heybaby welcomes guest writer Jill Barnett Kaufman. As a divorce coach, therapist, and co-parenting expert, Jill brings some wonderful advice and perspective when it comes to dating wellness for single parents.
After divorce, many people start to think about dating. Dating can be very positive and can help you emotionally move forward from your marriage and your ex-spouse. While there’s no reason to wait to start dating, there are a lot of things to consider before you introduce your children to a new partner. Children are dealing with the divorce and may not be ready to meet someone new in your life right away. Children need time to process their parents’ divorce and it can take over a year for them to work through their sadness, anger and other emotions.
Before you introduce a new partner to your children, it’s important to determine if the relationship is casual or long-term. There’s no reason to introduce children to someone you’re in a casual relationship with. However, if you’ve determined that it’s a serious, long-term relationship, here are 5 things to keep in mind as you think about how and when to introduce your children to your new partner:
1. Take your time.
There’s no rush. If you have strong feelings for someone, that’s great! Enjoy your relationship when you’re not with your children. But breakups are common and the last thing you want to do is to have your children bond with someone and then lose them. To help you avoid this situation, you should be dating someone for at least 9 months to 1 ½ years before you introduce them to your children. Use that special time with your children to focus on your children’s needs. Your children will benefit if you take some time before you introduce your new partner to your children.
2. Communication is key.
Effectively communicating with your children is key to being able to know when the right time is to introduce them to a new partner. Ask them questions to help them open up. Make sure that you’re listening to them and encouraging them to talk. Don’t judge or get defensive by anything they say. Simply listen and validate their feelings. Even if they don’t answer you right away, if you let them know you’re there for them if they ever need to talk about anything, most kids will eventually open up to you. Some examples of good questions follow:
- How do you feel about me dating?
- Are you worried about anything?
- Do you have any questions for me?
- Are you scared about anything?
- What are you happy about?
- What are you sad about?
Some examples of parent responses that are validating follow:
- “I can understand how you feel that way.”
- “Tell me more.”
- “It seems like you’re feeling….”
If your children can talk to you about their emotions, it will help them understand and process their feelings. Children do better emotionally when their parents are there for them in this way.
3. Ask yourself, is my new partner a good fit for my family?
Your new partner may be a great fit for you but that doesn’t mean he or she is a good fit for your family. Bringing children into a relationship can significantly complicate a relationship. Does your new partner have children or nieces or nephews? Is he or she comfortable with children? Does your new partner have patience? You know your children and you are the only one who can make a decision on what’s best for them.
4. The introduction should be gradual.
Once you decide to introduce your new partner to your children, start with a brief, casual meeting with no expectations. Let your children get used to the idea of a new person in your life. Communicate with your ex-spouse about when you’re planning to introduce your kids to your new partner. This will avoid any uncomfortable conversations between your kids and their other parent. Ask your children for feedback when they meet your new partner for the first time. Avoid sleepovers when your children are with you until your children are emotionally ready for that.
5. Continue to spend time with your children without your new partner.
Even after you’ve introduced your children to your new partner and things are going well, it’s important to spend time with your children when your partner isn’t with you. This time helps your children feel special and that they are a priority to you. It can avoid a situation where your children feel jealous of your new partner. It’s also helpful to give them time with you so that they can talk about things that they may not want to talk about in front of your new partner. It will set you up for a strong relationship with your children going forward.
It’s important to think through the decision about when and how to Introduce your new partner to your children. Children can be significantly impacted if their parent introduces them to a new partner too soon or if the introduction doesn’t go well. If you take your time, communicate with your children and thoroughly think through your decision, you can introduce your children to your new partner without it having a negative impact on them.
All the best,