner to children can be. Use the guidelines below to ensure that introducing children to a partner becomes a positive experience that puts the new relationship on the right track from the beginning.
Choose the Right Time
When a viable, new romantic interest does come into the divorced person’s life, the excitement is palpable, and hard to hide from children and other family members.
Soon enough, children ask where a parent is going and with whom. The parent immediately has a dilemma. Introducing a new partner at the beginning stages of a relationship can reveal how well he or she fits with the family. On the other hand, many divorced parents and child psychologists warn that six months is the minimum to wait. No one wants to have a revolving door of partners.
There is no right time to make the introduction. If children are teenagers and the divorce occurred five years or more before, doing the introduction early can make more sense. The parent needs to gauge how the new partner will fit with the children before too much time goes by. More, teens tend to be absorbed in their own lives, putting more energy and time into relationships with friends than parents. They are looking toward their own future romantic relationships and jobs. Introducing the new partner in this situation should go relatively smoothly, given you follow the other guidelines in this post.
While the above may seem like good news, many parents split before their children are out of middle school. Children aged fourteen and younger still depend significantly on parents for building their identities and understanding the world around them. Read our post about parental alienation to get a better idea of how much children need from their fathers (hint: a great deal). The time they require cannot be short-changed. Therefore, dating with children in this age bracket is best conducted when the children visit their mother. This approach makes the most sense particularly for fathers with less than 50% custody. Experts emphasize that parents of younger children should wait at least six months to one year and have a clear idea of a stable future with the new partner before considering a meeting.
No matter the age of the children, the newly divorced must take extra precautions with their dating lives. Post-split, children and teens both have significant emotional, psychological and intellectual work to carry out to come to terms with the idea that the former family no longer exists. They must grasp the idea of their father as a single person. Do not introduce children to a new partner until it’s clear everyone is emotionally stable and you’re functioning smoothly in the new family structure.
Introducing a partner to children too early could result in:
The children viewing the new partner suspiciously.
Children’s jealousy of the new partner leading to acting out.
Chaos in the household.
Poor connection between new partner and children leading to serious psychological and emotional damage to the children.
Conflict with ex-spouse, which reverberates to the children.
Despite your excitement over your new relationship, remember that the long-term well-being of your children depends greatly on the choices you make during their formative years.
The Introduction Step by Step
Once you’re confident it’s the right time to introduce your new partner to your children, following these guidelines should help the event go smoothly.
The Preparation: hopefully, you’ve been sharing stories about your adventures with your significant other with your children and even asking their opinion. Preparing them in this manner can go a long way in building curiosity and anticipation, two positive emotions surrounding the individual. Make clear to your children and your partner that you expect them all to treat each other respectfully. Give examples of what could happen and how each could respond.
The Meeting: a low-key, active event that you all enjoy together can be more comfortable than a sit-down dinner where individuals get grilled as much as the steak and veggies. Consider a hike, a concert, fishing, or an afternoon at the beach or a lake. Come up with three alternatives beforehand and share them with the children, asking for input. Consider a short time span: a morning or an afternoon. Also, keep the expense reasonable. During the event, keep public displays of affection to a minimum. Gradually accustom your children to that aspect of the relationship rather than make it too obvious.
After the Event: with your new partner safely on her way home, sit down with the kids to debrief. Ask them their impressions first using open-ended questions. “What did you think?” works. Listen carefully and even mirror back what they’re saying. “So you didn’t like the way she insisted on paying?” Feel free to laugh together about any awkward moments. Do not try to talk them into liking her. Reassure them that you will have plenty of time alone with them, even though you are now in a relationship.