Recently, I have had couple of friends ask me my thoughts on when they should introduce a new partner to their children. Whilst there is no hard and fast answer, I feel that there are a couple of basic steps you can take that will get you off to the right start.
In my case, my ex –wife and I both had new partners relatively quickly from when we separated. It matters not what the circumstances are, as all that results is a ‘he/she said, she/he said’ argument which will get neither of you anywhere. The heartache felt when you realise your ex-partner has found someone is in many ways incomprehensible, and even harder to describe in words. I remember vividly the feelings of anger, hurt, and a general kick in the guts something like what you feel when riding a roller coaster when your stomach drops. I also remember, the arguments, the horrible things we both said to each other, and the long term damage some of those words can have.
I have heard so many different cases of parents introducing new partners going all the way from really well, to downright horrible. We all go through the same questions in our heads, ‘what if the kids don’t like she/he?’, ‘what if my new partner doesn’t like my kids?’, ‘when is the right time?’. I empathise with each and every one of you facing this right now!
Here are some of the core must-haves for me given my experience, and loss of marriage.
Be open and honest with your children at all times. Partners will come and go, children are yours forever. Expressing your true feelings to your children when discussing a new partner can be tricky. Use language and terms that match your child’s age and/or education. Talk with them, not at them, include them, and listen to what they tell you. All lies eventually come out, the less you start, the less trouble you will have in the long run. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, kids will remember, trust me!
In the early months of a new relationship, discuss openly, how you feel about your children, how much time you have with them, and how in spite of losing a marriage or relationship with the other parent, that your happiness is just as important as my children’s. There is no point in forever serving your children only to leave yourself alone and lonely. There is equally little point in being in a relationship that offers little to your children. I have learnt that children are super responsive to their surroundings. They learn almost all of their habits from us, their parents. Choose wisely on your behaviour when with them, if you think it may get taken the wrong way by a child, it probably will. It all comes down to how selfish we want to be!
Let the children form their own opinions of your new partner. Remember this is a two way street, your new partner should be cognisant of the fact that they are under the microscope just as much as your kids are to them. One thing that my ex-wife and I have done very well at, is maintaining that the kids have one mum and one dad. Whilst the kids now recognise both my and my ex’s new partners as ‘step’ parents, we continually reinforce that you have one set of parents forever more. What this does, is reassure the children that you are not going to pass off all of your attention to your new partner in lieu of them. The trick here, is to live out that promise! Sadly, many people fail here…
Make it casual, don’t make it a big event to announce your new partner. This kids will feel alienated, and it will put pressure on your new partner to ‘perform’. Trust your kids, and trust their instincts as people who can make their own judgements. Remember, they look to you for how to act.
Lastly, be honest with yourself. Your new partner may also come with their own kids, you need to be willing to compromise as much as your partner is in making this relationship work. Find that common ground, and like all problems, break them down into bite sized chunks. I cannot be more persuasive when saying that you need to forget all about the material stuff. It’s all about the emotional, spiritual, and psychological feelings that will help you bring a blended family together. Flash cars, holidays, toys, are all a waste of money if you have little emotional bond. Make yourself vulnerable to your kids, who cares if someone see’s you dressed up like a loon because your kids have played, ‘lets dress up dad’. Honestly, most of the time kids just want to be with you! Don’t miss that opportunity, do not waste a minute….