New partners and children - what helps
When a couple first separates children will often hold on to the hope that their mum and dad will somehow get back together again as a way of coping with the changes. Older children may be more aware of some of the problems that led to the separation but still struggle to accept that mum and dad are no longer a couple.
Adjusting to mum or dad finding a new partner or even just dating throws up all sorts of complications and needs careful handling whatever age children are. Most parents will recognise this as they are tuned into how their children are feeling and good at picking up signals from them.
But what about if you are the new partner - you may be head over heels in love and want to do the right thing but simply not know how best to play things when it comes to your partners children.
Forming some kind of relationship with them and keeping their needs in mind is one of the biggest tensions for couples with children from a previous relationship.
Each situation is unique and how best handled depends on a number of different issues - age of children, relationship they have with the other parent, stage at which you and your new partner got together, and whether you have children too. But as posts on theparentconnection.org forum show if you're the new partner you will inevitably get caught up in how parenting after parting works on a day to day basis. It will often feel like you are being tested and caught up in family difficulties that you would rather avoid.
Meeting and then being involved with your partners' children can be daunting. You will want to support your partner in his/her relationship with the children and hopefully get along with them too but it can be a minefield.
The following advice will help you avoid stepping on a bomb!(potential bombs)
- Don't rush things. Allow the relationship to develop slowly, don't expect the children to love you or even like you initially.
- However much the children test your patience aim for a relationship where you respect each other and treat each other fairly.
- Be the adult and prepared to accept a back seat when the children are around.
- Accept that it is not a competition - the bond between parents and children is different.
- Make it clear that you understand your partner's first responsibility is to his or her children. It will help take pressure off both of you - your partner will need to hear that you accept this.
- Try and be relaxed about things - He or she can give you their undivided attention when the children are not with you.
- Remember you are not a substitute parent; be supportive but don't expect to take on a parenting role.
- Don't criticise, complain or even joke about the other parent in front of the children. Children of all ages struggle with loyalty issues - so be sensitive.
- Remember that your partner is parent first and your partner second. Part of being a good mum or dad is having a good co-parenting relationship with the other parent.
- Accept that there will need to be communication between your partner and their ex - partner about the children. Good communication is essential if things are going to work.
- Try to understand the loyalty conflicts your partner might experience even if they don't say it. There will be times when they feel pulled in several directions.
It will help your relationship if you can empathise (even if you don't like it!) when your partner feels like 'piggy in the middle' between you and his/her old family. But if there are arguments and disagreements between your partner and their ex -partner, remember that you only hear one side of it.
Try and talk to others who aren't involved - this might be friends who are in similar situation or anonymously on theparentconnection forum. You'll find there are common issues that with time and sensitivity can be worked through.