As attorneys practicing family law, a question we receive quite often from clients who are going through divorce is “When can I introduce a new partner to my children?” While every situation is different and it may depend on your children’s ages and how committed you are to the new relationship, we usually advise to take your time with dating in general and don’t make introductions if you are dating casually.
Divorce is difficult, and it is normal to seek companionship, but it makes much more sense to go slow. Take your time to figure out whether this relationship is casual and may be fleeting, or if it may turn out to be permanent after all. Too many new people moving in and out of your life during or after divorce is not healthy for the children. However, if it does turn out that you have met your next “soul mate,” you don’t want to jeopardize his or her chance to be accepted by rushing in “to meet my kids” too soon or without a plan. Your children need time to grieve divorce before they adjust to their new reality and are able to move on to meeting and eventually accepting a new adult figure in their family life.
Timing is Important
As eager and enthusiastic as you may be, try not to be in too big a hurry as you want to be sure that both you and your new love interest are equally committed. if you bring someone who you are casually dating into your family life too quickly, this may disrupt your children’s adjustment to your divorce and complicate their feelings of loyalty to their other parent.
Stability, plenty of reassurance, and regaining trust are vital to your children’s well-being. During divorce most kids have had their world rocked a bit in these areas, so let them heal and live in a “new normal” before you throw someone new into the mix. Consider too, that it is common for children to believe that their parents will eventually get back together. It is a good idea to make sure that they are not still holding on to this hope and that they realize that both their parents will be moving on in life without each other.
Keep in mind too, that your new interest can be viewed as a rival for your love and attention. Your children may worry that your partner will change your relationship with them. Reassure your children that you have plenty of love to go around and this person is not going to replace their other parent.
Children’s Ages are a Factor
Another important consideration when introducing your children to someone new in your life, is the child’s age and maturity level. Younger children under the age of 4 may be more accepting, but after that and up to about age 10, children are still very immature emotionally, tend to be possessive of their parents, and can be confused, angry, or sad by this new development. While adolescents may outwardly appear more accepting or even indifferent with regard to a parent’s new partner, it is not unusual for this age group to perceive that person as a threat.
No matter what the age of the child, initially they may find open affection between you and a new partner troubling and strange, so go easy on that in front of your children, especially in the beginning. Your children will be watching your every move when you interact with your new partner to try to understand what this new relationship is all about. Show respect, go easy on physical contact, be thoughtful, sensitive, and always be aware of how you role model to your children. They will definitely be keeping an eye on how you handle things, as that is how they get their values and form their responses to new situations.
The First “Meet and Greet”
Planning the place and length of the first introduction is important. If you have been dating someone for a while and are confident that you are heading toward commitment, talk to your children about that and explain that you’d like to introduce him/her to them. Ask your children what they are thinking or if they have any questions about meeting your new partner. You can even ask for your children’s input on when, where, and how they would like to meet this person for the first time.
It’s best not to bring this new person into your home for the initial meeting. Instead, choose a neutral place or outdoor venue. Keeping that meeting brief and casual in an informal setting will help everyone feel more relaxed. If your new partner has children, depending on the ages of all the children, it might be best to keep them out of the initial meeting. Every situation is different, so discuss it with your new partner and form a strategy you both agree on.
It is important to understand that your children probably won’t share your enthusiasm about the first meeting. Again, give them all time to get to know each other, preferably in small doses, and don’t force a situation. Don’t over plan too many activities, or suddenly include your new interest in every family event.
This part is tricky. Be very careful about sleepovers with your partner when you have children living with you. Bringing someone else into your “family space” is a very delicate process. Don’t plan an overnight with your new relationship in your home right away because it can increase the rivalry and create initial privacy invasion concerns for your children. If you co-parent, spend overnights with your new person when the children are with the ex. Careful planning and making sure everyone understands and agrees on the boundaries with regard to respect, expectations, and privacy right from the beginning will help make it a successful transition for all.
Be Prepared for an Initial Rejection
Don’t be surprised if your children reject your new partner at first. Some kids express anger or defiance. Depending on the coparenting living situation and the age of the child, they may even threaten to move out and go to live with their other parent full-time. Be realistic about your expectations regarding how your children react, and move at a slower pace, if necessary. While you don’t want to put yourself in the position of having your children take control of your life, assess your child’s mood and emotional health and proceed with caution. Slow and steady usually wins the race here, too!
Wait Until Your Kids Have Healed
Staack, Simms & Reighard, PLLC understands that divorce is so much more than a legal transaction. We know the key to successful post-divorce parenting is to help your children adjust and accept their new normal. Experience has shown us that when our clients bring in a new relationship too soon, it can complicate, delay, or damage this process. Moving on with your life is an important part of your own adjustment to divorce, and we realize this. Being cautious, thoughtful, and strategic when introducing a new partner to your children, will pay off for everyone in the long run.
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Staack, Simms & Reighard, PLLC