In Part One of “Introducing a New Romantic Partner to Your Kids: Ground Rules and Expert Advice”, we focused on how to avoid conflict and upset when a new partner changes the dynamic of your post-divorce co-parenting relationship. There are topics you and your spouse can discuss during mediation in order to anticipate some of the potential issues that may arise in the future if either of you forms a new relationship. Though it may be difficult to think about while in the midst of your divorce, your mediator can help you address some of these issues now, thereby helping you avoid possible conflict in the future. When your ex-spouse does meet someone new after your divorce, it can present challenges even for the highest functioning co-parents. Here are some things you can consider in advance, and things you can do when it actually happens, to make the introduction of a new partner easier for everyone:
- During the mediation, formalize custody arrangements and detail specific schedules in writing. Make an effort to stick to them while also allowing for flexibility when necessary. Children thrive when they know what to expect and have a routine, but life happens- it is important to be flexible with your ex-spouse so he or she will be flexible with you when you need.
- Formalize, in writing, family policies around essential issues. Those may include health and medical protocols and policies, safety rules, emergency contacts, acceptable an unacceptable methods of discipline, academic standards and practices, extracurricular activities, sleep schedule/bedtime/curfew, car use, safe places and people, dietary practices, allowances and finances, and more. You may decide to require that all new partners uphold these parameters, in concert with you, as a condition of having access to the children. But a word of caution: Boil it down to only your most essential priorities. Micromanaging every moment your kids are away from you is counterproductive.
- Agree upon a timeline regarding when a new partner can be introduced to your children. Some couples decide not to introduce any new partners until the relationship has been stable for at least six months. Some couples decide not to introduce any new partners for at least six months or a year after the divorce is finalized to allow the children time to adjust before presenting them with another big change.
- You may agree to always introduce a new partner to your former spouse first, or at the very least let your new spouse know in advance if you intend to introduce a new partner to the children. This will give your former spouse time to process the news, to anticipate inevitable questions from the children and be better prepared to answer them. If your former spouse feels blindsided by the news of your new partner, or hears it from the kids first, he or she may have an emotional reaction, which in turn can create unnecessary anger and conflict.
- Take seriously any reasonable concerns your former spouse raises about your new partner as pertains to their interactions with your children. Raise any concerns you may have with your ex-spouse first, not with the children. If the two of you cannot navigate them on your own, see a therapist together to help you communicate more effectively and figure out the best way to address these concerns.
- Act in good faith, treating your former spouse’s new partner with consideration and respect, both in person and behind closed doors. Work together toward the goal of fostering a positive relationship between the new partner and your children. Don’t make the children feel guilty for liking this new person. Remind yourself that you are not replaceable as their parent, but there is always room for another loving adult in their lives.
- Integrate the new partner into the lives of your children. Invite him or her to attend sports games, school concerts, family events, when possible and appropriate. Encourage the new partner to connect with your children through their passions, hobbies and interests.
- Embrace help offered by your ex-spouse’s new partner. It takes a village. Another responsible caregiver who cares for your children and wants to help with school pick-ups or who can drive your kids to their extracurricular activities can make life easier for you too. It will also show your kids that you respect and trust this person, and will allow them to do the same.
Although the introduction of a new romantic partner can be a difficult transition for co-parents and kids post-divorce, it does not have to be a negative one. Working with your mediator at the time of divorce to try to anticipate some of the potential issues in advance may help make the arrival of a new partner later easier for everyone, especially the children. And when it happens, you will be more prepared for the change and better equipped to make it a positive one.