I’m a single mom who is dating again and the relationship is getting serious. I think it’s time for my boyfriend to meet my kids. How can I make this process as easy for the kids as possible? They are still very close to their dad and I don’t want them to think I am trying to replace him.
Response by Patrick Henry, LMFT, LPC
Introducing kids to a new partner is exciting for some while very anxiety-producing for others. Still others dive right in without a good strategy and with little/no planning, which is not ideal. Planning, patience, and preparation can go a long way in setting your partner and kids up for success with each other and may have a ripple effect—setting the kids’ dad up for a positive response, too.
Here are some guidelines/ideas that frequently come up in the literature on blended families and introductions that I can strongly agree with based on my own experience in helping families.
Breathe. Your kids’ level of anxiety and regulation comes from you setting the example. It will help if you don’t have too many expectations. Unrealistic expectations are sure to set you up for frustration.
I’ve seen too many parents who have an idea in mind for how things should go or a timeline for how quickly they should see a relationship develop between their kids and new partner. Don’t add this extra pressure or you may sabotage your own best efforts. Your kids are going to think and feel whatever they think and feel. Respect this. Don’t freak out if they don’t like him, have reservations, or don’t interact too much the first time they meet him. Relationships aren’t created in a day. Be okay with that.
Do something together
Do something fun/interesting together when your kids meet him for the first time. Kids don’t want to sit around in the living room answering a bunch of questions for someone they don’t know. Awkward. Instead, go somewhere and do something….fun! This is similar to “breaking the ice” when you’re with a group of people you don’t know for the first time and the group leader gives you some kind of game/activity—usually referred to as an ice breaker.
With your kids and partner, you’ll want to go do something more natural that you expect your kids will enjoy. For example, go bowling or hiking (again, the key is that you can reliably predict or know it’s something your kids will like doing). This will help them feel safe and they will be comfortable to be themselves and engage in conversation in a more natural and genuine way. Avoid going somewhere you used to go together as a family with their dad.
You can’t force a relationship. You cannot make your kids like, love, or bond with your new boyfriend. You can give them opportunities to connect. You can plan times together, and you don’t have to run this by your kids every time…..but don’t include your new boyfriend in everything you do.
They still want time with just their mom and they don’t want to share you all the time. It’s okay to decide that you are all going to spend the day together….but not every day. You can respectfully decide the schedule but you have to let the kids set the pace for the development of the relationship, and this can be a great time to teach and allow your kids to do some healthy boundary setting.
Reassurance that replacement is not the goal
You’re very interested in moving forward with this new person while your kids may still be grieving the loss of the original family unit. You’re highly interested in this new relationship. Your kids are highly interested in maintaining their current relationships—with you and their dad. Reassure them by telling them that their dad cannot be replaced. Your boyfriend is not working towards this end. Back this up by doing what you can to support and encourage their relationships with their father.
If you and their father co-parent and have open communication about parenting issues and your kids see you working together, this will also help in them accepting your new boyfriend as he will be safe — not a threat.
Be the parent; Don’t under-function
I’ve heard it said many times that Rules – Relationship =Rebellion. The most successful families I work with are those in which the parents have a strong bond/relationship/connection with their children. These parents have a far easier time setting limits and boundaries, communicating expectations, and gaining child cooperation overall. The relationship acts as a contextual backdrop and, because the relationship is there, the rules and expectations can be heard, tolerated and followed.
I have too frequently seen mothers introduce their new boyfriend to her kids and, within a short time, he is giving many or most of the orders, commands, and directives as well as handling discipline. This is not his job. You should not give him this job or let him assume this job. That is your job. You handle the expectations and the discipline. He needs to work on the relationships. He doesn’t have the relationship with your kids needed to back up the expectations and you will likely get resistance and the dreaded “You’re not my dad, you can’t tell me what to do.”
Letting this new guy become the disciplinarian will set your boyfriend and kids up for failure. Be the parent. Your boyfriend can back you up and assist with reminders and words like “I heard your mom tell you not to do that” and “I want to remind you what your mom said about that. Can I help you make a better decision?”
Your situation is not easy. But you’re relaxed, patient, and carefully considering your actions. You’re using your head to strategize while also empathetic and understanding. Be confident and good luck!
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Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.