When you became a parent, you made a commitment to always do best by your children. The relationship that created your children has ended, and you’re left wondering what your future holds. The only constant is that you still have that commitment to put your children first. Putting them first does not mean that you neglect your own happiness; in fact, if managed carefully, your children can benefit greatly by your happiness.
Most adults strive for an emotional connection with another adult and want to be in an intimate and romantic relationship. Having someone love you, and loving someone in return, is an incredible experience, and one that everyone should have the opportunity to pursue. But when you have children, a significant aspect of that new relationship's success is dependent on how careful you are about making that introduction of a new relationship to your children.
Here are four tips for introducing your new partner to your children.
- Don’t rush. Children need time to adjust. The right person will stick around until the time is right. Forcing the interaction too soon can be detrimental to not only your relationship with your new partner, but also your children's relationship with your children. Many mental health professionals who work with children of divorce suggest waiting a minimum of one year after the divorce to introduce children to a parent's new relationship. They also recommend that the introduction occur only if the relationship is monogamous and committed.
- Advanced notice.Introducing your children to a new partner without warning can make them feel like their life is in chaos. Once your children have adjusted to life after your divorce, then and only then, is it appropriate to begin the discussion of your new relationships. Inform your children you have met someone you wish to introduce them to and allow your children to first process that information. Only once they have processed the information, should you move forward with your children actually meeting your new partner. Be sure to buffer this information with reassurance about your love for them. Also, be sure to reassure the children that the new person will not replace their mom or dad.
- Consider the timing. Choose a time when routines are well established and stress is low. For example, introducing your new partner to your children during their first week of school is not the best idea.
- Communicate. Let your children consider the setting of this introduction. Ask them what they’d like to do and answer any questions they might have. Set a positive tone, but overstate that you are interested in talking through any concerns they might have. Consider the age and developmental level of each child with regard to processing and accepting a new relationship. Seeing a mom or dad with a new boyfriend or girlfriend may be particularly difficult for a teen who is coming to grips with his or her own sexuality and developing identity. You might also consider communicating the fact of a new relationship with your former spouse or partner.
It is entirely possible to enter a relationship with a new partner where the byproduct is happier children. To achieve this level of nirvana requires time, careful screening during the dating process and consideration of your children’s full range of needs. But as you fully appreciate, their happiness is worth it.