Dealing with separation and divorce is tough, so what happens when you find someone new and think you’re ready to introduce them to your children? From Nigel Latta’s new book, The Modern Family Survival Guide, comes some simple guidelines to help make this transition easier for everyone
Simple guidelines for introducing someone new into your children’s lives.
These are my suggestions, and so therefore you should treat them as guidelines only, as a starting point to figure out what’s best in your own situation. These suggestions are guided both by my understanding of the current research, and also by my clinical experience working with lots of families over the years and seeing for myself what seemed to work best, and what seemed to end badly.
1. Be sure.
Before you go introducing the notion that you have a new ‘significant other’ into your children’s lives, you should be pretty sure that this person really is a significant other. It sounds obvious, but, as I’ve said many times before in this book, just because something sounds obvious doesn’t mean people actually do it. The two of you need to sit down and have a serious conversation about your relationship and whether or not you’re ready for this next step. If you’re uncertain, then hold off. There is absolutely no point in subjecting your children to the stress of all this if it isn’t going to be some kind of serious relationship.
2. After you separate, wait.
Don’t rush into this, no matter how much you might want to. It doesn’t matter how madly in love you might be with the new person, your children will need time to process the actual separation before you compound that with the introduction of a new partner. And how long should you wait? There’s no precise answer, but my suggestion would be that you wait as long as it takes until the children appear settled and are coping well. To know this you’re going to need to have good communication set up with your ex-partner, and you’re also going to need to know how they are doing in school and other settings. If in doubt, wait.
3. If you can, tell your ex-partner first, and away from the children.
In the best of worlds you’d be able to tell your ex-partner first before you tell the kids. Ideally you want for you and your ex to process any tension before you tell the children. This is important so that you can both know what is going on and can both be able to talk with the kids.
4. Tell them about the new relationship first.
Don’t make introducing your new partner the first time the kids are aware they even exist. Essentially, the idea here is to give your kids time to get used to the idea of there being a new person in your life before they have to grapple with the actual reality of it.
5. Reassure, reassure, reassure.
When you do tell the children, it’s hugely important you reassure them that, even though you have this new person in your life, it doesn’t change how you feel about them, and it doesn’t change the fact that you and their mum/dad will still be working together and talking together to do all the things that mums and dads do for their kids. The big point you want to try to get across is that this ‘new person’ won’t mean there is any change to the old relationships. Let them know that they are still, and always will be, the most important people in your life.
6. Don’t be scared to ask them how they feel about it.
Make it OK for them to tell you. It’s really important that you keep the lines of communication flowing. You should be asking them how they feel about it all, and you should be doing everything you can to make it OK for them to be honest with you. They should know that they can tell you anything about how they feel, whether they’re OK, not really bothered, sad, or even angry. Tell them it’s normal to feel a bunch of different things in situations like this, and it’s OK for them to tell you about any or all of those feelings.
7. Introduce the new person slowly.
The balance you need to get right is that you don’t want to make the introduction with the new person too big a deal, but you also don’t want to act like it’s not any kind of big deal, because it almost certainly will be. There’s no magic formula for this one, so you’re going to have to trust your instincts and proceed with caution. If the first meetings seem to go OK, then you can start to build up. If it goes badly, then back away until things settle again.
8. Make sure you still have time just with them.
It’s important to make sure you still get one-on-one time with the kids as they’re starting to get to know the new person. This sends out a powerful signal that you still love them just as much, and you’re still there for them just as much.
9. Repeat 5 and 6, above, as many times as you need to.
Basically you can never provide too much reassurance, and you can never have too much communication. That doesn’t mean you have to get all clingy and intense about it, but rather that you’re constantly signalling to them that life is still going to go on, that you and your ex are still going to be their mum and dad, and that no matter what happens you will always love them.
10. Always, always, always put their interests first.
And once again, it’s the old ‘sounds obvious, but doesn’t mean you’ll do it’ bit. This is one of the many aspects of parenting which requires considerable maturity, self-awareness and selflessness. I’ve seen loads of people who, in the depths of all the passion and excitement of new love, tell me that they really think the children need to know so that their new love can start to get to know them and play a role in their lives. They’re almost always positive the children are really going to love the new person. I usually bite my tongue, take a breath, and then ask if they’d like to know what I think? Then I tell them.
EXTRACT USED WITH KIND PERMISSION. UTILISING BOTH THE BEST CURRENT RESEARCH ABOUT STEPFAMILIES AND OVER TWO DECADES OF CLINICAL EXPERIENCE, NIGEL TRAVERSES THE DILEMMAS AND QUESTIONS THAT MODERN FAMILY LIFE PRESENTS. WWW.GOLDFISHWISDOM.ORG