While divorce and the holidays are complicated enough, adding a new significant other to the mix can heighten the anxiety on all fronts. However, there are ways to make this type of an introduction work for all parties. Provided below is a quick decision tree of tips to help you decide if and how to include a significant other in your holiday time with your kids.
Don’t introduce your kids to a significant other during the holidays. Holidays are a time to connect with family and make memories. Using a holiday for a first introduction puts too much stress on your significant other and your children. Choose a low pressure time and structure the introduction in a way that sets it up for success. Introductions will look different based on the age/stage of your children, and their experience of the divorce.
Don’t introduce casual or early stage relationships to your kids. Hopefully your parenting plan covers introductions to kids and includes language about “serious and stable” relationships. While this term has different definitions in parenting plans, only serious significant others should spend time with your children, especially at the holidays.
If the previous criteria have been met, evaluate the readiness of children to accept the participation of your significant other in a holiday. How have they responded to him/her in the past? How have they handled the holidays in the past? For some kids, holidays can stir up a wish to have their parents back together.
So you have decided that all the above are in place, now how do you actually handle the holiday?
For some kids, creating new traditions might be the easiest way to include a significant other. If shopping for a Christmas tree has always been something you have done alone with your kids, it may be important to them to protect that tradition. One of the opportunities that divorce provides is the ability to create new traditions and this opens the door to participation with your significant other. Your kids can have input on how to include him or her if that would be helpful. Maybe everyone goes ice-skating together or watches a holiday movie together. Starting small allows for room to grow into integrating this person into your life. Remember, you can also celebrate the holiday with your significant other during your non-parenting times, but this discussion is about including them with your kids.
In some cases, it might be easier to include a significant other into existing family traditions. For example, if your Thanksgiving tradition is to have your entire family over, it could provide an excellent opportunity to include your significant other. While it is a longer event with a number of other dynamics, it is also one where your kids will have the opportunity to hang out with the new significant other while also being able to take breaks and hang out with cousins or grandparents.
It is important to think about your child’s emotional experience, when you think about how to structure the holiday experience. Will your child respond better in a small or large group? Will a shorter holiday experience go more smoothly or do they need some time to warm up? Again, I’m assuming that they have already spent time with this person, so you are trying to find a way to include them in a holiday that helps grow the relationship and make a positive memory.
It takes time and energy to create bonds between your children and your significant other. Part of that bonding will include the holidays at some point. There isn’t one right or wrong way to do this (big gathering, small gathering, activity, or meal). Instead, you should be thoughtful about your unique circumstances and design your plans around those circumstances. Creating a thoughtful plan will provide a good foundation for growing those bonds and creating a meaningful and positive relationship.