Divorce is seldom easy on a family – it jerks at the seams of relationships, threatening emotional wounds that will leave scars. There are plenty of landmines to navigate, but the one thing that can make things even tougher is the introduction of someone new. “No matter when that happens and how long it has been since the divorce, children should be told carefully that you have someone new. They need to be told that this new person won't replace mum or dad. In order to make it easier for a child to adapt, it is important to gradually introduce a new adult into his life, taking care of how much it suits the child to spend time with his parent and his new partner,” says Maida Kajevic, Psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center.
The process of disclosure must begin way before the actual meeting, say experts. Randall Hicks, author of ‘Stepparenting: 50 One-Minute Dos & Don’ts for Stepdads and Stepmoms’ has been quoted by the US magazine ‘Parents’ as saying: "Once it is known this new person will have some 'staying power' in the life of the parent, that's a good time to introduce them to the child, whether that person might be a future spouse or not."
Kajevic offers the following tips to aid a child’s adaptation to the new dynamics:
• Expressing feelings: Allow a child to feel for a new partner whatever he/she feels, without consequences: Just because you like someone doesn’t mean your child will. Allow him or her to express their first, second and third thoughts on the new person in the house. Have an honest and open conversation with the child about what he thinks of the new partner. No matter how much parents are bothered or even hurting – the child is entitled to all thoughts and feelings.
• Be patient: Accept that this situation calls for patience. Your child may be comfortable with the new person when they first meet, but the odds are they won’t. There is that niggling feeling of guilt they may be feeling; the thought that they are betraying their other parent by being okay with the addition. They may act out as well – it’s best to establish communication and routinely check in to ensure emotional well-being.
• If you are the ex: As an ex-partner, support the new relationship and do not to talk about it negatively in front of a child. It may take time, practice and a supreme amount of will power, but do it for the kids – when they see you being civil and happy, they will feel more relaxed in the situation as well.
• Quality time: Ensure the child has time to spend with just their parent as well time to spend alone if he/she needs to. Spend quality time one-on-one with your child to remind him/her how precious they are to you and reassure them that they come first.
• A special effort: During the holidays take special care of the child's habits and traditions. A new partner and partner's family may have different habits. Arranging timetables makes it extremely easy to satisfy both the child and the partner's needs; and
• Be happy: If a parent is happy and emotionally fulfilled in a new relationship and if the child perceives a new adult as a dear and loving person who is not trying to take control of him/her, the new family can be a source of satisfaction, optimism and joy.