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Introducing your new partner to the kids

Is it time, or is it not? Introducing your new partner to the kids is a huge step in any relationship and something you want to get right. Mental health coach TRACEY HORTON has some tips on how to do it well for everyone involved. By Sonia Speedy.

If you want to avoid awkward situations and potentially heart-wrenching issues in the future, bringing a new partner into the fold requires some prep beforehand. By approaching it thoughtfully, and considering the timing and approach, you can make things easier for everyone and help the kids feel more comfortable.

Mental health coach Tracey Horton has worked with lots of families in this situation and is keen to see people get it right. She offers advice from her experience to date.

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Timing

Getting your timing right when introducing a new partner to the kids is really important. You need to make sure the new relationship is rock solid, that you and your partner are really connected, and that you feel the relationship is going to last.

“This is critically important, so the children don’t get confused,” Tracey says.

If you’re someone that falls head over heels in love easily, wait until you’re sure the relationship is going to last – and then wait another month to be sure, she suggests.

“You can do it too soon – you can’t do it too late.”

Prepare your child

Have a conversation with the kids about your partner beforehand and let them ask questions. Be open and assure them your new partner won’t be replacing the other parent. Explain why your new partner is special to you.

Remember, when you’re the parent, you have to be the adult and you don’t get the day off from this no matter how the kids react. Help to make the kids feel secure and give them the room to react, while keeping your own emotions under control.

Tracey says parents need to create an environment where the kids feel safe enough to say – ‘This is not what I want. Why can’t Daddy (or Mummy) come home?’. You need to be in a space to be able to have that conversation constructively with them.

Prepare your new partner too

Give your partner the space to take a breath and think about just what’s involved with the special ‘gift with purchase’ that comes with a relationship with you. Giving them this space means when they do get to meet the kids, they’re in a good place to do so.

Your new partner also needs to have some understanding of your children, with insight into who they are and what they’re into.

“Have an open conversation with them about all of your child’s likes, personality, schooling, and interests, so they understand your child and are able to relate and build a meaningful connection with them,” Tracey says.

She adds that meeting teenage girls can be particularly challenging for new partners. Their Dad is often their hero, and they can draw a lot of their identity and understanding of themselves as women from their father. Add teenage hormones into the mix and meeting a new male partner can be tense. While teenage boys may be less difficult on the surface, it can be hard to get them to admit how they’re feeling, Tracey says.

“Boys can mask (their feelings) a bit easier, as long as what is happening doesn’t affect them too much. Girls tend to make (their feelings) more known,” Tracey says.

Make the first meeting comfortable

Do something relaxed that the child enjoys for that first meeting. This way it won’t feel too formal and there won’t be too much pressure. Don’t make this meeting at the child’s birthday party, on Christmas day, or at some other family celebration when they could feel blindsided.

While you want to make the meeting easy and comfortable, you need to stay on the ball and monitor progress.

“Be attentive to everyone’s interactions. Notice reactions and allow emotions to be expressed in a healthy way,” Tracey says.

She suggests playing to the kids’ love languages: if they’re a physical kid, play sport with them for instance.

“The idea is that the conversation begins organically,” Tracey says.

Or make it a takeaway at the park where the child can run off and play after a few questions and come back again at will to ask some more.

Then check in with the kids a week after the first meeting to see how they’re feeling about it all.

Get help if you need it

Introducing a new partner is a big deal for a child and you might feel like you need some help with making it work. If you are feeling uncomfortable about co-ordinating it yourself, get help from family, friends, or a professional. This can take the pressure off and make it easier for everyone.

What if it doesn’t go well?

Have a contingency plan ready in case the first meeting doesn’t go smoothly, or emotions run too high. You need to be forgiving – children under 18 can’t self-regulate all of their emotions, nor differentiate fact from fiction in the way that we do, Tracey says.

“They can’t be responsible all of the time for what they do and say. That’s for the adults. The onus is on you to bring the adult,” Tracey says.

You may need to end the meeting earlier than planned with a view to trying again another time or look at getting coaching before the next try. You can also consider bringing in a neutral person to help with the meeting if it is proving difficult.

Read our story on parenting through separation >>

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