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    Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:28
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    Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:54
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    Friday, 10 April 2015 17:50
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    Monday, 03 June 2013 09:34
  • Strap-in-the-Future

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The psychological effects of introducing your child to a new partner

new_parentIn the past, living arrangements in Western society were primarily characterized by the nuclear family. The breakdown of this closed family entity, due to separation or divorce, is a painful process and requires adjustments on the part of both parent and child.

Changes in family structure and in the roles of parents and children, have an impact on practical, emotional and financial levels. While all family relationships can be complex at times, introducing your children to a new partner is a life-changing event for all concerned and brings with it, its own unique set of challenges.

Are you ready?

Before embarking on a new family life, you need to be reasonably sure that your new relationship is likely to be long term, before you can think of getting your children to accept your new boyfriend or girlfriend as a serious partner. It is also essential to be aware of your partner's intentions and their readiness to play an active role in your children's lives. Can you envision making this person part of your family?

Depending on your circumstances, the introduction of a new partner is likely to raise all kinds of fears; anxieties and possibly other strong emotions in your child. Are they reasonably ready for a major life change? Factors to consider include; how recently your relationship with their biological parent ended, how it ended (death, divorce, separation), why it ended (affair, violence, just walked out...) and how much your children know, the nature of the ending and how much your children were exposed to (anger, violence, threats, accusations, mutual respect, sadness, and acceptance, and whether anyone else was involved (e.g. an affair).

Timing

Children, whose parents are no longer together, often have hopes and fantasies about their parents reuniting, even if it has been a very difficult marriage. They are prepared to do everything to get their mom and dad back together. It is therefore important to wait until your child has come to terms with the divorce/ separation before you introduce a new partner. Children need time to adjust and accept that your relationship with their other parent is over and that there is no chance of reconciliation. If the ending of your relationship was triggered because you met someone else, it is even more important to reassure your child that this person was not responsible for the breakdown of your marriage.

Several child and relationship experts recommend at least 6 months of exclusive dating before you consider introducing your new significant other to your children. If they are still experiencing confusion and pain, and are mourning the loss of their previous family unit, it is advisable to wait longer. Children are often quick to form attachment bonds. If your new relationship doesn't work out, the bond will be broken and they may begin to expect instability in future relationships. The rule of thumb, is that if you are unsure, rather wait. Introducing a new partner too soon or someone who is unlikely to have a positive impact on your children's lives can have detrimental emotional and psychological effects.

Talking to your children about adult dating

Begin by slowly and sensitively talking to your children about your new partner, and see how things progress. Some children may become curious about your partner and ask if they can meet him or her. Bear in mind that children often have fears of abandonment when their parents enter a new dating relationship. Affirm your personal commitment to your children, respond to any questions they may have and demonstrate how much you love them. By adopting a sense of openness from the onset, you are entering into a meaningful dialogue with your children about dating and hopefully giving the signal that they are welcome to talk to you at any time.

In order to include your children in a relationship that has become important to you; initiate a conversation about your love and support for your family, what each of you would like for your family's future and what kind of qualities each of you would like in a newcomer to the family? It is completely permissible to share your genuine enthusiasm for the person you are dating with your kids, without asking for their approval of your adult dating relationship. You are also not giving them an ultimatum to accept your partner, but indicating that there is a significant person in your life who will not detract from your relationship with them.

Planning

Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, recommends introducing your children to your new love interest, within months of declaring that you are in a serious relationship. Plan a fun, informal outing or activity, such as going out for pizza, having a picnic in the park, ten-pin bowling or playing a round of miniature golf. The social nature of this situation, in a neutral place, helps everyone relax and hopefully have a good time. It creates the opportunity to meet one another, without lengthy or uncomfortable conversations.

Provide your partner with a little information about each child. This will prepare them for the meeting in advance and help them understand your children's unique characters.

Be prepared for the unexpected. All children are different and may respond in alternative ways. Let your partner know that you will give all your attention to your child and comfort them, if they are showing any signs of emotional distress.

Initial introductions

It may be difficult for your children to accept your dating relationships. Allowing for the inclusion of another person in your life may be a slow process that requires your patience and understanding. Make your child your top priority at this time by reassuring them that you love them unconditionally and that you intend to always be with them. Show your child that they are the center of your world and that they do not have to fight for your affection. Rather portray welcoming a new person into your family, as an opportunity to widen the circle of people you chose to care about in your lives. Subsequent meetings should occur gradually at your child's pace.

As a new partner, being accepted as a new grown up member of the family can be very challenging. Instead of trying to be a new mom/dad, try establishing your own unique relationship with the child. You may meet with some resistance initially and may need to take a step back. Let the child approach you when they are ready.

Sensitivity

Despite common belief, children do not necessarily respond negatively to the introduction of a new partner. In reality, their only wish is that their parents are happy. Children react differently depending on the situation, their relationship with both parents and their personalities.

If you have been single for a while, it is natural for your child to experience feelings of jealousy. Spend quality alone time with your child, ensure they know that their needs take preference in your life, and help them understand that a couple's relationship is different to that between parent and child, and that they need not feel threatened. If your former partner is still single, your child may feel the need to spend more time with them, to alleviate any potential or existing loneliness. Some children feel guilty for spending time with one parent when they know the other is on their own.

Realistic expectations

It takes time, patience and commitment to build new relationships. Just because you love your new partner does not mean your children will. And, just because you love your children, does not mean your new partner will. Tread gently and carefully to give romance the chance it deserves. Introducing a new person into your and your children's lives is a process that requires a balance between looking after your children, yourself and your new partner. As Kate and Emily (two single moms) point out: "...love is not a competition for the number one slot in your life. Your children are your children, and your lover is your lover very easy to say, but it may not seem that easy to either of these people!"

Communication and mutual decisions

Children are often more adaptable to change and tolerant than we think. In general, if children feel safe and loved, they are able to effectively cope with life transitions. In terms of introducing a new family set-up, it is important to tread slowly and carefully, by gradually initiating the change, keeping the lines of communication open and taking your child's emotions into consideration. Communication not only involves talking to your children in an open and honest manner, but listening to their feelings and opinions too. You can't always give your children what they want but it is imperative for them to know that you acknowledge their emotions and value their opinions.

Communicate to your children in an age appropriate manner that is in accordance with their developmental level, so that they can understand what is going on in the adult world around them. Try to put yourself in your child's shoes and see things from their perspective. If you approach the situation with a sense of empathy, you may notice things that might be worrying to them but not obvious to us. For example, "does this mean I won't see my dad anymore?"

Children are capable of interpreting your needs and wants too. To ensure they don't misinterpret how you are feeling or where you are coming from, share some of your emotions in an age and developmental stage appropriate way but don't use this as a means of pressurizing your child into acceptance.

Include your children in decision-making processes as much as possible. If they feel excluded and kept in the dark about your plans, they may begin to view your new partner with suspicion and experience feelings of insecurity, regarding life changes over which they have no control. Be open and honest about the potential challenges your new relationship may bring.

Quality time

Be sure to keep some time aside that is specifically just for you and the children. Quality time reminds your children how special they are to you and how they play a pivotal role in your world. It can also help your children feel that your new partner is not there to steal you.

Time, patience & love

Divorce is a traumatic experience for both parents and children. Just because all the paperwork has been finalized, does not mean that the emotional divorce is over. New routines replace old ones. You may be introduced to new family members and lose contact with others. Financial implications may translate into moving house or schools. And what was once a family unit characterized by parents as a couple, in an intimate relationship; has been replaced by a parenting relationship.

With the introduction of a new partner, the roles are once again shifting and new routines are being put into place. All these changes can be painful, difficult and confusing for your child. Spend quality time with your child. Help them express what they are feeling, and ensure that they feel safe and loved. Accepting your new partner will take time and patience. In some situations, this never happens. As a parent you need to put your own needs aside and let your child know that you support and value their relationship with your ex. It is important not to make derogatory comments about your ex partner because children know they are a product of both parents. It is likely they are missing their parents; the parental relationship and they don't want to share this time with anyone - let alone a stranger. Only introduce a new partner once your child has accepted the divorce, do so gradually and always make sure your child knows they are the center of your world.

References
BBC News. Introducing a New Partner. BBC-Health. http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/ Published 2012. Accessed May 18, 2012.
The New York Times Company. Parents' Dating Advice: How To Introduce Your Children- When and How to Introduce Your Kids to Your New Love Interest. About.com Guide. http://www.about.com/#!/editors-picks/ Published June 22, 2009. Accessed May 18, 2012.
Molander, H. Effects of Divorce on Children/Child; Divorce and New Families. http://web4health.info/en/. Published July 22, 2008. Updated July 31, 2008. Accessed May 20, 2012.
Netmums Ltd. Introducing a New Partner to Your Family. Netmums. http://www.netmums.com/. Accessed May 20, 2012.
Dadsdivorce.com. When Should Divorced Dads Introduce the New Girlfriend. Dadsdivorce.com. http://www.dadsdivorce.com/. Published 2011. Accessed May 29, 2012.
Kate & Emily. New Relationships & Families. Kate&Emily.com http://www.kate&emily.com/new-relationships-families