You now realize that it’s time to introduce your children to the person who has been sharing your life these past few months. In the past, every time you’ve thought about doing this, a hard knot has formed in your stomach — the result of anxiety mixed with trepidation.
You’re thinking: “How will my kids react to the fact that I’m in a new relationship? If they resent it, will they take out their anger on my lover? Will my lover be able to stick it out? For that matter, will my lover take to them at all, or think that my children are too spoiled/sullen/bratty?”
To ensure that this first meeting – and subsequent gatherings – go well, follow these six tips:
1. Prepare your children with an initial conversation about the kinds of relationships both their parents may form after a divorce. Let your kids know that both you and your ex-spouse love them fully and completely, and nothing will ever take the place of that love. They should also know that the two of you will always share the joy of being their parents. At the same time, they need to know that both you and your former spouse may wish to form romantic attachments with other people, and that this is okay! It is your hope and desire that your former spouse finds happiness, and you hope this wish is reciprocated.
2. Mention your friend to your children in several conversations prior to the initial meeting. Your kids want to know who you hang around with when they aren’t with you. They worry about you and don’t want to think of you sitting alone in your room. Let them know you do see others, particularly this new special friend. Tell them the adventures you have with your friend, and how this makes you happy. In truth, after all, your happiness is what they want most.
3. Answer any and all questions your children may have about this new relationship. Children must be encouraged to express their thoughts, impressions, and concerns. Do so in a way that puts them at ease, and make sure to provide age-appropriate answers. Don’t feel you are being put on the defensive. You have a natural need to move on with this portion of your life. They may not understand this at first, but they will come to accept it if you can reassure them that their own happiness will not be jeopardized by yours.
4. Don’t just throw everyone together cold turkey. That never works! It is akin to pulling someone out of an audience and putting them on a stage, then throwing a spotlight on them: under those circumstances, they are sure to get “the hook.” Instead, prepare both your friend and your kids for the when, what, and where of the meeting. Keep the event informal and casual, which will also take the stress off the situation.
5. Do what you can to facilitate a great meeting, but don’t dominate it. Prepare both your friend and your children with conversation starters based on their mutual interests. You should make the introductions and get the ball rolling, but don’t play advocate, defender, or spokesperson for one side or another. Let everyone else do the talking. By doing so, they’ll discover what you appreciate about each of them, and they will find common ground.
6. Don’t expect the best outcome – or the worst. All first meetings go through an ebb and flow of conversations and emotions. If things go great – congratulations! However, if a negative feeling or fear becomes evident with either your children or your friend, let it come out, but address it with them in private at a later time. Everyone makes mistakes. If everyone keeps an open heart, unimpressive first impressions can be undone. If your kids love you (and they do), they will make a real effort to accept the people that you find important.
John Gray, author of the best selling book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, has recently launched the Ask Mars Venus Coaching program.