Families that come together post-divorce may need a different terminology than “blended family.” Blending something together connotes losing individual identities and forming a new collective identity. Invariably, something is lost when you attempt to form a new family unit with members with divided loyalties. Every member of the family may need reassurance that they matter and their feelings will always be considered.
Bringing together families, similar to business mergers, takes being a good policy maker, strategic planning, and listening carefully to your children’s spoken and unspoken communication. Literally, the success of this relationship can hinge on initial meetings and assisting your children through this significant milestone in their lives. Remember that you may be thrilled at the prospect of starting a new life and living with your new partner, but children may see this as more validation that you and your ex will not get back together. Even if your new partner is wonderful, your children may see this person as threatening and taking over their other parent’s role. While you do not need your children’s consent to date or have someone move in, it is fairly crucial that you have their assent to do so. This can be a fine line between allowing children to have too much power vs. not feeling heard. Children, especially older ones, are generally looking to be allowed a chance to feel heard and validated.
Children are also looking to make sure that they remain a priority in your life and not that you are looking to start a new family and leave them behind. Therefore, it is very important that you don’t introduce anyone to your children unless you feel fairly certain that this relationship will be a lasting one. It is damaging for your children to meet a string of people who may be “new mommy” or “new daddy.” It affects their capacities to attach in a healthy manner to people.
Here are some mindful steps you can take to help build a pathway to your new and restructured family and help your children know that they matter:
- In the beginning, remember to go at your child’s pace when spending time with a new significant other. The first meeting should be in public and very casual — preferably doing some child-friendly activity. It can be helpful if your partner has a small thoughtful gift — to show they know things about your child and that they care about your child. Make sure there are no public displays of affection between you and your new partner at this meeting. You may have been seeing each other for a long time, but your child may be flooded with feelings like jealously, anger, and hurt.
- Ask your child honestly what they think, when they would like to see the person again, and what they would like to do. Remember: if you feel that this relationship will last, you literally have all the time in the world.
- Make sure you are staying child-focused so that your child feels part of the relationship. Make sure you always make time to spend alone with your child. If the relationship progresses, have your partner talk to the kids about marriage — before you make it official.
- Include the kids, but always let them know your partner will never take the place of their other parent. And if you move in with your new partner — remember to have a family picture of you, your ex, and your kid in your child’s room.
- Reassure them regularly how much they matter to you.
These and other helpful tips are available on DIVORCEWORKS app, a handy tool for people navigating the emotional journey of divorce and restructuring families.