With one in ten families in the UK now being a step-family, and one in three people being involved in a step-family in one way or other, the nuclear family of biological parents living together with their children under one roof is now seen as a pretty out-of-date typecast of the British family.
New relationships are a natural and common occurrence in separating families and finding a new partner can be a happy and exciting time for people whose previous relationship has ended. However, no matter how joyful this new relationship maybe it’s important to recognise the effect that introducing a new partner can have on any child involved. So it’s vital to consider very carefully how to go about introducing a new partner to a child, to limit any unwanted detrimental effects that may be caused. That’s why Progressive Mediation have put together the following top tips on how to introduce new partners into separating families from a child-centred approach, to form a handy guide for parents….
Think before you act
Before you introduce your new partner into your child’s life it is crucial that you think realistically about the future of your new relationship. As much as you may feel love struck at the moment, think about yourself and past relationship experiences- will this be a long-term relationship? Nobody wants to have the dreaded “Where is this going conversation?” but you have a genuine excuse to bring it up when there are children involved. You don’t want to introduce every date or short-term relationship to your children, as most children will find this overwhelming and destabilising. So think first and only make introductions when enough time has elapsed and you feel sure as you can that it will be a long-term relationship.
Talk to your ex before the child
If the other biological parent of the child is still in the child’s life talk to them about the new partner before you talk to the child. It may not be an easy conversation but a very common issue that prevents successful mediations is when an ex has introduced a new partner to children without consulting the other biological parent. Despite, whatever has gone on between you in the past as a couple, you are still a parenting team, and successful teamwork relies on communication and trust, so it’s important to let you’re ex-partner know if you’re going to introduce a new adult into your child’s life.
Talk to child before introducing new partner
“Mummy who’s that man in the loo?”
“That’s you’re new daddy”
“But what about my old daddy?”
During separation children are susceptible to feeling vulnerable and ungrounded. A scene such as the one above is only going to enhance the likelihood of these feelings of vulnerability, when in fact, such negative effects towards children from introduction of a new partner can be completely avoided. Be careful how you bring up the new partner, and do not suggest that they are in any way a replacement for the other biological parent, depending on the child’s age you may refer to them as a ‘special friend’ or if they are older don’t shy away from terms like ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ as older children will know and will not like being lied to. You can explain how you feel, that you like this person and that you’re spending time together and that they are helping support you. Children want their parents to be happy, and if they see the positive effect the new partner has on you, this may make them feel better too.
Fun first meeting
Take the children out somewhere neutral, and do something fun- going to the cinema or bowling are good suggestions. Anything that distracts away from the introduction to make it a less tense time for all involved, don’t forget that the new partner may be feeling nervous too, and the children will be more wary of them if they are acting in an unnatural way.
Take it slow
After the first meeting, however brilliantly it went, don’t immediately bring the new partner round for dinner, take things slowly. When families separate children can feel insecure due to all the changes going on in their lives and they need time to adjust to these changes so they feel secure with them. Perhaps if you went to the cinema on your first meeting, on the second you could go to a park, where there is a little possibility to make conversation but it is still not the centre of focus. Then, only once the children know this person and feel comfortable around them, invite them to your home, or else it will feel like an invasion of their safe territory. Only invite your new partner to stay over when your children are home, when plenty of time has passed and they are fully comfortable with them, and warn the children before, you can refer to this as a ´sleepover´.
Avoid kisses and cuddles with new partner in front of child
Try to avoid kissing or cuddling your new partner in front of your child. They may find this unsettling and it may make them feel jealous which could lead to feelings of resentment towards the new partner or insecurity and upset.
Quality time with you
One of the most important things to avoid upset when introducing a new partner to your child is to ensure you still spend quality time alone with them, whether its talking to them about their day, their feelings, or helping them with reading, it´s even more important at this time to ensure you spend lots of time with them and show them they are loved. This will leave them feeling loved, secure and able to face any changes or challenges the transition into a step-family may bring.
Finally, and most importantly COMMUNICATE. With your child, with your ex-partner, with your new partner. Make sure your children are aware that you´re happy and willing to talk with them whenever they need you.