Introducing a new partner to your children is always going to be an emotionally challenging time. You will be excited about the next stage of your new relationship, and perhaps a bit nervous about how things will go. Whatever feelings you have, your children will probably be feeling lots of emotions too.
Both Ian Davies and Lauren Pilcher from our family law team have experienced (and survived) the ups and downs of step-parenting and being a step-child and have put together some top tips to ensure introducing new partners to your children goes as smoothly as possible.
- Let the other parent know that the introduction is planned, ahead of time. This is common courtesy to the other parent and a sign of a healthy co-parenting relationship. The introduction of new partners is often the time that difficulties arise with co-parenting relationships, but this can be avoided if the other parent is kept informed about things.
- As the step-parent, accept that this is going to be a hugely difficult time for the child and give them the space to adapt to the change; they will be overwhelmed by a wealth of emotions that in most cases they simply cannot process, so giving them the time and space to deal with those emotions, as well as the change to their lives is paramount.
- Be sure that this new relationship is a long term relationship when introducing a new partner to your children. It can be incredibly confusing, especially for young children, to be introduced to several new partners over a short period of time.
- Be guided when it comes to ‘parenting’ the child, don’t simply expect to apply or enforce your rules, discipline, and standards. That is not to say go easy on the child, or let them walk over you, but understand that they may react better to a different way of parenting than you were used to.
- It is sometimes helpful to have the first introduction somewhere away from home, at a place that your children enjoy. For example, at a bowling alley or a crazy golf course. It can help to break the ice and make the day as fun as possible for your children.
- As the new partner, whatever your feelings are about the children’s other parent, or their behaviour, you should not discuss them with the children. It is all-but guaranteed that the relationship you have been building with them will change negatively, and probably irreversibly, if you start to speak badly about their other parent.
- Go at your children’s pace. They may not be ready for your new partner to stay overnight just yet and might need a few more day trips or dinners out together to be fully comfortable with this new person in their home. Your home is going to be your children’s safe space and they will want to be comfortable with who is staying there overnight.
- Accept that you will never get it right 100% of the time when introducing a new partner to your children (no-one does); but that things can change in the long-term. You may despair at the way the child treats you or reacts to you initially, but when they have had the chance to process things it is often the case that by always being there you will be doing far more for them than you realise and will reap the rewards in the future.
- Ensure that your new partner understands and respects the other parents role, and that they are not trying to be a second mum or dad to your children. This is probably going to upset your children, and will almost definitely upset the other parent. This includes thinking carefully about what expectations there are for what your children will call your new partner.
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