The dust has settled after a long, painful divorce process. You’re on the other side and healing. You’re ready for connection, fun, partnership, love, and intimacy again—and you’ve found someone special. Or course you’re eager to invite them fully into your new life. But how will your kids react?
Thoughtfully navigating the introduction between a new partner and your children can help ease a tricky transition for everyone.
Don’t rush it.
Expert opinion on how long you should wait to introduce your kids to your new love interest ranges from several months to a year into the relationship. It’s delicate, and there’s probably no magic timeframe—but there are key guidelines for knowing when it’s okay.
Most importantly, give your child ample time to grieve, heal, adjust, and find equilibrium again after the divorce. It’s normal for children to hold onto hope that their parents will reconcile; meeting someone new represents another difficult ending. They may view dating as a betrayal of their mother/father. Be aware of signs that they’re not quite ready yet (behavioral issues/acting out, struggling in school, crying a lot).
Remember that new relationships are thrilling but don’t always last. Post-divorce rebounds can be especially tenuous. Another breakup could be confusing and painful for your children.
Waiting is for your sake as well. A tough transition too soon may strain your new relationship in addition to being difficult for your child.
In the meantime, try to keep disruptions to a minimum. You don’t need to sneak around, but try to go about your dating life without upending your family’s dynamic and routine too much. If you’re sharing custody, arrange to spend time with your partner when the kids are with the other parent. And especially with young children, you don’t need to explain too much. Until you’re certain it’s the real thing, simply let them know you’re going out with a new friend.
Be honest with yourself.
Will this relationship last? Is this new person a good fit for your family? Do you know them well enough to know how they’ll manage stress, challenges, conflict? There’s nothing wrong with dating casually and having fun, but if you don’t see yourselves building a future together, it’s usually wise to keep the kids out of it.
Consider their ages.
Young children, who don’t fully understand romantic relationships, may feel confused, sad, angry, jealous, or worried that this new person will take away from their time and closeness with you. Adolescents and older teens typically have a better grasp of dating, but may still feel guarded, viewing your partner as a threat or competition for your attention. They may also find it disturbing if you’re openly affectionate, so use discretion about physical contact when the kids are around.
Talk to your kids.
When the time comes, tell your kids a little bit about the person you’re seeing—what you like about them, maybe a common interest you all share. Ask your child how they’d feel about meeting. They may have strong opinions on when, where, and how—let them participate in planning. Reassure your child with lots of love and affection; let them know they still come first. Spend some extra special time together. This will help alleviate the sense that your new love is a rival.
Talk to the grown-ups.
Have an open conversation with your new partner about how your children may feel or react, and discuss how you’ll navigate that as a couple.
Alert your ex that you’re ready to introduce the kids to someone you’re involved with. An important courtesy, this also allows your co-parent to prepare to help your children handle their feelings.
The first meeting.
Terry Gaspard, author of The Remarriage Manual advises keeping your introduction quick and casual. Choose a neutral setting, somewhere comfortable and kid-friendly; perhaps go for ice cream or do something outdoors such as visit a playground, where your child has space to get away for a bit if they need to. Manage your expectations: don’t plan on your children being as enamored of your new partner as you are right off the bat. They’re encountering a completely unfamiliar situation and processing complicated emotions.
Follow up with your kids afterward, privately. Put your own feelings aside and really listen; let them express their point of view freely. Be patient, it takes time to adjust and for friendship to develop.
A divorce or custody dispute may be the most difficult challenge you ever face, leaving a lasting impact on your children, your finances, and your family structure. While some variables are beyond your control, choosing the right law firm can make all the difference in your journey towards a more fulfilling future. Schoenberg Family Law Group is committed to providing personal attention, respect, and compassion to every case we handle.
by Debra Schoenberg