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Are Your Children are Ready to Meet Your New Partner?

by Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW

Often, an area of heightened emotion between divorced or divorcing couples occurs when deciding when one parent should introduce their dating partner to the children. Although circumstances may differ and there are no set rules, some important guidelines can prevent undue emotional stress to their children.

Timing is Everything

Firstly, parents should allow healing time for themselves and for their children who are grieving the loss of their family unit. Some experts say that emotional recovery can take from one to three years for divorced adults. Other experts estimate one year of healing for every five years of marriage. Dating, ideally, should begin once the adult has achieved wholeness emotionally, financially, psychologically, and spiritually.

Children will also need time to adapt to all the changes that accompany divorce for them. This may include living in different households, attending new schools, dealing with parents who are angry and/or sad, adjusting to new schedules, and participating in new and different traditions.

The greatest gift given to children of divorce occurs when both parents have a child-focused approach to their new lives. This means that the parents keep the best interest of the children first and foremost when considering any changes. Feeling loved, nurtured, and “heard” creates emotional stability for children during the chaotic days of divorce.

Children can harbor secret longings for their parents to reunite and it is, therefore, important to understand that introducing new dating partners is the “final” blow in losing this dream. They may also perceive that they are “losing” their parent when dating begins. Be mindful that children are egocentric and, although we strive to teach them empathy, their worldview is about themselves, and not centered around you.

It is crucial to assess how well your child is adapting to the divorce before considering the introduction of a new adult into their lives. Is he/she crying a lot? Performing poorly in school? Having difficulty with custodial transitions? Is he/she angry or sad or experiencing behavioral regressions? Is your child able to express their emotions openly? Do they feel free to love both parents? Please make sure that their lives are stable before allowing them to become emotionally attached to someone who may or may not remain in their lives.

The One-Year Suggestion

In terms of a time frame for introducing dating partners, it should not occur until at least a year into the dating relationship. Why a year? It takes at least a year of exclusive dating to see how someone handles stress, to determine whether or not they fight fairly, and to assess their character. Relationships are much easier in the beginning. The “newness” fosters considerate behavior and conflict can be avoided more easily. You must be sure for yourself that this person is someone with whom you would like to build a future.

Some pitfalls to avoid

1. Introducing children to an ‘affair partner’. Your child may feel loyalty conflicts no matter who you date. But bringing an affair partner into their lives is certain to cause pain and result in resistance from your child. When affair partners are introduced prior to divorce finalization, it can be disastrous.

2. Introducing multiple dates to your child. Divorce has rocked their world. Don’t create additional instability and risk your child developing mistrust toward relationships in general.

3. Introducing new loves before you’ve had time to really get to know them.

4. Asking for your child’s permission to date. Dating should be happening with privacy so you can evaluate the desirability of a new person in your child’s life.

Some guidelines to ease children’s concerns

1. Assure your child repeatedly of your commitment to them. Spend time with them, listen to their viewpoints, and respect their feelings. Let them know that having new people in your life doesn’t diminish your parent-child relationship in any way.

2. Give your ex, your child’s other parent, the courtesy of knowing that you will be introducing your new partner. You are not asking permission; you are simply being respectful in informing your child’s other parent of what is happening in their life.

3.For younger children, your new partner can be described as a “friend” whereas preteens and older children will have better understanding of the term “date.”

4. Initial introductions should be light and fun (i.e., dinner, miniature golf, a movie).

The benefit of waiting prior to new partner introduction includes a greater assurance of a successful new beginning. New loves can bring healthy relationship modeling for children as well as the comfort of seeing a once struggling parent become happy again. When done correctly, the great gift of a new partner is the addition of another person into your child’s life to provide them with love.

©2015 Alpha Resource Center

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