How do I introduce my children to a new partner?March 26, 2019
You have separated. Maybe just newly separated. And you have met somebody else. But your children don’t know.
Your ex doesn’t know either. And you are not sure how to introduce your children to your new partner, or how you should involve your ex in the process.
In my Sydney City and Woolloomooloo practices I am often asked for help to manage this change in lives. Parents get worried about the impact of a new relationship on their children. And it’s true that if a parent doesn’t carefully think this through, it can lead to a breakdown in their connection with their child.
So how does their parents having a new partner affect children and adolescents? Well here are some of the complaints I commonly hear them say:
- The new partner (and sometimes their children too) appeared too soon after the separation of their parents. Assumptions are made that their parent must have been having an affair with the ‘new’ partner. Children and adolescents are concrete thinkers and generally find affairs appalling and disgraceful. They feel as if the parent has not only betrayed the other parent and but also them.
- The new partner doesn’t have children but seems to have a lot of knowledge about what children should and shouldn’t do.
- The new partner attempts to discipline the children/adolescent without building a relationship first.
- The children/adolescents hear their parent and the new partner talk negatively about the other parent.
- The children/adolescents do not have enough time alone with their parent because the new partner is always there.
- The children’s/adolescent’s new step-parent’s children are different ages and therefore family time is not geared towards their interests or development any more.
- A home with an increased number of children means an increased amount of noise. I often hear adolescents say they prefer to be with the parent who has the quieter home.
- Children/adolescents just don’t like the new partner or feel the new partner doesn’t like them.
- Children/adolescents are not allowed to talk about the other parent or their other home when with a parent.
As a family counsellor I do a lot of work with step families and blended families. It is complicated, complex work because instead of working with two parents and their children I am often working with parents, step-parents, step-siblings, half-siblings and more. A lot of the time there is historical trauma and resentment from both sides. Sometimes there have even been orders made by the Family Court.
Children who are caught up in this sometimes choose sides based on how each of their parents behaved immediately after a separation.
So what can you do to look after your relationship with your child/teen when you separate? How can you be set up to have a somewhat-healthy relationship with your ex partner? How do you introduce your children to your new partner, and when should you do it?
Here are some guidelines:
- Make sure you are absolutely sure it’s worth introducing your children to the new person. Often parents make the mistake of introducing the children too early and then breaking up with that person soon after. A general guideline is that you should be dating for at least six months before introducing the kids.
- Don’t move in with a new person for at least a year. It will be enough for your children to meet a new significant other in your life – trying to set up a new family environment within the first year after separation does not give children enough time to grieve for the intact family they have lost.
- If you do decide to introduce your children to the new person, first have a discussion with your ex-partner so they can also support your children in this process.
- Note – you should be the one to tell your children about a new partner – not your ex partner.
- Set up the new partner as a new “friend” to your children. After a couple of months, they may be ready to hear that you actually have a new girlfriend/boyfriend. But remember most children in the first 12 months following a separation fantasize and wish for their parents to reunite. If they haven’t asked you after three months if your “friend” is your new partner, then they are probably not ready to know.
- Ensure that they meet the new person in a public space that is not too intense. Try to set up an activity that your children will want to do rather than an activity that you and your new partner would like to do.
- Ensure that your new partner is not there every single time you see your children. Your new partner should only be there a quarter of the time you see your children – especially in the first couple of years.
- If your children/adolescents ask you if the new partner is your girlfriend/boyfriend, be honest about it.
- If you would like to progress to living with your new partner, ensure that they are on the same parenting page as you and your ex. This is where family counselling can really help.
- Make a rule that you do not discuss your ex partner negatively in front of your children. Please note – adolescents are big snoops and will go through your emails and text messages so don’t put anything negative about your ex there either.
- Don’t force your children to share bedrooms with step siblings. This will cause resentment.
- Ensure you agree on discipline consequences for your children/adolescents with your ex partner – not your new partner.
- If you can try and have regular catch ups with everyone (you, your ex, step-parents etc.) – this will really help to avoid “splitting” which often occurs in adolescents. An example of splitting is when an adolescent plays off one parent against another. Or chooses to live with the parent they feel gives them more freedom.
Remember you will always have to parent with your ex partner. Therefore, it is crucial that you are sensitive to their feelings and communicate with them honestly and frequently about new developments in your life. The best step and blended families I see are the ones where all parents work together for the sake of their children.
And also remember that too many changes too quickly will unsettle your child no matter what age they are. So take it slow.
If would like help with how you introduce your children to a new partner or how to transition to living with a new partner – call us today. Family Counselling can really help everyone navigate through this tricky and highly emotive transition.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.
In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.