Your relationship with your children’s other parent has ended. It may not have been an easy transition. Perhaps you have felt some combination of hurt, anger, depression, relief, guilt, uncertainty, or hopefulness.
Maybe you’ve taken the time to address your feelings and are ready to think about getting into a new relationship, or maybe you left your relationship in order to begin again with a new partner. It was not an easy decision to leave and change the life your children grew up with. There have been many logistical issues and emotions to deal with as you have organized new living arrangements.
Children have many feelings about their parents’ divorce. They may not understand why it happened. They may wonder if the divorce was their fault. They may worry that, if their parents can stop loving each other, then how hard would it be for either parent to stop loving them? For children, there is often a strong desire for a reconciliation between you and their other parent. Your children may perceive a new person in your life as someone who could not only interrupt that reconciliation, but interfere with your time with your them as well.
Below are some general considerations for how to introduce a new significant relationship to your children. This is not an exhaustive list and cannot cover all the possible variables that may be true about your life.
• Give your children time to adjust to their new situation. Sometimes parents try to take care of their own feelings of loss by dating shortly after beginning to live apart, but this is one of those times when considering the needs of your children should be a priority. It may take a year or more before your children have a chance to settle into and become comfortable with all the changes divorce has brought. This may also be a good choice for you. Waiting to date gives you the opportunity to move through any feelings of loss, anger, or fear that can be helped by attention and time.
• Don’t expose your children to people you are dating until you have a pretty good sense of the relationship’s potential. There are, of course, no guarantees. However, having your children develop relationships with people who may not be in your lives for long is not only emotionally difficult for them, but could also potentially impact how they develop their own relationships later in life.
• Be honest with your children about when you are getting ready to start dating. This is, of course, age-sensitive. Don’t give your children control over when you start to venture into that world, but in general, let them know your intentions and ask for their feelings about it.
• Let your children know that your new relationship will not take time away from them. Meet new people when they are with their other parent. Children are able to understand that adults need time with other adults, just like they need time with other children.
• Reassure them that you will not bring someone into the family unless you feel comfortable that they can fit in. Once you are ready to have your children meet your new partner, don’t surprise them by having the person show up unexpectedly at an event. Talk with your children and arrange an event that is not focused solely on dialogue—for example, avoid having the first meeting be at a dinner. Your children should have the room to go and do other things besides interact. If your new partner will be in your life, there will be ample opportunity for more direct interactions.
• Before telling your children, let your ex-partner know. It can be difficult for the other parent to get that news. It may also be difficult for the children if they are unsure whether it is okay to tell the other parent or unprepared for an emotional reaction. Your children need not have the burden of being an intentional or unintentional messenger.
• Children are often open to new adults in their lives. Some may be resistant to anyone who appears to be taking the place of a parent. However, in general, when someone is friendly, pays attention to them, and doesn’t try to be a disciplinarian, many children can form an attachment to a new partner as they spend more and more time with that person.
Take some time to think through the needs of your children. It is certainly possible to start new relationships and help your children make the adjustments to the changes that come. Be open, honest, and clear about what your children can handle at their age. Do not give them power over your decisions. In the long run, children are very resilient, especially when their feelings are considered and they are given only the information they are able to understand.
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