How to Help Kids Cope with a Parent’s New Romance
For many parents, divorcing and carrying out a formal parenting plan is the first time they may be spending significant time away from their children.
It’s heart-wrenching and takes time to adjust to.
Add the complication that Mom or Dad has a new romance in his or her life, and the stakes quadruple. Adding a new partner into the mix can cause competition and conflict.
Ground Rules Regarding a Parent’s New Romance
If parents don’t raise this issue, I always do. Exploring worries and concerns and creating expectations about parents’ significant others via a mediation session can avoid conflict and damage caused by assumptions. Creating a pathway that will work for the children is also essential.
After exploring options, most parents agree on the following ground rules regarding significant others.
A Waiting Period Before Introducing a New Romantic Partner to Your Children
Those initial months following their parents’ separation is when children are adjusting to one-on-ones with parents and trying to avoid having divided loyalties. Each parent is also adjusting to major changes such as the home they live in, the financial impact of separating, emotions, legal matters, and much more.
The literature is pretty clear, and most parents agree, that for at least 9-12 months after parents begin live separately, each parent’s time with the child(ren) should not include any romantic partners. The children badly need this attention, time, and space with their parents as a buffer before adjusting to new adults in their lives.
Plan your relationship time for nights when the kids are with the other parent. Even after the children meet the significant other, plan on reserving plenty of alone time with the children.
What to Say When Your Child Asks, “Are You Dating?”
One answer that works well is to indicate that you both are meeting new people and making new friends, both male and female. It can be helpful if both parents agree to have a similar answer, and to share the information with each other that the child(ren) made the inquiry.
If you are dating someone, it’s best to be truthful when your child asks, but also be nonchalant. Chances are someone may innocently report to your child that they saw you with someone. If they have not heard that from you, your credibility is in question. You can say that you are just getting to know someone, and you’ll introduce that person to the child(ren), if/when it becomes appropriate.
No Surprises for the Other Parent
When you are ready to introduce your children to a potential new partner, make sure you alert the other parent first. If your child announces to you that they just met Bob/Sally (your spouse’s new romance), and you are not prepared, your face will show your feelings. Your child may feel uncomfortable at causing you pain and being caught in the middle between you. Children calibrate your facial expressions, and if they think you are upset, they will not share information with you, so it’s best to be prepared.
Introducing a New Potential Partner to the Children
There is a fine line to walk when it’s time to introduce children to a new partner. Too soon, and you risk exposing them to too many partners for their comfort. Too late, and you’ll miss the time it takes to learn how your potential partner interacts with your children, which is important information to have before going further with the relationship. Another factor to consider are the ages of your children.
Consider dating as a laboratory to figure out what works and what doesn’t. When the time is right, you will include the children. You must be willing to learn positive and negative things about this potential partner. It’s not uncommon for children to feel competitive or jealous of your time. It’s not realistic to expect the children to like your new partner just because you do. Go slowly and give your children time to adjust.
Meeting Your Ex-Spouse’s New Partner
Some parents want to insist they meet their ex-spouse’s new partner before the kids are involved. It’s a natural feeling to want to know who is going to interact with your children. It’s hard to accept that you have little influence over this issue. While it is sometimes difficult, it’s a time when you need to trust the other parent’s judgment.
Ask yourself, what will the outcome be if we meet? You’re not likely to get the measure of a person at one meeting. If you have a negative conclusion, what are your options? If meeting works for all parties, go ahead an arrange it, but avoid making it a condition regarding when the children meets him/her.
Consider having an understanding that you and your ex-spouse will share pertinent information as a courtesy. Avoid a judgmental inquisition and be grateful that you have been included and reassured. The main reason to share is that your children will know you have chatted and that you are supportive of each other as you meet knew partners.
Overnights and Shared Travel with the Children
Reassure each other that you are sensitive to your children’s needs and anxieties. Follow through on your intentions to make sure the children have developed a sense of friendship and trust with the new person before he or she stays overnight with you when the children are there.
Prepare your children in advance for overnight guests, and alert the other parent. It is startling to be surprised regarding who is in the kitchen in the morning. When traveling together, consider separate rooms for each gender. It can be embarrassing and stressful to share a bedroom with Mom/Dad and his/her new partner.
Red Flags to Look for With Your New Partner
Over the years I have seen a pattern that almost always causes conflict. Your new partner tries to come between you and your ex-spouse by setting up rules about when you can see your ex-spouse or that he/she must be present at all events such as birthdays, children’s extracurricular activities, and the like.
When this becomes a litmus test for whether love is part of your relationship, I suggest you see that circumstance as a red flag and look closely at the relationship. Consider it a potential showstopper concerning that relationship moving forward.
Generally this type of insecurity causes serious difficulty in co-parenting and often expands into relationship trust issues. The kids are caught in the middle and have to make choices that cause stress and anxiety.
The Biggest Gift of All to Your Children
With few exceptions, the best gift you can give your children is ease and respect regarding the partners of your ex-spouse. Be inclusive at parties and holidays and extracurricular activities. Be gracious and take the high road of welcoming and forging a relationship. It’s good for you, and it’s essential for the kids.
Give your children is permission to have fun, love the other parent, and, by extension, the parent’s partner. Being supportive and accepting when it might actually be difficult, but it’s about protecting your children. Protection is not just physical, it is emotional. This is a huge opportunity to help your children emotionally.
The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” includes the notion that the more people who love and support your kids, the better off they will be. Reassure your children that they do not need to nurture or protect you or hide their feelings from you. They need to know that you are pleased that the children feel comfortable with a new person and that the other parent is happy.
- “How to Interact With the Children of a New Partner“
- “5 Rules For Introducing a New Partner To Your Kids“
- “Dating After Divorce: What it Means for Kids“
- Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce by Joanne Pedro Carroll
- More books on helping children cope with divorce
- Index of BJ Mann Blog Topics
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This blog and its materials have been prepared by BJ Mediation Services for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal or financial advice. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.