No matter how amicable your divorce, it is hard for children to adjust to their parent being in a new relationship. If your divorce was contentious and/or you and your ex have conflicts about co-parenting, then it is typically even more difficult for children to adjust to a parent in a new relationship. Here is some information my boyfriend and I learned from our therapist in parent coaching on the topic.
1. Children typically have a more difficult time accepting dad’s new partner than mom’s new partner.
2. Most children feel torn about a new partner. Part of them wants to run off the new boyfriend or girlfriend, while part of them really enjoys the fun activities they all do together. This might be subconscious or even intentional.
3. No matter how excited children are about a parent’s new relationship or remarriage, part of them feels sad because it means mom and dad aren’t getting back together. The second parent remarrying is even more difficult than the first remarriage as children see that it’s even more final that their parents won’t reconcile. Knowing that this is likely and preparing for it when the time comes will help.
4. Allow children to freely talk about their other parent’s significant other. Children need to be able to talk to their parents about anything and it’s not their job to worry about their parent’s feelings being hurt. Assure the children that you want your ex-spouse to be happy so you are happy for him or her, and that they can talk to you about anything. Even if you don’t really feel this way, this is one situation where a little white lie is what is best for the children. Don’t bad mouth your ex or their significant other in any way, as this just hurts the children and also makes them feel like they can’t talk to you.
5. Parents need to make sure they have regular one on one time with their children so they know that their relationship with their parent is still important. Try to spend one hour each week alone with each child.
6. The biological parent needs to do their own disciplining of his or her own children, and they need to do it without prompting from the significant other. If a step-parent or the parent’s partner has to tell the parent to step up and discipline, this undermines the biological parent’s authority and also increases resentment toward the partner. It is best for all relationships if the biological parent handles the situation with authority and calmness.