New relationships are often a reminder that the role of parent is not an easy one, let alone after a separation. As that new relationship takes shape, a particular challenge looms large – how to introduce your children to the person you have been seeing.
Introducing a new partner
The introduction of a new person, taking the place once filled by a child’s parent, must be managed thoughtfully and delicately. Children have often been through their own grieving process for the ‘family’ relationship which was lost to them as their parents separated. Some children even naively hold hope for the reconciliation of their parents and for life to be ‘like it was before.’ Seeing a new person on the scene can represent the loss of that chance in the eyes of children, triggering anger towards you and resentment towards the perceived ‘interloper’. This is sure to be the death knell of your new relationship.
So how do you introduce a new partner to your children? Here are some tips:
Don’t jump the gun
Give new relationships time to become cemented before considering an introduction. Children can be easily confused, if introduced to someone new who is out of the picture soon afterwards.
Don’t do the ‘ambush’
People rarely react well when things are sprung on them. Put yourself in that position, meeting your former partner’s new boyfriend or girlfriend without warning. You would likely be awkward, self-conscious, saying all the wrong things, and wishing that you could have been mentally prepared for that encounter. Children are no different. They won’t warm to the experience if it is a surprise.
Provide some context
Before any introduction meeting, let the children know how you met your new partner, what you like about them, and what you have in common. This helps with their understanding of your partner as a real person and why it is that you have wanted to spend time with them.
Give your co-parent a ‘heads up’
Do your co-parent the courtesy of letting them know that you will be starting a new chapter. If the co-parenting relationship is strained, simply let them know that you are seeing someone new, and that you will be introducing that person to the children. Don’t let your co-parent find out about any new relationship via the children as it has the potential to create some co-parenting dysfunction.
Reassure, reassure and reassure
Reassure your children that you love them and while you will no longer live as a family in the way you did, you will always be family in the sense of being ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, and that nothing can change that. Children who know that they are loved, and that they will still have a relationship with both their mum and dad, are less likely to feel that the arrival of someone new on the scene is a form of ‘replacement’, and more likely to accept it as being non-threatening.
Keep it simple
Give some thought to a non-threatening environment for the introduction. A physical distraction like bowling or putt putt can ‘soften’ the experience. Avoid long-term activities, such as camping, which can make children feel trapped if things do not go to plan.
Don’t move too quickly
No matter how successful the initial meeting, it best not to implement immediate change. Don’t move in with your partner straight away. Children are likely to feel less threatened if, after an initial meeting, other encounters can unfold.
Sometimes your new partner will have been through a similar experience, and have children of their own. A new partner, as well as new child relationships, can be a lot to take in. Give thought as to whether the introduction should be ‘stepped’ so that your children are meeting your partner first, and their children later.
Get professional help
If you are hitting a brick wall in conceiving the introduction, or if an attempted introduction did not go to plan, consider getting some expert help. See a counsellor or family therapist to help you with this important step. They have seen it all before, and will be able to help you develop a strategy which works for your children, and your situation.
Your objective is to allow your new relationship to be able to progress, while also ensuring that your children are not destabilised by it. This is easy to lose sight of particularly when you are experiencing strong reactions from children. Hard as it will be, press ahead. Unresolved situations achieve nothing and will linger only to return another day.
By Dan Bottrell, Jones Mitchell Lawyers for Families Magazine – Gold Coast