Introducing a new relationship to your children
One in three people in the UK is now a step-parent, step-sibling or step-child, meaning many of us will experience blending our families at some point in our lives.
Becoming a step-parent to a child is rarely an easy undertaking, whatever the age of the child involved, but taking things slowly and keeping communication open can ease the transition for all.
In 2013, I started a new relationship after being a single mum to my teenage daughter for most of her life and suddenly going from two to three, was going to have to be carefully navigated. Already my daughter experienced a sense of rejection from her father’s new partners, so how could I make meeting my new man run more smoothly?
Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
Step one: Introductions
1. Before you consider introducing the love in your life to your child, make sure you’re pretty secure in the relationship yourself. You don’t have to wait until you’re engaged, but at least wait a few months to be certain you both want something long term.
2. Consider your child’s feelings over yours and your new partner’s. Although I’d split with my daughter’s father when she was still a baby, I was shocked to hear she still harboured a fantasy that one day myself and her dad would reunite. Watching me pair off with someone else was going to be emotionally upsetting for her, and I had to be sensitive around this.
3. Talk to your kids first before you arrange the first meeting. I told my daughter about my new relationship two months after I’d started seeing him. She asked a few questions and wanted to see a picture and then after a few more weeks I introduced them.
4. For the first visit, I kept things low key. We had a dinner together and I tried to keep conversation flowing, not easy between a nervous 36-year-old man with no experience of teenage girls and a teenage girl who’d rather talk to a wall than her mum’s new boyfriend. Pick a neutral location, like a park or café for the first introduction so there’s less pressure.
Step Two: Getting to know you
5. Avoid kissing and cuddling in front of your child until they’re more comfortable with the situation. Nobody is ever too young to feel like a gooseberry, and also your child might feel he is betraying their other parent by accepting the situation.
6. Encourage your partner to take an interest in your child. Tell him or her about what they like or don’t like and suggest they bring a treat, like their favourite sweets or a small gift for the first few visits. In my case my boyfriend is a designer so he offered to design a T-shirt of my daughter’s latest crush. She was impressed and it showed he was interested in her.
7. Keep firm boundaries in place for both your partner and child if possible. Your new partner should never ever get involved in criticising behavior or dish out punishments as it’s not their place. Similarly, encourage your child to see the relationship as an extension of a friendship at first and ask them to be respectful even if they don’t know the person or like the idea of him.
8. Reassure your child they still are and always will be the first priority in your life. My teen suddenly decided she wanted to spend the whole day with me when my new chap was around, (something she’d shown no interest in before!) I tried to talk to her about feelings of jealousy and how it was normal. She even asked me if I loved her as much still and I explained very clearly she was my top priority and always will be.
Step Three: Be positive, but be sensitive to both sides
9. Wait until your child feels more comfortable with your partner before they are allowed to sleep over. Walking into your mum or dad’s new beau in the middle of the night in the bathroom is not something either side would be comfortable with.
10. If your partner has kids too, don’t assume everyone will get along like The Brady Bunch immediately. That’s the goal of course, but a softly softly approach will help everyone get more comfortable with the situation. Listen to grievances and accept jealousy and tension is likely to happen at times.
11. Don’t pressurise your child into acceptance, but do keep communicating about the situation. My teen openly told me she didn’t want me to have a boyfriend ever. “It will leave less time for me,” she declared. “And what’s in it for me?” And she had a good point.
Now I make an extra effort to make sure we have time to ourselves, and I encourage her to be honest about her feelings. Using age appropriate language, explain how you feel too. I had to explain to her I didn’t want to be single forever, and how a supportive, loving relationship could add to both our lives.
12. Keep talking. Not only talk to your child but your partner too. It’s likely at some point both parties will feel awkward, ignored, or out of place. It’s better to talk individually to both your child and your partner to work out where things can be improved.
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