When a family breaks up and parents separate there can be some unsettled times ahead for everyone, particularly the children. They must get used to their parents living in two separate houses and possibly moving to a new school too. Sometimes all too soon new partners arrive on the scene bringing a whole host of new issues, even if the intentions are all good. A lot will depend on the ages of the children and how the separation was dealt with by the parents.
A parent dating someone new is one thing and much has been written about how and when to introduce new partners to children. In an ideal world the new partner would move in after some time when there is a solid relationship between them and the children. However, a marriage proposal can be a big worry for children as there is a permanence and finality about marriage which may cause insecurities or fears in children and teenagers, even if they have become close to the new partner. It can also re-open old wounds with the ex-spouse causing strains in the relationships there too.
Here are some examples of how these situations make children feel – being aware of things from their perspective will help you give them the reassurance and understanding that they deserve.
Sense of Loss
Whilst you and your new partner are experiencing all the excitement and happiness that comes with a new relationship, just remember that your children, although happy to see you happy, will be mourning the los of what was. In their eyes the best possible family set up is with both parents that they love and their siblings all in one house. As happy as the new set up may be, they will always feel nostalgic for the loss of the old family unit and having both parents on hand 24/7.
Sharing their parent, who was most likely a single parent for a while, with someone new will stir up feelings of resentment and jealousy towards the newcomer. These reactions are perfectly normal, and the child should not be reprimanded – from their point of view, they had their parent all to themselves for a while and mourned the loss of the other parent. Then no sooner have they got used to this, they must now share their parent with an outsider. It will take time to trust and build a bond with your new partner, it is important not to force it. Children will often find fault with new partners to vocalise their jealousy and it is important not to react badly to this as the child will feel unheard, rejected and replaced.
Another common way that children react to these changes in the home is to display increased attachment bonding issues. This is particularly applicable in younger children, who may start suddenly not wanting to go to school or refusing to leave your side whilst you are together at home.
As a child watches their parent become close with a new partner, they can feel a sense of abandonment if they feel they are no longer receiving the attention that they once did from you. Plenty of reassurance is required to help them realise that they are still important and nothing about your relationship with them has changed. Remember in their mind they may be thinking “Where do I fit in now?”.
It is important to remember that your child will struggle with the concept of a new father or mother figure. If they have fun with them or show affection to their stepparent, they may feel that they are being disloyal to their real Dad or Mum. It is very important that both you and your new partner let them know that they are not there to replace their real parent. Never bad mouth or run the other parent down (even if you feel it is justified), this is possibly the cruellest position to put a child into. Read our post on loyalty issues and conflict for children after separation.
It is quite normal too for the children to draw comparisons between your new partner and their real Mum or Dad. During the adjustment phase, show some understanding if your child comes out with something like: “My Dad is much stronger and better at football then you”. It is best to laugh it off and agree that he probably is. This is no time to let your ego get in the way of bonding with your new stepchild.
Involvement in the Wedding
When you have set the date for the big day, it is important to involve your children in the process and bear them in mind when planning for everything. If your children feel shut out or disregarded it will cause resentment issues. It is a fine balance to keep moody teens happy in this situation if they have decided to take a dislike to your new partner – tread with caution, understanding and love.
Sometimes, when a separated parent decides to remarry, it can reopen custody arguments that had been previously laid to rest. Keeping open discussions with your ex-partner will in most cases quell this situation as nobody will suddenly be sprung a surprise about a wedding.
However, it does happen, for example, a father marrying a new partner may suddenly feel he can look after the children full time now he has a new wife. Or a mother may take a dislike to new partner of her ex-husband and refuse to let the children stay over with him anymore. Communication is key through out all these situations and if possible, all the adults should get together and meet to discuss what is best for the kids.
How can mediation help?
In all these situations, from the initial separation through to the arrangements for the children and introduction of new partners, emotions can run high. Each situation will be different, but when adults struggle to communicate effectively with each other the children will suffer. Mediation enables all parties the opportunity to get to together to resolve issues with the help of an experienced mediator. If you would like to speak to a mediator to discuss your circumstances please call Frances on 0788 903 9393.