By Audrey Cade
Who doesn’t adore falling in love and starting a new relationship? This is especially exhilarating after enduring a bad break-up or a divorce. The fact that romance and a fresh start with someone new is still possible after losing it all is uplifting and makes anything seem possible!
When you have children, taking that big step to include them in your happiness and to introduce them to your new partner can be daunting. How do you navigate the process of connecting all of the people you love with the extra complications of exes and other parents, your children’s feelings about the situation, and possibly your partner’s children?
Consider these steps to prepare your children to accept developments in your love life:
Be in tune with their feelings
First and foremost, be sensitive to your children’s feelings and how well they have healed and processed the end of your relationship with their father. What may seem like an exciting new chapter and an amazing thing to you may be received as final evidence that mom and dad are never getting back together! The age of your children and the length of time since the break-up will have a major influence on how receptive they are to the idea of you moving on. Don’t be too disappointed if you get a chilly reaction to the news that you are dating if not very much time has passed or if they are still in denial about your feelings for their dad.
Be sensitive to your children’s feelings and how well they have healed the end of your relationship with their father.
Wait until it feels right
Don’t bother introducing every date you have to your children. Don’t confuse your kids with a parade of new names and faces or risk exposing them to people who you haven’t had a chance to thoroughly vet for yourself. Instead, consider waiting until you develop mutual serious feelings with a partner and confirm their feelings about kids before opening that door. Make sure a person you introduce to your kids is worthy of becoming a part of your lives.
Set the tone for the introduction
When the time draws near for an introduction, begin talking to your kids about what that means to them. It’s important for kids to hear the message that mom and dad are not getting back together as romantic partners, but they will always be partners as parents. Moms and dads have a need and a right to love and be loved, so even though it didn’t work out for their parents to be together in that way, they will want to be with someone else romantically. A new partner of mom’s or dad’s is not a replacement for either parent, and there is no expectation for the kids to have to love a new partner. Express that you wish for your kids to be respectful, but put no pressure on to immediately accept them as friend or family.
Take baby steps
Start with a short and informal get together as a first meeting. Introduce your children to your new partner in an environment that is comfortable for them. It may help to choose a fun activity to do together to help everyone loosen up, though perhaps not one that they specifically associate with when mom and dad were together. Gradually work up to longer and longer periods of time together as everyone is comfortable.
Introduce your children to your new partner in an environment that is comfortable for them.
Don’t become hurt or angry if there’s not an instant connection. Your kids are in a precarious position where they may feel that they will be disloyal and a disappointment to a parent no matter what they do! If they like and accept your partner, they may fear rejection from their father just as if they are unaccepting to your partner they risk letting you down. That’s a hard situation to win! Even if your child finds that he or she likes your friend, feelings of guilt may make them withdraw or even act inappropriately to counteract these fears. Just be patient and understanding!
Keep things calm
Recognize that a new man in your life may threaten your ex. Even if your ex is completely over you, he may still have unresolved issues that will spill over into your new relationship. The biggest perceived threat may be that the kids will like your partner better or be “taken away” by him. Try to put the shoe on the other foot and comprehend what a new woman in your children’s lives would feel like for you. If it hasn’t already happened, it probably will! Set boundaries between your kids and your new partner to keep things appropriate, and communicate with your ex, if need be, to keep things calm. No matter what, it is your life, so you can’t let either your kids or your ex hijack your love life; just brace for potential turbulence!
Avoid setting unrealistic expectations
Don’t set up your situation for failure with poor communication or unrealistic expectations. Remember that your partner is your partner and not the parent of your children. Getting him involved with babysitting, discipline, or other parent-like responsibilities is not appropriate early in your relationship, and will have to evolve as your kids and love become more familiar with one another and you can develop clear-cut specifications of what is and is not alright for him to be involved in.
Your kids need your reassurance that they always have top billing in your heart, and nothing is capable of changing that.
Tell your kids how much you love them
Make sure your kids know your love for them is unchanged. We always tell our children that our love for them is eternal and nothing will change the way we feel for them, then they watch us stop loving and divorce their other parent. Ouch! Your kids need your reassurance that they always have top billing in your heart, and nothing- not a divorce, and not a new man- is capable of changing that! If your new partner has kids of his own, it’s also important for his and yours to understand that there’s no need for anyone to feel threatened because new people just means more people to care about, not less love to go around!
Dating as a mother is a process that will require patience, good communication, and compassion. Love is definitely possible the second time around, and your happily ever after may yet be waiting for you! So, don’t give up on a good thing just because you initially meet resistance from your kids. Divorce is a huge life change for children as well as their parents, so many adjustments have to gently be made to allow for new people to become part of your lives.
Good luck in your dating ventures!
About the Author
Audrey Cade is the author of “Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision” (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has work regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.