Children and change often don’t go together well. They tend to fare better in stable situations that are predictable and that have set patterns and habitual behaviour. So, when a parent has met a new partner, that can upend things in the child’s life and lead to confusion, resentment and other negative feelings.
They may feel like you are trying to replace the other parent in their life or they may feel like this new person is going to replace themselves and you’ll end up loving that person instead of them. In order to reassure your children that nobody is being replaced and you have enough love to go around for everyone, here is a quick guide to introducing your child to that person you’re head over heels for.
1. Refrain from introducing them to everyone you date.
Before getting into what to do, we start with what not to do, and according to Dr. Justin Coulson, that means not introducing your children to everyone you go on a date with. While it is easy to avoid introducing your kids to one-off dates, you should also avoid introducing them to people who you go on multiple dates with until such a time as you feel like you might be with a person long-term.
There is no perfect time or set number of dates that you should wait for, but you should feel like the person is in your life to stay before you take the step of introducing them to your kids. A revolving door of people coming into and then quickly leaving their lives will negatively affect their ability to trust others and may lead to stress, anxiety, unpredictability, uncertainty, jealousy and anger for your children.
2. Let them know what’s going on.
You can “introduce” a new person before actually introducing them by letting your children know there is someone you are interested in and telling them a bit about the person. You don’t want to make it seem like you are telling them how they should feel about this person, so stick to telling them about why you like the person and some details like the person’s job and some background about them. Let your kids form their own opinions about the person. Chances are that if they see how happy the person makes you, they’ll be more open to accepting this new person.
3. Be prepared for mistrust and resistance.
While it would be fantastic for your children to immediately accept your new partner, there is a good chance the children will be a little wary at first and possibly downright hostile. As mentioned earlier, they might feel like their other parent or even they themselves are being replaced or that you may not have enough love for everyone.
This will be exacerbated if you’ve introduced others to them who have subsequently hurt them and/or you by leaving (hence why you should hold off on the intros until you feel like the connection is lasting). The important thing is to not expect that they will immediately like your new partner.
4. Validate their feelings.
Tell your children you understand how they feel and it’s okay and even normal to feel the way they do. Reassure them that you will always have time for them and that nobody is being replaced by anyone else. Try to get them to understand that liking or loving one person does not mean taking love away from another person and that you hope they can get to know your new partner and maybe be friends with that person.
5. Prepare your partner.
Explain to your partner how things have been for your children, including any pertinent details about how they handled your breakup with their other parent and anyone else you’ve introduced them to. Warn them about any issues they should be aware of and encourage them to go slowly. There is no need to bring a toy or anything else that may come off as a bribe. For this first impression, you simply want everyone to feel comfortable. Keep your expectations low.
6. Do an activity.
Rather than just sitting in a restaurant wading through awkward small talk, choose an activity where everyone can be involved and do it away from your home so your children don’t feel like their space is being invaded. Something like miniature golf , going for a bike ride or doing a sport in a park are good ways to get everyone involved. Keep the activity short, like for about an hour, so things don’t feel like they’re dragging.
7. Talk about it.
Have a chat with your children about the outing with your new partner. The point is not to seek their approval for the person, but rather to ascertain whether they enjoyed themselves and if they felt safe and comfortable being around the new person. Then, talk with your new partner about how they thought the meeting went.
8. Do it again.
Go on more outings that are basically the same as the first one, meaning meeting on neutral territory, doing fun activities and keeping them short and light. Hopefully your children’s comfort and trust levels will grow with each subsequent meeting and they’ll even start to look forward to spending time with your new partner.
9. Invite them over.
Once some trust and comfort has built up, invite your new partner over for something simple like a meal. If your children are old enough and open to the idea, invite them to participate by helping out somehow. Make sure your kids know that your new partner is coming over to see all of you and not just you in particular.
10. Have a sleepover.
If things are moving in that direction, a sleepover is the next logical step, but make sure a healthy amount of respect and trust has been established all around. While you may completely trust your new partner at this point, for everyone’s safety and comfort, there should be some clear rules regarding things like nudity and how much your new partner will be involved with your kids. You’ll likely want to keep your partner away from your kids’ baths and bedrooms for everyone’s comfort. And when your partner is using the bathroom for any reason, the door should be closed and locked.
If you need to, have a conversation with kids as to why you’re sharing a room with your partner and/or where your relationship is at with this new person in their lives. Again, accept all their feelings and thoughts on the matter.
If things get to the point where the new person is going to move in, the conversations need to get much more serious. Separately talk to your children and your partner (and possibly the children’s other parent) about parenting responsibilities, handling potential discipline issues and what you can both do to make your children feel safe when you are going to be away from home and your partner and the kids will be staying home.
Remember that any new relationship, whether romantic or otherwise, takes time to develop. Don’t expect a miraculous acceptance of your new partner immediately. Rather, take it slowly and build up trust at a reasonable pace. The acceptance will come around eventually.