Parents Should Offer Reassurance, Patience When Introducing New Love Interest to Kids
Q: I am a single mom with two children 10 and 12 years old. I have been dating someone for more than a year, and the relationship is becoming serious. My children have not met my boyfriend, but I have recently begun talking to them about him. They are both very unhappy to hear about this and do not want to meet him. What can I do?
A: This can be a challenging time. It is common for children to become hostile and defiant about meeting a new partner because they lack control over the situation and because of all the emotions involved. Your best track is to be reassuring and patient.
Children worry that you will forget about their needs or stop loving them due to the new person. Your children may fear that time you spend with them will diminish and all your time will be spent with the new love interest.
Another reason for their unhappiness could be their loyalty to their other parent. Many children have a hard time understanding why their parents could not “work it out” and fear they will lose the other parent as well. This kind of thinking creates a tug-a-war in children’s minds leading them to feel that they must choose between parents.
Children have their own opinions, and just because you like this new person does not mean they are going to automatically hit it off with them. Remember, you have a different set of criteria for this relationship than your children. Your new friend is not their friend and they might fight on purpose because they want you take sides — their side. If your child gets upset, keep in mind that they are just kids and do not always know the best way to express their emotions.
Here are some tips to help ease your children into your dating life:
- Let them know that your love does not change. This may be obvious to you, but this is a common fear of children. When talking about your new relationship with your children, let them know that your time together is still important and will continue.
- If your children’s other parent is still in their lives, let your children know that your boyfriend does not take their dad or mom’s place. Children often feel they must call the new person “dad” or “mom,” and that word carries a lot of meaning and emotion. Tell them that dad is still their dad or mom is still mom, and no person will change this role.
- Change routines slowly and allow as few disruptions as possible. For example, children can become frustrated and confused when family dinners start happening at a new place. This strange place is not their home and they do not feel safe. Ease the children into meeting your boyfriend using social outings such as a basketball game or going out for pizza. When children see they share common interests, it will become easier for them to including your boyfriend in activities.
- Finally, don’t sneak around or be dishonest. Children are intelligent and can pick up when someone is not being genuine. If you are going on a date, tell them. As a parent, be honest and maintain trust.
Hannah Nail Coble is a clinical social worker who works with children and adolescents at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital. Send questions to Sherri McMillen at firstname.lastname@example.org.