Helping Your Child Deal With a Parent’s New Partner

Girl in father's arms helping him cooking his new partner is watching them from the background: concept for How To Introduce Your Child To A New Partner

As hard as divorce can be for parents, in some ways, it is even more challenging for children, who have even less control over the situation. It takes time for children to adjust to their parents living apart, and to the new routines that may need to be established in each of their homes. At some point after your divorce, there is likely to be another adjustment: a parent starts dating, and the relationship becomes serious enough for the children and the parent’s new partner to meet. If you are the parent who has become involved with someone, the question becomes when and how to introduce your child to a new partner.

Understandably, you’re invested in things going well. You’ve been through the challenges of a breakup or divorce, and you’ve found happiness again. You want your partner to like your children, and your children to like your partner—or at least not to scheme against them, Parent Trap style.

While there’s no way to guarantee your new romantic partner and your kids will adore each other right off the bat, there are steps you can take to make things easier for everyone—right off the bat.

How to Introduce Your Child to a New Partner

How and when you introduce your children to a new partner can help their relationship get off on the right foot. Successful introductions (and relationships) don’t happen by accident, so here are some tips for introducing your children and the person you’re seeing.

Look at Your Relationship Through Your Children’s Eyes

You may see the pending introduction as the next step in moving you all toward “happily ever after.” But it’s likely that your children will not see it that way (especially if they still harbor hopes of you reuniting with their other parent). Young children may see your new partner as a threat, or as a competitor for your affections. Teenagers might be disgusted by the thought of you dating and being intimate with someone. Kids of any age are likely to worry about how this new development will affect their lives.

In short, things are different from the last time you were dating. Not only is there someone else whose needs you have to consider, you need to prioritize those needs. That doesn’t mean you can’t date if your kids don’t like the idea. But it does mean that if you get serious with someone, they can’t just be right for you; they need to be right for your family. It also means that you may need to proceed on a different timetable than you would prefer.

Timing is Everything

One of the most important aspects of introducing your children to a new partner is the timing. Introducing your kids to everyone you’ve gone on a few dates with can be upsetting and confusing for them. On the other hand, waiting until you’re engaged to let them know you are seeing someone is a recipe for resentment—and you could find out, too late, that your new partner is a bad fit for your family. There’s no hard and fast rule for how long to wait to introduce a new partner to your child, but there are some guidelines.

First, give your kids time to grieve the loss of your marriage. Remember that you may have begun grieving that loss long before your divorce was final, but your children may not be on your same timetable. They are grieving the loss of their intact family. Introducing a new partner before they’ve had time to process that experience is less likely to go well.

Timing within your new relationship matters, too. It’s often best to introduce your child to your new partner after you are dating exclusively and when you believe your relationship is heading toward a commitment.

Be Honest

Parents have experience telling children the truth without overwhelming them with it (when a five year old asks where babies come from, you don’t offer every detail of the process of conception). If your child asks if you are dating, it’s fine to tell them that you are getting to know someone. Don’t overshare, including with older children; they’re still your kids, not your confidants. But don’t lie to them, especially when they’re likely to find out the truth eventually. That will undermine their trust in you and may damage their ability to trust your new partner when they finally meet.

Honesty should extend to your children’s other parent, too: if possible, let them know that you are dating and planning to introduce the kids to your new partner. That way, they won’t be blindsided, and may be able to help your kids adjust. Remember, they may need you to return the favor at some point.

Respect Your Kids’ Needs Around Meeting Your Partner

This should go without saying, but never spring a meeting with your partner on your kids. Give them the opportunity to prepare, including asking you questions and offering input about the meeting. Again, you don’t need to let your children drive the bus, but be open to their ideas about when and how to meet the new person in your life. In general, keep the first meeting brief (this isn’t the time for a family vacation), and on neutral turf; a casual restaurant is a good option.

After the meeting, listen to your kids’ feedback, both positive and negative, without getting defensive. While you should welcome their thoughts, avoid peppering your kids (and your partner) with questions about how they think it went.

Helping Your Kids When Your Ex Has a New Partner

What if it’s your ex-spouse who is seeing someone? If your children complain about your ex’s new partner, or compare them unfavorably to you, it may be tempting to join in—but resist. Your child may be testing the waters, trying to see if it’s “safe” for them to like the new partner, or if you will perceive it as disloyalty to you. They may just be trying to spare your feelings, or they may genuinely have issues with the new partner.

Be the adult. Acknowledge their feelings, but don’t encourage meanness. Remind your children that they don’t have to like everyone, but they do have to be kind and respectful. Reassure them that you love them, and that you are okay with their other parent dating. (You may not love the idea, but you have no choice in the matter, so you may as well be gracious.) Laying this positive groundwork will benefit you and your child when you are the one who is in a new relationship.

To learn more about how to help your kids through the aftermath of divorce or co-parenting with a new partner, contact BartonWood or call (801)326-8300 to schedule a consultation.