Many times when going through divorce, if a co-parent has an inferiority complex they will begin dating immediately to fulfill their internal void and emotional wounds. They look for external validation through a new partner to “feel whole” and avoid the healing process. They may even cycle through multiple partners and have a revolving door before settling on one new partner. The co-parent may even introduce them to the children after the first date and use the children as a weapon to secure their new partner that they are an amazing parent, which the new partner may equate to also being a great partner. But, this is usually furthest from the truth…
When introducing new partners to kids too quickly, this hinders their trust in the parent-child relationship. Kids may have lots of thoughts, yet they don’t share them because they don’t want to upset their parent.
Some thoughts kids may have are:
“Dad/Mom doesn’t love anymore since they want to only spend time with this new person”
“Dad/Mom is so gross in how they kiss their new partner all the time”
“Dad/Mom new partner is in my space and I wish they would leave”
“Dad/Mom doesn’t make time for me anymore. I don’t why their new partner always has to come”
The thoughts your child may have can lead to feelings of rejection, betrayal, and lack of safety. When kids don’t feel safe, they may act in ways that seem adverse to their normal behavior.
Some behaviors kids might exhibit are:
They may become emotional and lash out at you
They may hide in their room to seek safety
They might reject you in return and become withdrawn
They may act happy for you but secretly resent you for dating someone new
They may become jealous that they no longer get to spend quality time with you and reject your new partner as a result
What your co-parent or you may be thinking when dating a new partner that you want to introduce to your kids:
"Only seeing my partner when I don’t have the kids is not enough time.”
“I want to share my excitement with my children.”
“I want to make sure my kids like them before we continue dating.”
“I know my kids will love him/her so why would I wait”
“I know my kids want to see me happy, and I want to show them what a real loving relationship is supposed to look like.”
All of these statements above put the parent’s needs first and fail to meet the emotional security and safety children need in their homes. They are already going through multiple transitions with the divorce let alone trying to navigate new people or new parental figures in their life. Your kids will never replace their biological parent with a new partner nor will they be excited about your dating life as you are. They will still be coming to terms with the fact their parents are no longer together and finding acceptance within their new family dynamics.
Once your new partner becomes a consistent figure, they will be similar to aunt or uncle in the children’s lives. If your new partner believes that they will be replacing the other parent or if one co-parent puts them in that role, boundaries will be crossed and your kids will reject them.
To help eliminate confusion, distrust, or rejection within the parent-child relationship and to create mutual respect with your co-parent, we recommend establishing these dating boundaries with your co-parent:
1. Establish a Timeline of When For Introducing New Partners to the Kids
From a family psychology perspective, it’s best to date exclusively for a minimum of 6 months if not a full year before introducing a new partner to the kids. You’ll want to add this provision to your parenting plan as well to make sure you and your co-parent are on the same page. This gives the kids plenty of time to adjust to their new lives before introducing a new partner.
2. New Partner’s Roles in the Kids' Lives
New partners will not be replacing the role of either parent in the home. They should not make major decisions for the kids or discipline the children, unless faced with an emergency. New partners will take on more of an aunt or uncle role supporting the kids. They can help with the basic care of children like cooking, transportation to activities, etc.
3. Not Calling New Partners “Mom” or “Dad”
Forcing a child to call a new partner “Mom” or “Dad” when the child already has two parents is overstepping boundaries. This can also be confusing for a child to feel like they have no voice and are expected to fulfill the parent’s wishes. This can be emotional manipulation of the child to solely fulfill the parent’s or new partner’s needs. Unless a new partner becomes a primary figure it’s best to allow the child to focus on having one Mom and Dad.
All the provisions above can be included in the parenting plan to create clear guidelines and mutual respect for the co-parenting relationship, the child’s developmental boundaries, and new partner’s roles.
If you have any additional questions about dating after divorce or you’re finding you’re ready to get back out there but don’t want to repeat cycles from the past, then sign up for a discovery call.