How to introduce your new “special friend” to your children

You’ve kicked your ex to the curb. Good riddance. You have a care arrangement in place and things are now humming along and settling down. For some this means time to also move on - in that romantic loved up kinda way.

But surely you get a say about who is going to be sleeping over when your kids are staying with your ex and/or when/how they will be introduced to your kids right?

Actually, you have zero say about who/how and when your ex brings someone home when your kids are there unless it compromises the physical and/or emotional safety of the child.

That said there is a child centred way and a non-child centred way to introduce a new friend to your kids. Why not get on the same page when writing up your parenting plan and set some ground rules about how to introduce new “special friends”

This blog addresses the child centred way to introduce a new special friend and tips on how to deal with it when one is introduced – without any warning.

A child centred approach to introducing new “special friends”

When it comes to introducing your new lover to your kids,  I have four words of advice – Take Your Time Tiger.

For many it is normal to seek companionship and a sexual relationship after a break-up. But it is crucial to take it slow, consider the timing and the impact on your children.

The key considerations are;

How long you have been separated?

Children need time to adjust to their parent’s separation and it can take them a year or two to get over their feelings of anger, sadness and other emotions. If you introduce someone who you are just casually dating and/or have only just met soon after the separation this may complicate your children’s adjustment to your separation.

How will your kids react - by age?

Younger children (under 10 years) may feel really confused, angry or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Most children find their parents dating behaviours  confusing and strange.

On the other hand, tweens and teenagers may appear more accepting of your new partner - but don’t be fooled. Tweens and teenagers may still see that person as a threat to your relationship with them.

Research has found that teenagers find open affection between parents and a partner troubling (read they think it’s gross/yuck) so consider their feelings and go easy on the PDA no matter how much fun you are having.

Regardless of age, many kids hold hope their parents will reconcile. It may therefore take time for your child to accept a new person in their life as they can take their arrival as a signal that their hopes of reconciliation are being dashed.

Remember kids learn what they live. Your children are going to model their behaviour on what their lived experiences are. A steady stream of “special friends” passing in and out of the house in front of the kids isn’t a good message (of course feel to do what you want in your private non-family time). As their role model, you owe it to your kids to build a new relationship - thoughtfully.

Be prepared for push back

Even though you might feel your new lover is  fantastic, that doesn’t mean your kids will too. They may have lots of conflicting feelings including loyalty towards  their absent parent which can make them feel bad if they like your new partner.

If things don’t go smoothly it doesn’t mean that you have made a mistake but it might just take longer than you would like for everyone to get along with each other.

Is this person a good fit for your family?

You might be head over heels in love but that doesn’t mean this person is a good fit for your family.

Explain to your children you have been dating someone who you care about and would like to introduce to them.  Ask them if they have any questions.

Consider your child’s need for security and reassurance

Let your child know there is a lot of love to go around. Introducing a new lover can increase stress in the household  and take energy away from your children’s ability to properly grieve the loss of their intact family – remember you might have seen the separation coming for some time but often your kids didn’t.

Assure your kids the new person is not there to replace either parent.

How will I introduce the children to this person?

Keep the first meeting short and low key. The best thing to do is go somewhere neutral for the first meeting, a restaurant or park. Ask your kids where they would like to go and don’t invite the persons kids (if they have them) to come along to the first meeting – or even the first few visits.

What NOT to do is have your kids run into your room to find a stranger in bed with you -pj’s on or not. This risks increasing the rivalry between the kids and the new person.

Having the person sleepover should only happen once you are fairly sure that your relationship is permanent.

The Non child centred way (aka How to handle it when he/she “didn’t take it slow”?)

What do you do when your child comes home to announce “Mummy/Daddy has a special friend sleeping in their bed”…you hit the roof!  I mean you’re not into him/her but this is seriously not ok right?

When this happens yes, the horse has bolted. Best thing to do is be calm and honest. If your ex can’t do the right thing then step up and explain to your kids that sometimes adults have new boyfriends and/or girlfriends, that they are never going to replace their parents.  Provide the child with reassurance.

If possible, raise the topic with your ex and try and reach an agreement on a future “How to” for introducing partners.

In summary

The key to successful parenting post separation is helping your kids heal from your separation. Introducing a new person too soon might complicate, delay or damage their adjustment. I’m not suggesting hide the truth -  you can always tell your kids you are going out on a date with someone new and that’s enough information.

If your new special person is really that special, they will still be there in a few months. If that’s the case, then seriously - what’s the big hurry?

Put your kids first and slow down waiting to introduce the person the right way (read - child centred way) will pay off in the long run!