There is a variety of different expert advice on when a parent should introduce a new partner to their children. Step families are the fastest growing type of family we have. While there is some experts who state that if you’re widowed, divorced, or a single mum, you should not remarry or take on a serious relationship with anyone until your child is 18. But is that ridiculous. Other experts feel that having a nuclear family of a mum, step-dad, and a stable two-parent household will provide greater benefits to the child.
In either case, no matter how you feel, statistics show most of us do remarry after divorce, and remarry with young children.
The confusion comes if you introduce them too soon, your children might grow close to someone who won’t be in their lives too long. They have already experienced the loss of one parent and to lose another parental figure is detrimental to their emotional and psychological well-being. Then there’s the opinion that if your children don’t like this new person it’s best to avoid them and move on to find another partner.
I always believe, especially with step family maters, to experience some counselling together. If you find a good Counsellor they will discuss the many matters stepfamilies come across. When these matters are discussed you will both be far better prepared to respond than to react to something thrown you were not expecting. The most important thing to remember as the stepparent is never to parent the other person’s child. Support, mentor, guide by all means but never ever be their parent.
While the decision remains a personal one for each parent I have listed 5 things to consider before introducing him or her to anyone.
1. Depending on the age of your children really depends on how you approach dating again.
Advising your children (age appropriately) that you have a new friend is fine. They do not need to know further details at this time. You can over the next few weeks let them know where you have been, what you have been doing and how this person makes you feel. Assess the response you receive from the children.
If they are happy for you then it may be time for pictures and discussions about your new friend’s family. If the response is negative, discuss this with the child to ascertain the reason. It may be the child feels sad their parent is being replaced or forgotten if they have past away. Communicate and listen to the child’s feelings and emotions and consider counselling for the child to accept the change in the family.
2. Have you been dating this person and really getting to know them for at least 3-6 months?
Research tells us it can take up to 3 years to really know a person. This is the time it takes for all facades to come down, however we should be able to get a good idea of them, their ethics, morals, values within a few months, provided you have spent considerable time with them. Allow the time to really get to know them. Do not feel pressured to have them meet the children until you are completely comfortable and secure that this person will be around for quite some time.
3. When do you display affection for this new friend or partner?
Displaying affection to the new person in front of the children should be managed carefully. I strongly suggest there is no display of affection for until the children meet, experience the person and start to like the person. Only then small acts of affection are acceptable such as a kiss on the cheek or a hug. Holding hands may be all right after a while as to a child this is a grand display of affection as well.
Never any displays of sexualized behaviour or sexual kissing should be done, not at least until the wedding. Be cautious of the new friend staying overnight. This may tell the children that the relationship between mum and dad is definitely finished and many children hold on to this hope as a comfort. When they see another person take the position of the parent no longer living with them, this can be very confronting for them. Tread carefully and delay sleep-overs for considerable time to protect the children’s emotional wellbeing.
4. Discuss with your new friend or partner, the way you raise your children to ensure they understand and can accept your parenting style.
There is nothing more difficult if you parent differently than the person you will be sharing the children with. While they may not be the children’s parent they will have an influence and be part of their upbringing and role modelling. Differences in parenting style can be complex. One person may be authoritarian and set firm clear boundaries expecting the child to follow. The other person may have more of a free range approach and expect little from the child. Both people must be on the same page as this prevents criticism and disagreements over the way they are raised.
5. Do you really believe this person is a stayer and can add value and benefit to your life and that of your children?
These are the type of questions that need to be asked and often missed in the lust of a new relationship. Ensure you learn the type of person and parent they are and if you feel conformable and confident then proceed to introduce them and have them as an active part of your children’s life.