Dating after a divorce or separation is hard enough; when you have children, the situation becomes even more difficult. Divorce can have a negative and lasting impact on children to the point where they can no longer function properly. Often, children will lose interest in social activities and become emotionally sensitive after their parents went through a divorce. This is just one of the many reasons why aside from helping your children cope with the divorce, you should also be careful when introducing your new partner to them.
How do you know when it’s the right time to introduce your kids to your new partner? You’ll want the transition to go as smoothly as possible, so we offer you these tips to get started.
Consider Their Ages
The age of your children will greatly affect the time in which you introduce them to your new partner. The age of your children can influence their ability to understand the situation at hand, which is why this is the first thing you should consider when introducing your partner to them.
According to Terry Gaspar, MSW, LICSW, kids under the age of 10 may need more time to adapt to a new partner. Younger children will still feel possessive of their parents, Gaspar says, so the adjustment should be done slowly. Older kids, by contrast, have an easier time recognizing that a new partner will not replace a parent. When your child is at this age, it’ll be easier for you to introduce your partner to them.
However, a study conducted by family researcher Constance Ahrons found that teens have more trouble with open displays of affection between you and your new partner, so save the PDA for when your family knows them better, or when you’ve actually consulted professionals for marriage advice and is ready to take your relationship to another level.
Think About the First Meeting
When you’re planning your first encounter between your children and partner, there are a few things you can do to keep the meeting comfortable for everyone involved. Your children and partner’s first meeting is very important as this can influence the kind of relationship that the two will have in the long run. If your partner creates a negative impression in your children’s eyes, more often than not, your partner will have a hard time creating a relationship with them.
Here are some things to consider when having your child visit with your new partner for the first time:
• Make it a low-key affair. Pick a neutral spot of your children’s choosing. This gives them the benefit of control, according to Gaspar. Keep it short and intimate – meaning no extraneous family members. This meeting is all about your children getting to know your partner, so the presence of these two people is the only thing you’ll need.
• Keep a running dialogue with your kids about their feelings. Tell them you’ve met someone new and you’d like them to meet. Ask them how they feel about it, and keep the conversation open to any questions they may have. This will make your children feel calm and comfortable during the meeting, keeping stress at bay.
• It’s important to emphasize that your new partner won’t take the place of your children’s other parent. Make sure they know both parents love them unconditionally. This is especially important for younger children, who may find introducing a new member into the family unit threatening. This is an important tip when letting your children meet your partner for the first time as it ensures that your children will not see your partner as an antagonist or the reason why you and the other parent broke up.
• Be realistic about how the meeting is going to turn out. You may think you’ve found the love of your life, but your children may not be so quick to jump on board. Acknowledge their trepidation and validate their feelings. This will make it easier for them to adjust to the new relationship and feel more at ease with your new partner.
Enlist Outside Help
Seeking assistance from a professional for help can ease the transition for your children. A family counselor or therapist can help a child adjust to being introduced to a new prospective member of the family. As much as you would love for your offspring to tell you everything, they may feel more comfortable sharing their feelings with someone who isn’t directly involved in the situation.
Single parents with child custody usually have very strong bonds with their children and these children constantly seek that parents’ approval, so they may be uncomfortable telling you about their disappointment. Giving your children an outlet to vent these frustrations can make the transition easier for everyone.
There are many trained and experienced professionals who can help you introduce your new partner to your children. Sure, their services will entail cost but this will eventually be worth it as you and your children can move on into a better relationship together.
Only Introduce Serious Prospects
There’s no benefit to introducing your kids to anyone you’re only dating casually. Gaspar notes that you’re always a role model for your children, and introducing them to causal flings doesn’t set a great example.
As for when to introduce them, the decision is entirely up to you. It’s important to pick a time that isn’t too soon after your divorce, and when you know your current relationship is serious. Each relationship moves at its own pace, so while it may take a year for one couple, another may decide it’s time after 6 months. The important thing is to proceed with caution and treat your kids with compassion in the process. It may take some time, but eventually, your partnership can lead to another figure for your children to love.
If you have any questions about divorce or are going through a divorce, contact an experienced divorce lawyer for help.