When parents divorce, their children’s needs must take priority in all decision-making. Whether it is child support payments or visitation rights, the children must come first. So, what happens when one parent meets a significant other and wants to bring that person into the new family dynamic? A consistent piece of advice is to make sure the new relationship is stable and long-term before making the introductions, and to start slow. The parent and new partner must agree when the time is right, and then proceed with caution.
Even if a parent meets a new partner before, during, or right after the divorce, it is smart to wait. Both parents should also discuss the new partner and timing before any introductions are made. Children need enough time to adjust to the new lifestyle, especially when emotions are running high. Children often feel mad, confused, or sad when their parents split up, so holding off can give them time to sort out their feelings. Children may also feel resentment against the new person if they feel that they broke up the marriage or are competing for the parent’s attention.
Spending a weekend with your new partner and children at the beach is not recommended for a first meeting. It should be done gradually, starting with a few hours at a neutral, age-appropriate place, such as a bowling alley, movie theater, or restaurant. These work well because everyone can be involved in an activity; it can feel less awkward.
The parent and new partner should also monitor their own behaviors in these situations. Arguing in front of the children can be harmful, especially if the divorce was contentious. Acting overly affectionate in public can be embarrassing for them; it is also important not to discipline them loudly. New partners should never try to parent the children at the beginning of these relationships, as children are loyal to their biological parents and can become angry.
Reading the Signs
Children react differently to new partners, depending on their personalities, ages, and experience with the divorce. It can create stress, and thoughtful parents can reassure them that they will always be loved. Asking them for feedback throughout the process will also make them feel included and valued. This can be done for the first meeting and subsequent ones. They can even suggest the activities.
If the children are acting uncomfortable, overly sad, uncommunicative, furious, or otherwise emotionally distraught, it could be time to take a step back from the new partner. Allowing your children to express their feelings can bring things out into the open, such as misunderstandings and experiences that the parent may not be aware of. Some new partners may not be a good fit for the family, even if they make the new parent happy. Honesty is the best way to see if the new relationship can become long-term.