We’ve all read the statistics that second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. I believe one of the key reasons for that is the struggle of blending families.
For children whose biological parents are not together, the introduction of a new person may create what we call a loyalty bind. “How do I accept the new man in Mom’s life without betraying my Dad?”
Here are some suggestions for how to introduce a new partner to your children in a way that sets a foundation for success – for everyone involved.
Get the timing right
Is the relationship with the new partner stable? Be sure of this before moving ahead. The concern here is that the kids could get attached and then if the relationship ends, that’s another person they have to grieve the loss of.
Not only is taking that extra time better for your kids, it’s also important for the health and longevity of your new relationship. Now is the time to focus on getting to know each other, and building the bond between the two of you. Let the relationship build through its natural stages, without the dynamics of the family setting or worries about the person’s impact on your children.
Once you’re confident the relationship is positive and will have some longevity, it’s time to consider introducing that person to the children.
Talk to your ex
First, you may want to communicate with your children’s other parent. You don’t need his or her permission to date someone else or to introduce a new partner to your children, but if your ex feels blindsided by this progression, their negative reaction could influence your children’s acceptance of the new person.
You can’t control how your ex will handle your new relationship, but if you’ve been working on your communication, you’re co-parenting well together, and you’ve given them advanced notice, things are more likely to go well.
Sometimes it even works to introduce the new person to your ex, and if that goes well then let the children see them interact and be familiar with each other. This unspoken acceptance will speak volumes to your children.
Work out a plan with your new partner
It’s also important to have a conversation with your new significant other about their relationship with your children. Will they be like a friend or acquaintance, like an aunt or uncle, or will they gradually move into a parenting role? The right answer will be unique to every situation, and will take time to be revealed.
Start slow, build strong
I recommend that you gradually bring the person into your family’s activities, starting in neutral settings rather than the family home. For example, a concert, a neighbourhood picnic, a game of laser tag, or a bike trip. This allows your children and your new partner to begin creating shared experiences, which can then be the basis of conversation. This is a better alternative than the partner peppering the child with questions about things you’ve told them about the child, which may feel uncomfortable for both.
Gradually bring the interactions closer to home, so that by then the child or children will have had the opportunity to get to know your new partner and become comfortable.
I’ve seen circumstances where people move in together quite quickly, and sometimes that works out really well. More often it becomes a house of turmoil, because there have been too many changes, too fast.
It may feel frustrating to go so slowly, but you’re building a foundation for a relationship that will last a long time. It’s worth going slowly to get that right.