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We asked Nelson Szeto, a Vancouver-based counsellor experienced in helping individuals with the challenges of parenting, to share some insights into how best to introduce your new partner to your children.
1. Find out if your kids are ready
One of the most important things to keep in mind is readiness. This means taking into account whether you, your children and your new partner are ready for a formal introduction.
First, your children need to have accepted that you are single, says Szeto. "This might require you talking to them about your new life, new interests, new hobbies and new activities," he explains.
If at any point your children appear to be distressed about what you're telling them, Szeto suggests seeking out counselling for them, as it may help them better accept your changing lifestyle. It's also important that you wait until the relationship itself is ready before introducing your new partner to your children, warns Szeto. "You do not want to hurt your children's feelings by having them opening their hearts to your new partner only to have their hearts broken after a month."
2. Be patient with your children
As you begin dating again your children will likely experience many confusing emotions: "They may experience sadness as they face the reality that their parents are separated; anger that a new person will diminish any chance of their parents getting back together; guilt if they have any positive feelings toward this new partner; and possibly fear or jealousy that they will be forgotten or replaced," says Szeto.
It's crucial that parents practise patience with their kids and keep the lines of communication open in order to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
Page 1 of 2 -- Discover three more great tips for introducing your kids to a new partner on page 2
3. Start slow and give your kids options
Keep the first meeting between your children and new partner as casual as possible, and allow your kids to have input. Start with a low-key activity, such as a visit to the park or local zoo, and let your kids participate in the planning.
"Include them in the decision-making process of when and where this meeting should take place," Szeto advises. "Give them some options such as: 'Would you like to go to the park with my new friend this weekend or next weekend?' They may respond with 'Never,' but this is an excellent opportunity for discussion," he says. Ask your kids why they are reluctant to meet your new partner and find out how you can best support them in this transitional period.
4. Be ready to do damage control
If the first meeting does not go well you need to be sensitive to your children's reactions. Try to talk to them and listen to their feelings about your new partner.
"Whether it's vague such as, 'I just don't like them, I don't know why' or something more definite such as, 'I don't like them because they will break you and Dad up,' validate and acknowledge what they're saying," advises Szeto.
It's also important to allow your children time to adjust to the change and to check in with them often. "If your children complain that they do not want to be alone with your new partner or are extremely uncomfortable with your new partner, you must respect this," Szeto says, adding that if your child is experiencing great distress, it may be helpful to consult a counselling professional.
5. Be supportive
Support your children by communicating with them regularly and making sure they know you're always available to them, Szeto advises. "A family triangle is made up of you, your ex-partner and your children. A divorce is only the ending of the romantic relationship between you and your ex-partner, but you are still a parent and so is your ex-partner," he stresses. It might be helpful to explain this to your children so they understand that your role as their parent remains the same, even if someone new enters your life.
Blended families can work well if parents work hard to support their children during the process of acquiring new family members. If you respect your children's feelings, communicate with them often and actively engage in their lives, they are less likely to feel left out or unwanted within the new family dynamic.
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