“Children will listen to you AFTER they feel listened to.”
~ Jane Nelsen
This kind of situation can be tricky to manage.
There are so many variables at play in this kind of situation that there is no simple answer.
One of the most important things to look at first is the context of the situation.
- How old is the child?
- What is the child’s gender?
- Is there a history of abuse with the biological father or other history of significant trauma?
- How does the man you are dating behave around your child/children?
- Is he awkward or too attentive?
- What is it that your children don’t like about him?
If they can articulate their concerns by citing examples and specific behavior, it is important to pay attention.
If your children don’t like him because he is supportive of your parenting and encouraging you to set boundaries, listen and move forward with your eyes wide open.
Children have a powerful hold on their parents and they often know how to manipulate a situation to get what they want.
Talk to your child/children about their concerns. Don’t just tell them that this is the way it is and they have no say. Listen to what they have to say and hear them out.
It is important to remember that your kids come with the package and their buy in is important if you want to have any peace in your relationship with him. Remember that you are setting an example for your child/children by how you handle the relationship.
Do not rush into a relationship when you have children.
Be especially careful if he has a violent temper or history. Leaving an abusive relationship is hard enough when you are alone; imagine how difficult it would be with children involved. Watch him around your children. Observe how he interacts with them.
Observe your children.
- What is their comfort level around him?
- What is influencing their level of comfort with him?
Don’t share everything about the relationship with your child/children.
Make sure that you are ready to introduce him to the child/children. Do not criticize him or argue in front of the child/children. They have a say but they do not need to know every intimate detail.
If your children don’t like him because they see a negative change in your personality, then they may be paying more attention than you think.
If he is abusive in any way, they will know by how you respond to him and behave around him. You will not be able to hide it if he is toxic. If this turns out to be the case, it is your responsibility to get out as quickly as possible because if he is violent with you, he could be potentially violent with the child/children.
If your child is the kind that is slow to warm up and get to know someone, give it some time.
Go slow and honor how the child/children feel by letting them talk it out. Give them a safe space to voice their concerns with you and let them take their time to engage with him. Respect the way they feel and do not force them to accept him. Again, go slow and give it some time.
Be especially mindful of physical boundaries and do not force your child to hug him or be physical in any way that makes your child uncomfortable. This is non-negotiable.
The need to feel safe and set the pace of the relationship is critical for your child be able to trust you both.
Create opportunities where both the child/children and your man have small doses of time together with you.
Go out for some ice cream. Take them out for a meal. Make dinner together as a family at home. Include your children in your relationship. Start with small doses. Be as transparent and honest as you can. Be age appropriate in your disclosure and discussion with your child/children about the relationship.
Discuss the limits of disciplining your children with your new partner.
Be clear about your expectations and absolutes regarding the boundaries with your children.
Go into the relationship with your eyes wide open.
You have a right to be happy and you also have the responsibility of being a parent. Be mindful of the red flags and set your boundaries with both your new man and the children from the beginning. You will need to balance your needs with those of your children and your new man.
Make sure that you take care of yourself.
See a therapist for a few sessions and talk it out. Find someone that you can share your concerns with that will give you honest feedback. Above all, be honest with yourself. Don’t sugarcoat emerging problems. If you don’t confront issues early on, they can fester and cause more problems later.
Ileana Hinojosa, MLA, LMFT – www.themindfullife.net
As more people are ending relationships with kids in tow, they are facing increasing dilemmas in how to effectively blend new families.
No longer can relationship seekers, entering the dating whirlpool of often confusing and exhausting options, risk their personal choices without considering the small people they have to watch for.
It is commonly accepted knowledge that, even in the most successful families, caring for children puts a strain on the intimacy between their parents.
Even when both partners have agreed to bring entitled dependents into their lives, they must still sacrifice many tender moments once shared to the legitimate needs of their children.
Those partners who don’t make children a part of their relationship have many more options to continue commit only to each other.
They do not have to deal with the legitimate interruptions, and often unending, needs of immature beings who cannot function successfully without those sacrifices.
Two parents are often insufficient to meet their own standards.
Burdened down by financial and time pressures, they must struggle to balance their own needs with their commitment to family demands. When relationships end, there is a major deficit of time and energy for one parent at a time to keep up the Herculean effort to give their children what they want to.
Add to that the seeking of a new relationship, the requirements of more expensive survival needs, and the sting of failure, and reentering the dating world is, at best, scary.
In addition, that newly single parent must also reinvent him or herself as a legitimate and desirable entity in a dating game that may have significantly changed during a long-term relationship.
Even people married for less than five years consistently tell me that they don’t recognize the world they left behind when they committed to a relationship they thought would never end.
There are also the issues of who their children are in terms of their own value to another who did not conceive them, and the missing parent who may be angry, vindictive, or possessive of his or her own children.
Little children under the age of five rarely later remember their initial intact family, but must still deal with often very different environments as they are shuttled between two parents who can range from good friends to hateful enemies.
Older kids have their own resentments towards parents who have forced them into a situation they did not choose, and may be reluctant to encourage yet one more family to which they are now forced to accommodate.
Their economic lives may have changed dramatically, their single parent overloaded, and their locations and friends rearranged without their desire or support. As a result, many children of divorced parents feel legitimately cheated, possessive of what they have left, and resistant to any new pressures placed upon them.
There are two more crucial variables: the new potential partner’s own children and where they stand on the same variables and how and when to blend two families who have not chosen each other.
Literally hundreds of books have been written on blended families but the multiple variables that emerge simply cannot be put into simple rules. I have dealt with hundreds of these blended families, and they are all unique.
As a result of all of these legitimate pressures, newly dating people struggle in the conflict between how to present themselves early on in the dating process.
They are ultimately a package that must be contended with as a critical variable in the success or failure of a new relationship, yet, on the other hand, many tell me that they want some separate time to present themselves as a desirable person in their own right who would be “worth it” even if with the larger price required down the line.
In my newest book, “Heroic Love,” I firmly state, and believe, that people should lay the groundwork for everything they know are non-negotiables early in a relationship when the outcome is not so important.
That does not imply, in any way, a demanding attitude or a “me” set of expressions. Two people, even under the most desirable conditions, bring a whole different set of values, experiences, and desires to one another.
Even without the added complication of potential deal-breakers such as beliefs or actions that would not be acceptable to a new partner over time, bringing an already established family into the mix cannot be an easy task for anyone.
To wonder when and how to bring up non-negotiable parts of a future package is too big a burden to impose on anyone who already is wondering about desirability in so many other areas.
If new daters understand the sanctity of what they hold sacred and what is potentially negotiable, they can offer those values and attachment within a very short time of knowing a new person, without, in any way, perceiving those as put-offs.
In addition, many people, fearful of being too deeply known without first securing acceptance, must finally state those positions and then risk the dismay of the other who may feel unfairly duped. Most people, in any other situation, would prefer knowing what they are getting into up front, rather than have to accommodate to unforeseen, and perhaps, unacceptable conditions later on.
Imagine yourself traveling into a new country, unattached to outcome, meeting a stranger on a train.
You have, perhaps, a few hours together and would most likely never see each other again. Because you are not bound by fear of loss, you are relaxed, open, and eager to know as much about that other person as you can.
You’re driven not by insecurity or the need to be safe, but by a natural and innocent curiosity.
You have no need to control, to interrogate, to possess, or to persuade. You’re just two people, experience life from the past and the present, and offering that to your new, and likely temporary friend.
Ideally, that should be no different from the dating world. Security is an illusion that we hold dear to feel safer in the present.
In reality, no one can count on anything but the quality of the moment.
Saying to a new person,
“This would be my ideal life, though I know that a relationship script must be written by two people in order to work. I’ve been kind of through a hard separation and divorce, my kids are having a hard time adjusting, but I’m a survivor and I’m determined to go forward without bitterness and with a lot of hope to take what I’ve learned and do better. I’m working and have the kids half the time.
My ex is already in a relationship so the kids are in a constant readjustment mode, but they’re good kids and we’re making it into an adventure. I have a great family and they’re there for me.
How about you? What is your ideal life look like? Is there anything about my situation that would make a relationship too hard for you?
I’m okay either way, but I want to be completely open, and I’d so appreciate that same kind of honesty in return.”
Sound difficult? Please believe me, it is ultimately the easiest and most successful way for any relationship to begin.
The more people practice that un-self-conscious and transparent way of presenting themselves, the more comfortable and easy they get with it. It is the most effective way of separating a truly potential relationship from one that is likely to fail later on.
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
Integrating kids into a new relationship is tough.
There are a lot of factors to consider. Kids rarely want their parents to divorce so you’re often beginning with the new partner in a deficit position.
A lot depends on the kids’ ages too.
Kids who are very young (under six years old) and kids who are high school age are generally less resistant to a new person in their and their mother’s, life. Little kids are just generally more easy-going, and more open to adults.
Older kids are often so into their own lives that they just don’t care as much. But between the ages of about 7 and 14, it’s another story.
There are many variables to consider.
- How long have you and your ex been apart?
- How successful were you in protecting your kids from the conflict with your ex?
- Did they end up taking sides?
- Do you think they felt to blame for the divorce? It’s surprising how many kids take on that responsibility.
- How long did you wait before you started dating?
- Have their been many men your kids have met?
- Did they get attached to anyone only to lose him if the relationship with you didn’t work out?
Looking at the situation through the eyes of your child, it’s pretty easy to see that they usually don’t feel like they have anything to gain by your new relationship.
If you have gotten extra close to your kids, as single parents often do, they may feel that they are losing you. Your new partner becomes a rival for your attention and affections.
Something that few people consider is that it’s strange to adolescents to be exposed to the sexual energy that you and your new partner are probably experiencing.
Developmentally, it’s the kids who should be beginning to feel and explore their own sexuality. While parents of adolescents may still be sexual with one another, it’s not generally the kind of passion that characterizes a new relationship. In a way you and your kids may be on the same emotional and physical roller coaster!
Here are some general tips for integrating your kids and a new partner:
1. While it’s understandable that you want and need to get on with your life, please remember that your kids are probably not feeling that same need.
So I strongly suggest that until your new relationship is serious, don’t introduce him to your kids. You and he will be able to have time together at times when your kids aren’t around, perhaps when they are spending time with their biological parent.
2. Of course eventually you want to see if your new partner and your kids get along, but it can wait.
Don’t expect your kids to be happy about him or to even like him at first. They do need to be respectful as they should with all adults, but you can’t coerce emotions and the harder you try the more they may resist.
3. If and when you decide it’s time to bring your partner into your family, he needs to try to establish a friendship with your kids.
You are the parent and should be in charge of the rules and any necessary discipline.
4. Even if you marry or live together, depending on the age of your kids, he may never move into a parental role.
He’s your partner, but not their parent.
Perhaps that last point sums to up best.
A blended family and an intact nuclear family are not the same. They have completely different developmental trajectories, as well as completely different rules and roles for family members.
People who try to recreate the original family dynamics will run into major problems. I strongly suggest some family therapy to get guidelines for people who are ready to blend their families.
Lastly, if your kids are in high school, maybe it would be best to just wait until they are out of the house.
Of course you can date, but keeping the households separate until the kids are gone can save you a whole lot of heartache in the long run.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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