By: Terry Gaspard
One of the most common questions that divorced moms ask me is: When will I know if a new partner is right for me and it’s time to introduce him to my children?
My best answer is to take your time dating after divorce and don’t introduce your new love to your kids if you are dating casually or you’re unsure. While it’s normal to seek solace, companionship, and a sexual relationship after a breakup, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether this relationship is casual or might be long-lasting.
If you are considering making a commitment to someone, you want to be sure that you’re comfortable being vulnerable with him and you can delve into tough topics. After all, how can you expect your children to trust and embrace your new partner if you’re walking on eggshells or unsure about how well he will fit with your family?
Here are 5 Things To Consider Before Introducing Your New Partner To Your Kids:
1. Is this a person trustworthy and mature enough to handle a committed relationship which includes children? Does he have adequate conflict resolution skills to handle issues that will arise?
2. Have you known your new partner for a least six months and discussed values, beliefs, expectations, and your vision of a relationship?
3. Do you feel that your partner shares your views of child rearing and yet will be willing to defer to you for important discipline issues with your kids?
4. Does your partner seem like the kind of person your children will feel comfortable with? Does he ask questions about your kids and show interest in them?
5. Are you healed from your divorce sufficiently to embark upon a new committed relationship? If not, it’s not wise to subject your children to a new adult who they may lose and experience stress related to that loss.
In my clinical practice, I’ve witnessed many new relationships go sour when a partner is introduced to children too quickly or without consideration for whether or not both parties share the same vision for the future. For instance, if your partner lacks commitment to working through the ups and downs of daily life with your children, it can cause more upheaval for everyone in the long run. You want to realistically assess whether you have compatible styles for resolving conflicts so that you’re not burdening your kids with more stress and possibly another breakup.
For example, Jen, a thirty-eight-year-old accountant, described her new partner Kyle as caring, dynamic, and a great match for her. They had been dating for a little over four months and she was madly in love with him. But she began questioning their relationship when Kyle started coming on strong disciplining her daughter Sydney, age nine, and she seemed irritable and distressed. When Jen brought up these issues with Kyle, it caused ongoing conflict that never got resolved because Kyle withdrew and wouldn’t discuss it.
During our second session, I asked Jen if she had thought about any disadvantages of introducing her daughter Sydney to Kyle so soon – before they discussed their beliefs about child rearing and Kyle’s role in their family. She paused and said “Yes, but it seemed so right” so I asked her to write down a list of pros and cons of her relationship with Kyle for her homework assignment. When Jen arrived for her next session, she reported that she was having second thoughts about whether she had rushed into including Kyle in too many activities with Sydney. During our session, Jen realized that Sydney was seeing him as a rival for her attention.
Keep in mind that children need time to adjust to their parents’ split and it can take a year or two for them to get over the anger, sadness, and other emotions. If you introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually, this may complicate their adjustment to your divorce. Consequently, your kids may view your new love as a rival. Just because you are smitten with your partner, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings.
Most crucially, consider your children’s needs for security and reassurance and whether your new partner is the kind of person who is interested in making a commitment. Introducing your kids to someone who is uneasy about being part of a family, or who doesn’t appreciate children, is setting the stage for heartache for both you and your children.
Let your children know that you have an abundance of love to go around. It’s crucial that you assure your kids that your partner will not replace their other parent or change your relationship with them. Don’t be surprised if your children reject your new partner at first. Some kids express anger or defiance and may even threaten to move out – or go to live with their other parent full-time.
Try to have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm. Taking it slow and picking a partner who is a good fit for your family will benefit all of you in the long run.
In sum, the key to making a commitment to a new partner and including them in your family life is evaluating where you see your life in five years. It involves rationally picking a partner that is a good fit with your vision for the future. Introducing a new love interest to your kids too soon might complicate, delay, or damage the process of discovering if this person is right for you. So take things slow, dig deeply, and find out more about your love interest before moving to the next level of commitment and introducing them to your children.