Every child will react differently to their parents moving on and starting to date again, but you can make the transition a little easier on everyone by taking baby steps.
Marion Goertz, a registered marriage and family therapist in Toronto, compares the process to introducing a new puppy to your family. "Take your time," says Goertz. "Be certain he's a keeper and don't use your kids as screening devices – their hearts can't and shouldn't bear the burden" of helping you choose a partner.
Be sure this person will be in your life for the long term
If you – like many parents back on the dating scene – have been seeing someone under the radar, there's no need to rush to introduce him or her to your kids.
"A new committed relationship shouldn't even be considered until three years after the split," says Goertz. "It will take at least that amount of time for you to get to know who you are again and to begin to trust your own judgment and the character of a potential new full-time partner."
Similarly, during that first three years your kids will still be adapting to the changes that resulted from your divorce. However, once you've found someone you're confident will fit into your family, slowly introduce him or her to your children.
Talk to your new partner about your kids
As you're getting to know someone new, tell him or her how important your kids are to you. Make it clear that the kids come first.
Keep the conversation positive. Goertz suggests telling people you're dating that it's important to you that your kids' lives not be disrupted and that you'll tell them you're dating when you feel the time is right.
Your new partner may be just as uncomfortable with the situation as your kids, so you may need to calm his or her fears as well and ease that person into getting to know your family.
Page 1 of 3 – Find out how to appropriately coordinate a meeting between your child and your new partner on page 2.
Introduce the idea before the person
Talk to your kids about the fact that you are dating before you introduce them to anyone in particular.
Be honest about your feelings and explain why you have been spending time with someone new. Goertz suggests approaching the subject by discussing how you've felt lonely and you're ready to establish a relationship with someone new.
Compare the companionship you feel with the person you're seeing to how your kids might feel with their friends. For example, "You know how much you like being with your friends…."
Most importantly, remind your children that family always comes first and that you will always continue to take care of them. That won't change.
Choose a neutral location for the first meeting
When you're ready to introduce your kids to your new partner, choose a neutral location for the first meeting.
Goertz suggests doing an activity together – try go-karting, skating or just going for a walk. This way, your children won't have to focus entirely on the new person and they'll feel more relaxed in a play environment. This also gives you the opportunity to observe how your new partner interacts with your kids. Of course, this relationship will also change and develop over time.
Page 2 of 3 – Having trouble talking to your child? Find out how to make the process easier on page 3.
Slowly increase the number and length of visits
Start with a few activity-geared, time-limited visits, then slowly invite your new partner to more intimate family gatherings – a meal, an outing to the park or just over to your house for an afternoon. "Keep it light," says Goertz. "And no sleepovers until he's there for a long time and not just a good time."
Keep in mind that just because your kids may accept your new partner the first time they meet him or her, it doesn't mean they'll be alright with him or her coming over every day from that point forward.
"Don't expect your kids to care about the person immediately," says Goertz.
Keep talking to your kids
Goertz stresses the importance of being available to listen to your kids. "Encourage them to talk," she says, "and spend quality, individual time with each child."
Continue to reassure your kids that they're still the most important people in your life, and don't be afraid to ask them what they think about your new partner. After you all go out together, ask your kids how the day went for them and how they feel about the new person in your life.
Listen to them, respond to their feelings and remember that there will be both good days and bad.
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