If you’re a parent in a new relationship with someone special, you are undoubtedly concerned about how your child will feel about this person in their life. While ups and downs are to be expected, thinking ahead about how to best handle this situation can set the stage for a smoother transition for everyone involved. Try these suggestions to help your child accept this new phase in both your lives.
DON’T get angry with your child if they don’t initially take to your new partner. For many young children the experience of stranger anxiety is a normal part of healthy attachment to their parents. Give them time to adjust to this change in their family dynamic.
DO evaluate your children’s level of development in terms of their capacity to understand the arrival of this new person into your family. Let them ask any questions they need to and respond sensitively to their concerns.
DON’T introduce a new partner to your children too soon after separating from their parent. While you may be ready to move on from the relationship with your ex, your children may not be.
DO take stock of where your children are emotionally with your separation. It may be helpful to take children to counseling, or attend family counseling together, to help everyone process through any grief they may be experiencing. By doing this, the whole family will benefit and adjust in a healthy way to this new family structure.
DON’T be tempted to introduce a new partner to children at family gatherings or events. This could be upsetting if such events were things you and your ex would take your children to together.
DO talk with your kids about how you have a new person in your life and how this relationship will affect them. Prepare them in advance for the first introduction and consider pairing this meeting with something fun you can all do together. This can help make the event less stressful and more positive for everyone.
DON’T leave your kids alone with your new partner until you are sure that everyone is comfortable with the arrangement. Also, it is important to assess the safety of your children in the care of your new partner. Listen to your kids if they express any anxiety or discomfort when staying alone with him or her.
DO maintain your children’s sense of space and privacy while attempting to blend your family. Remember that for many teens having an unrelated member of the opposite sex in the home could be uncomfortable. Try to have open conversations with your children about how they feel when your partner is in your home.
DON’T rush to introduce your children to this new person in your life or require that they call him or her a name they are not comfortable with.
DO talk to your kids about an appropriate way to refer to this person. Whatever is chosen should be something that is acceptable to everyone – including the child’s other biological parent.
Sensitivity and patience are key to helping your children manage a complex family structure. By being aware of how significant this change is for them and keeping lines of communication open, you can help make this period of adjustment go as smoothly as possible.