November 24, 2009 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink
If only life was really like The Brady Bunch. An easily blended family, no exes to complicate matters, minor disturbances that are resolved with a great little moral lesson. In actuality, real life mirrors what was going on behind the scenes of The Brady Bunch show - complicated, passionate, and sometimes stormy. So introducing a new romantic partner after divorce or death is a situation that may not go as smoothly as when Carol and Bob met. It is a decision that warrants a lot of thought.
When you meet someone new, your initial instinct will be to want them to meet your children. Your kids are central, important and and in many ways the main loves of your lives! It may feel odd to keep a relationship separate from them. It may feel sneaky. You may be inclined to resolve this by having your new lover hang out and share in activities with your children as a new “friend”. Right? Wrong!!! These reactions are completely understandable but remember, not all are instincts are best followed. Children are no dummies – even children under three will register the different energy present with a platonic vs. non-platonic friend. Furthermore, if there was an extramarital affair involved with this partner your children will be aware consciously or unconsciously regardless of being told explicitly. So don’t kid yourself.
A good rule of thumb is wait to introduce your children to your romantic interest until the relationship reaches six months of seriously seeing one another. This guideline protects kids from experiencing the inevitable romantic ups and downs of a new relationships and of having another potential loss. Shielding your children from the early stages of your relationship will require sacrifice on your part; keeping your private life private takes energy, planning and giving up time with your new lover. It is not lying, it is not sneaky, it is privacy – necessary privacy.
Children have very mixed feelings about new relationships. They may feel disloyal to the other parent if they have fun with this new person. They become jealous of sharing your time. They may feel uncomfortable because the sexual energy present with a new relationship is different than that of their married parents. It is not as if kids cannot develop meaningful relationships with girlfriends or boyfriends after divorce — of course they can — but the more thoughtful consideration on your part the better the chances for your children to adapt to the new situation.
It is in your child’s best interest to wait and see if this looks like a relationship that will have sticking power to withstand the pressures of step parenting and blending families. Once the six month mark has come and gone, you are ready to begin integrating this person in to your family. Inform your ex of all developments. If he/she introduces your children to a new relationship as well, try to be as generous as you can — keep all complicated feelings to yourself. Your reaction will play a huge role in your kids openness to accept this new person and to experience less conflict over loyalty.
The first kid-new-partner meeting should be activity based. Do something together, a movie, bowling, ice skating — something that comes with distinct time limits and allows your child to ease in to the meeting with focus on the activity rather than “getting to know” your new lover. Gauge your child’s readiness as you decide the frequency of these get-togethers — keeping in mind that slow is always better in these matters. In terms of sleep overs and joint vacations, especially if other children are involved, take it very slowly. No one has ever complained that they wish they had moved faster on integrating families — on the contrary, most difficulties come from rushing in with idyllic expectations. Consider yourself very lucky if all goes smoothly as life is not The Brady Bunch.