Introducing your new partner to your children after a divorce is a delicate issue, which often causes a lot of stress on both ends. Some children, especially those already in their teen years, live this episode particularly harshly. However, there is not a single formula to overcome this difficult situation without too much hassle as each situation is different and requires a tailored approach.
Indeed, the number of blended families in the United States is increasing exponentially as the number of divorces continues to increase. These situations give rise to sometimes complex situations because this family pattern is not always simple. The children of divorced or separated parents have indeed suffered a shock: they have had to mourn the couple formed by dad and mom. Mourning goes through different stages: refusal, anger, resignation, and sadness which can sometimes last or leave traces.
For their part, single parents with one or more children obviously have the right to rebuild their lives and decide to integrate their new companion into the family unit. For children up to 5 years old, this situation is much easier to manage than teenagers, themselves in the middle of a delicate period of their existence. But in both cases, it is essential to respect certain rules so that the process goes as well as possible. Remember for the child, your new partner is nothing but a stranger taking the place of the other parent.
Introducing new partner to your children
Understand why the child is so hostile
Refusal to get to know the new partner, aggressive behavior, chronic grief… the idea of meeting someone else can be dramatic for a child after a divorce. These negative reactions, frequent, are a way for the child to express what he or she cannot put into words, or even what he or she is not aware of. While this lack of reception must be heard, discussed with the child, and taken into account by the parent, the latter must not however give up his or her life plan. Postponing the introduction, reassuring the child, answering all questions are ways to calm the crisis.
Be sure of your decision
Before introducing the new partner, you must first follow the stages of rebuilding your child’s or children’s trust by making sure that they have gotten through their grief. They will indeed have to get used to a new family pattern and adapt. If you feel that the necessary time has been respected, you can thus process. However, you have to be sure of yourself. No need to disturb them if you yourself are not sure of your new relationship. Of course, no one is immune to another separation, but it is essential to ensure that you are in tune with yourself.
Then, you have to prepare them through dialogue. Explain to them that you have met someone who will not replace their father or their mother, but someone with whom you will form a new family. Remember that it is the adult who must impose the rules, and, in this case, you should not ask for the child’s opinion
Do not paint a too flattering portrait of your new partner
For their part, the new partner should not position themselves as a replacement of the other parent. He or she is not a new dad or a new mom. And as a rule of thumb, neither they nor you should ever denigrate the former partner in front of the child. This is particularly important for the new partner as even without such actions, he or she is often seen by the child as a usurper.
Keep in mind that just because the other parent is absent does not mean that he or she no longer exists. The new spouse must not take their place or give the perception of doing so.
Choose the right place for the meeting
Another strategic question that often torments the parents: what is the best place for the first encounter? Of course, the place you choose to do so plays a role in the success of the encounter. However, the main thing is to leave space for the child. A meal at the restaurant, a snack in the family lounge, a walk in the forest, why not?
Anything is possible, provided that the child can escape if he or she wants to, the anxious or scrutinizing eyes of the adults. Children, and perhaps even more so teenagers, have real antennas to detect false naturalness, false cheerfulness as well as all the maneuvers of seduction to be accepted.
Some parents wait for the summer break when the family home opens its doors and each other’s coming and going makes the mood lighter. It is a good idea to take advantage of this time since you have more time for yourself and for others. But be careful: do not introduce your new partner to your children at the breakfast table after spending the night with him or her. Also, do not impose his or her presence during the entire vacation under the pretext of getting to know each other better.
Should you introduce your new partner to your ex?
Some parents feel that it is their right to meet the person who will be living with their child every day. A wish that can be fulfilled without this entailing any risk for the child provided that three criteria are met:
- The relationship between the ex-spouses must be cordial, otherwise the new partner will constitute a new ground for conflict.
- The meeting is only really necessary when the two adults have to meet in situations which involve the presence of the child (moving in together, going on vacation, etc.).
- The parent should never communicate to the child the opinion of the ex-partner on the new relationship. This is so that the child can build a healthy relationship with his step-parent without adopting the point of view of his father or mother.
Even though this new stage in the life of a family may seem difficult to face, dialogue and listening remain the keys. Also, be careful not to paint a too flattering portrait of the newcomer. This could destabilize the child who could take this information as a devaluation of the absent parent.
The ideal is not to give too much information before the meeting. The more natural you act, the more simply you explain things, the less the child will feel excluded or rejected. By applying these rules, you will put all the odds in your favor.
A journalism student at the University of Florida, Serena writes mostly about health and health-related subjects. On her time off, she enjoys binge-watching her favorite shows on Netflix or going on a weekend get-away.