How Do You Help Your Child Accept a New Relationship?
Planning and patience helps your child accept your new relationship
Parents are responsible for providing a child with attention and support before a divorce, as well as during and after a divorce.
Divorce, by design, splits a family unit. The process is typically draining and has lasting effects on all family members.
During or after divorce, a parent's new romantic decisions significantly impact their child's mental and physical health.
This article discusses how divorced parents can responsibly announce a new relationship to their children and help the children accept it.
1. Choose the right time to introduce your child to your new relationship
Discussing a new relationship is not a casual dinner conversation.
A thoughtful parent should plan when, where, and how to disclose their new relationship. Preparation helps parents avoid mistakes and minimize harmful outcomes for their children.
A licensed family therapist could help a parent decide when to tell their children about a new romance and how to prepare for the occasion.
A therapist could also gauge how well a parent and their child have adjusted to the divorce and make recommendations accordingly. For example, a therapist could advise a divorced parent exhibiting psychological distress to slow down and prioritize their healing.
Wait until your children have adjusted to their new schedules
Numerous studies confirm that children need time to accept their new routine, especially after a highly contentious divorce.
After his parents divorced, actor Denzel Washington admits he went through "a very rebellious stage" as a teenager. His mother eventually sent him to boarding school to rehabilitate.
He credits this time away from home for saving him from a life of crime.
Washington's childhood friends spent 40 years combined in prison while he went on to win Oscars.
The Washington family illustrates how much separation could affect a child and how a parent's intervention could influence a child's future.
Washington's rebellious behavior is far from an isolated case. Approximately 25% of children of divorced parents experience significant emotional, social, and psychological issues compared to 10% of children of non-divorced parents.
These issues often stem from significant family structure, lifestyle, and schedule changes.
For example, custodial mothers could lose 25% to 50% of their pre-divorce incomes.
Make sure you're confident in the relationship
Dating in the twenty-first century is not easy.
Almost half of Americans believe that dating has become more challenging in the last ten years.
Dating as a divorcee and single parent complicates the dating process for most adults and often comes with added pressure.
Most children look to their parents as models for adult relationships. A parent's precedent could affect whether a child has pessimistic or optimistic views on romantic relationships well into adulthood.
A parent bringing a new partner into the family could result in heartache for the child, the parent, or both.
A relationship that ends abruptly could trigger unresolved grief for the child or parent.
In some cases, mounting tension between a child and the new partner could cause a breakup.
A parent should take the time to determine if the relationship will last and whether their partner would positively influence their child.
2. Break the news of the new relationship in a tactful way
How parents share the news of a relationship is just as important as when they break the news.
For instance, a child's age could affect how well they process a divorce.
Children between the ages of 7 and 14 have a 16% greater chance of having behavioral issues than those living with both parents.
Below we discuss considerate ways a parent could inform their child of a new romance.
Keep it light
Regardless of pre-divorce parenting style, a parent should lean on gentle parenting skills after a divorce to help their child heal.
Children from step, blended, or one-parent families are 50% more likely to develop mental health issues than children from intact families.
Gentle parenting involves raising children with sensitivity, affection, boundaries, and reasonable expectations.
Examples include prioritizing parent-child bonding, encouraging a child to make choices, and not using punishment as discipline.
Gentle parenting of a child after divorce could look like the following:
- Allowing a child to meet a new partner alone
- Requesting a new partner have patience with their child
- Setting boundaries between a new partner and their child
- Introducing a new partner to a child in a neutral and public location
- Keeping conversations with their child lighthearted.
Pleasant interactions between all parties benefit children. Researchers found that children recover from divorce better when parents cooperate.
Children have limited life experience and often rely on an overactive imagination to understand the world around them.
For instance, children of divorced parents may think they have the power to resurrect their parent's marriage from the grave.
A parent could do their child's psyche a favor by explaining that the divorce is final, both parents love them, and they will remain a priority.
These explanations provide little reassurance if a parent does not match actions to words.
A parent should avoid making negative comments about their ex-spouse in front of their children or inviting their child to take sides during arguments.
3. Don't expect them to trust your partner immediately
Trust takes time to build, personalities take time to blend, and chaos takes time to settle.
Most children will not eagerly accept their parent's new partner.
Research suggests that most children need about two years to deal with a divorce emotionally.
Divorce causes many children to manage new living arrangements and daily routines. These stressful changes often overwhelm a child's ability to cope.
It is common for children of divorced parents to struggle with human connection and act out when their emotional cup overflows.
4. Do not rush this process
A parent could facilitate interactions between their child and new partner by introducing changes slowly.
Having sleepovers or showing affection inside the house could cause children to experience anxiety, confusion, and resentment.
For instance, approximately 33% of children do not have contact or visitation with their fathers after divorce.
A child that spends less time with a parent after divorce could consider a new partner as a rival. Perceived rivalries might interrupt a child's grieving process for the life they once had.
5. Ask the children what they think of the situation
Children have a limited understanding of arithmetic and grammar. A complex concept like love is difficult for most adults to define and certainly out of a child's reach.
Consequently, many children will blame themselves for the divorce as they try to make sense of their new family dynamics.
A parent could attend to their child's worries by asking if they are concerned about anything.
A mother or father checking in with their child about a new relationship is a win-win situation.
Specifically, a child's input informs a parent's next steps, and a parent's attention builds a child's self-esteem.
6. Protect your child as your highest priority
Divorce often fractures a child's identity and shatters the world they know.
A child did not exchange "I dos," sign divorce papers or start a new relationship. Nonetheless, they endure the stressful consequences of their parent's life decisions by proxy.
Henry David Thoreau said, "There is no remedy for love but to love more."
Every divorced parent has the right to pursue romance after a divorce. They don't need to turn their back on love because their wedding vows didn't actualize.
Each child has the right to feel safe, loved, and prioritized.
A compassionate and patient parent will continue to protect their child's feelings regardless of their relationship status.
We hope this article provides direction to a divorced parent feeling lost in the modern dating world.