One of the significant parts of the divorce experience is when the ex-spouse’s parents begin to date others. This affects everyone – the parent who is in the new relationship, the parent who is NOT in the new relationship, and the child. When this comes up in mediation, it’s usually because it was not handled well. So I thought it might be helpful to share a few ideas (culled from the experts*) about how to talk to your kids about your new love.
You know your child – and what she needs – better than anyone else. So all of these suggestions could – and should – be adjusted for your particular circumstances, considering your kids’ ages and developmental stages, levels of independence, and emotional wellness. My overall guidepost is always that kids’ needs come first – only you can gauge what that means.
How strong is the relationship with your new love?
Are you reasonably sure that this person is going to be around for a while? The last thing you want to do is introduce someone new to your children, only to have them disappear.
Have you told your ex first?
There are several reasons to do so:
(1) this is big news in your child’s life. She should not be the messenger between her parents, nor should she feel like she has to keep secrets from her other parent;
(2) it’s respectful to give your ex time to deal with their feelings before they address this with your child;
(3) it might be written into a separation agreement. While dealing with your ex’s emotional reaction might be uncomfortable, remember that you’re the adult.
You may need to reassure your child
– in words and in action – that your relationship with her is still primary, and that you are not abandoning her in any way. While that may seem obvious to you, it may not be obvious to her. Bring it up in a safe space. Give her room to ask questions. Let her know that you’re still her parent, and you’re still you. Keep your routines. Be reliable and consistent. Keep prioritizing your kids over everyone else. They still need you – perhaps now more than ever.
Give your child room to grieve if she needs it.
Recognize that your new relationship may shatter your child’s fantasy that you and your ex will get back together. Again, that may seem obvious to you, but she may still secretly hope it will happen.
Let your child get used to the idea before actually meeting your new someone
– and especially before you have sleepovers. Give your child time to get used to the idea that you are a whole person and not just a mommy or a daddy. Make the introduction as normal and as neutral as possible. Perhaps you can meet outside for an event or for something to eat.
Taking the time to build a good foundation now can only benefit everyone involved in years to come.