I am the father of two children, ages six and eight. I separated from my wife six months ago and we are definitely headed to a divorce. We share joint custody. We split the week with my children living half the time with me, and half with their mother. This is not an amicable divorce, to say the least.
Two months after I separated, I was lucky enough to meet the love of my life. This is very exciting for me, as to be perfectly honest, my marriage was never very good. My question is: How and when do I introduce the new woman in my life to my two kids? I want them to like, even love her, and accept her.
My first reaction to your question was, I am so glad you sought advice on this very important issue. My second thought is, please, please, please slow things down for the sake of your children. I say this for a variety of reasons.
Divorce is a life-altering event for a child and I am sure that yours are still adjusting to all the changes. In terms of stressors, separation and divorce rank right at the top of the scale. Parents often underestimate how difficult this can be for a child. Children need a settling-in period to adapt to all the changes that are going on and to process feelings. Children need a period of time to stabilize to the new normal without the added complications of a new adult relationship of a parent thrown into the mix.
In addition, with the split with the kids’ mom and the new relationship coming so close together, fair or not, the two can become connected in the kids’ minds and your children may blame your new girlfriend on the break-up of your marriage and their home. This is a troubling set-up, as they may never accept her into the family. In fact, they could treat her with great hostility. I cannot tell you how often I see this dynamic during co-parenting sessions.
My best advice is to take things very slowly. This relationship is still quite fresh. I would give it plenty of time to develop and see where it goes. Parents need to put our children’s needs above our own. In this situation, that translates to your responsibility as a father to be supportive and emotionally available to your children as they go through this period of major transition. Focus fully on them and stay observant for any signs that they are not doing well. Signs that they are stressed would include any of the following: a disturbance in sleep; changes in behavior or mood; over or under eating; academic struggles; and outbursts of anger.
Once you see the children are adjusting well (I would give this a period of a year), then, very gradually introduce them to your girlfriend. Do not force the relationship, but let it develop organically. I can just about promise you that this approach will pay off for everyone. It will show respect for your children and their need to adapt at their own pace, it will set the stage for a better relationship between the children and your girlfriend, and it will give you time to see if, indeed, this relationship is all that you hope it to be.
Blending families can have a happy ending for everyone if parents go into the process mindful of pitfalls and with sensitivity to their children’s needs.