Introducing a New Relationship to Your Kids

By Sara Dimerman

Couple giving two young children piggyback rides smilingIf you’re a single mom whether newly divorced, widowed or have been without a partner for a while, the odds are you will eventually start dating. However, one of the most common concerns a single mom has when it comes to dating is when to introduce one’s child to a new partner and what is the best way to bring this new person into your child’s life.

Here are 10 tips provided by family therapist Sara Dimerman to help you through this next phase of your life and your child’s:

1. How soon is too soon?

If you are thinking of introducing your child to your new partner within a few months of being separated, then it is probably too soon. Your child needs time to get used to the idea of not being together as a family unit. Giving your child the time to adjust to her new life and routine before you bring someone new into her life will make it easier when you finally do make the introduction.

2. How do you know when the time is right?

If you can see that your child has adjusted relatively well to the divorce or separation, then you may be able to introduce someone new after eight or nine months. One tip that may help; read a book or watch a movie together that deals with divorce. Watch for their reaction – both verbally and physically. Ask questions that relate to the movie or book to determine their comfort level with divorce.

3. Should your children be of a certain age?

In addition to making reasonably sure that your children are ready for the news, evaluate the situation based on:

•Your child’s age. Younger children may accept a new partner more easily than an older child or a teenager

•Your child’s temperament and personality.

•How comfortable they are about talking about the separation and divorce in general.

4. Is your relationship secure?

The worst possible situation is to introduce and expose your child to a new relationship each month. Before you make any introductions, ask yourself the following:

•Is your new partner someone whom you see being with long term?

•Have you seen the way he interacts with other children (maybe even his own)?

•Is he able to pursue a relationship with you and your children in the way that you would like?

•Does he still have a commitment to someone else?

5. Should the decision be made in conjunction with your ex?

In a perfect world, communicating with your ex about when the “right” time for introductions would be ideal. However, it is better to evaluate the situation at the time you feel your child is ready to meet this new person, rather than having to come up with an exact time frame in advance of doing so.

6. Where should the introduction take place – at home or somewhere public?

It depends. There are pros and cons to making the introduction outside and inside your home.

At home:

Pro: Your child can hide for a while after the initial introduction. Chances are if this news is a surprise, they may need some private time to absorb what you just told them.

Con: Your child may not be ready to have a relative stranger come into their house and may resent him sitting in a chair that Dad used to sit in.

Public location:

Pro: Everyone is on neutral territory.

Con: There may be nowhere for your child to escape to process all that you’ve shared with them.

7. Should the children be told in advance or should it be a “by chance” meeting?

My suggestion is to give your children some advance notice of the meeting, rather than creating a staged “by chance” meeting. Some parents I’ve counseled, choose not to make a big deal out of the first meeting but prefer to gradually involve their “friend” in gatherings. Over time, your child will see your relationship is more than platonic.

8. How should you introduce him – as a friend or a boyfriend?

A friend recently shared a story of how her ten year old daughter learned about her relationship with her new partner. At first, her daughter thought of her partner as nothing more than a “friend.” She had not invited him over when just she and her daughter were together, but he often attended small gatherings where her daughter had an opportunity to chat with him. This allowed her to get to know him in less of a threatening context. Next, my friend visited his house with her daughter so that they could meet his new puppies. This created a further connection between them. At some point, my friend’s daughter began to suspect that her mother’s relationship with her “friend” was more than that and asked her mother if he was her “boyfriend.” This led to a discussion about the difference between a “friend” and a “boyfriend” and ultimately led to my friend revealing that, according to her daughter’s definition of a boyfriend (“someone that you kiss and cuddle”) that he was indeed her boyfriend. Depending again on your child and the situation, the introduction to a new partner can be more gradual and informal.

9. Should he or she be included in family gatherings?

As your relationship evolves, allow his involvement with your family to gradually increase over time. Keep watching to evaluate your child’s response to his presence. Of course, you are entitled to adult companionship. But your child should be entitled to express their feelings about how this new person’s presence makes him feel. If you think his concerns are legitimate, then you may want to adjust the arrangements.

10. How will your children likely react or feel about your new partner?

Children can react with a host of different emotions, ranging from jealousy, anger or pity for their other parent, to happiness or relief about your new love interest. The most important point to remember is to acknowledge their feelings and reassure them that what they are feeling is normal.

Just as dealing with the separation and divorce required a period of adjustment for both you and the children, so will learning to accept a new person in your life. Keep in mind that your child is not likely (especially if he or she is a little older) to want your new partner to act like a third parent.

He doesn’t have to bend over backwards to be a friend either. In fact, some older children have shared how much they disliked their parent’s new “friend” because he was trying too hard to win him over. As tricky as it is to define this new person in your child’s life, allow this to be a gradual process during which everyone gets to know one another, so that this transition is as easy as possible on everyone.

Sara Dimerman is registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario as a Psychological Associate. She offers individual, couple and family counselling out of the Parent Education Resource Centre, in Thornhill, Ontario, which she established in 1990. She is an established expert on parenting, and author of ‘Character Is the Key’ (Wiley & Sons, Canada, 2009) and ‘Am I a Normal Parent?’ (Hatherleigh Press, USA, 2008). Sara is regularly quoted in magazine and newspaper articles and appears on radio and television across North America. Her own website is www.helpmesara.com.

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