Most people who divorce hope to eventually meet someone new with whom they can share their lives. Although you probably are hoping to meet someone yourself, it can be hard to cope when your ex finds someone new. How much contact should this new person have with your child? What role should he or she play? Should that change over time? And how do you cope when you just can’t stand the person? There are lots of questions that cross your mind.
Introducing New GF/BF
Hopefully, the new girlfriend/boyfriend won’t be introduced into your child’s life until the relationship is a serious one. If you and your ex can talk to each other, it is a good idea to agree to let each other know when you’re going to introduce someone into your child’s life. You and your ex might not be communicating well though, so you might be taken by surprise. If you’re not on good terms, you’ll likely hear about it through your kids. How this new person relates to your kids will mostly be up to your ex. In general, the most you can do in the beginning is suggest your kids keep an open mind and be polite and friendly.
Dealing with Your Own Feelings
No matter how completely dunzo you are with your ex or how long you’ve been apart, a new relationship could hit you right in the gut. This is to be expected. Of course you’re going to have some feelings of jealousy, hurt, anger, envy, and/or sadness. Go with the flow of your emotions. Talk to friends. Work through it, but don’t let your kids know how you are feeling. Try to present a façade of calmness and acceptance if you can.
The Role of the Sig Other
The reason a new BF/GF is upsetting to everyone (well, except your ex) is because he/she seems to challenge the existing roles in the family. You and your kids might feel this new person is trying to or could in the future try to take your place as the mom/dad in this family. Ideally, you and your ex will have an understanding about this and your ex will make it clear to your children that no one is replacing anyone. If your ex isn’t on board with this, wait for the issue to come up with your kids. If they do feel the new person is trying to fill your shoes, make it clear to your kids this can never happen and you’re not going anywhere. Reassure them that there is nothing wrong with having a new adult they can trust or relate to, in fact, the more people on your kids’ team the better, as long as it is a good influence.
The best case scenario is that the new person is not treated as having any authority over your kids. In reality, if the relationship is a serious one, at some point your kids will be expected to answer to the new person. The path from girlfriend/boyfriend to stepmom/stepdad is a long one so the relationship will likely gradually grow. And there will be bumps along the road for everyone.
When to Meet the Sig Other
The ideal time for you to meet the new person in your ex’s life is when the relationship becomes serious and the new person becomes involved with your kids. If your ex can’t manage to make this happen (or is avoiding it), it doesn’t hurt to take the bull by the horns and introduce yourself. If he/she is around during custody exchange, stick your hand out and introduce yourself. If you feel comfortable suggesting meeting for coffee sometime, this would be a great way for the two of you to get to know each other and forge a somewhat friendly (or at least non-violent) relationship. If you don’t run into each other, see if you can connect through mutual friends or social media. Reaching out can really set the pace to have a friendly relationship moving forward. It’s hard not to be defensive and suspicious, but it’s worth having an open mind going into things, until you are proven wrong.
If You Have a Past
If you and the GF/BF have a past (for example you were friends, your ex cheated on you with him/her, or there’s bad blood for some other reason), no one expects you to be pals. You’ve got a lot of reasons NOT to feel good about this person, but the fact is it’s not up to you to decide who your ex dates and the sooner you can accept that, the better you will feel about the whole situation.
What you can do is try to display only neutral feelings to your kids, your ex, and the GF/BF. Curse the skank out all you want with your friends, but try to reduce hostilities. It will make your kids’ lives easier if they aren’t in the middle of a battle. You can refuse to talk to the GF/BF if attempting to do so results in screaming. Avoid open nastiness at all costs since it helps no one.
What’s Not Ok
It’s likely this person will make you (and your kids!) uncomfortable. That’s normal. There are some red flags to keep your eyes out for, however. If any of these come up, you need to try to have a talk with your ex (and if that fails completely, then with your attorney):
- Your ex or the sig other suggests the kids call him/her “Mom” or “Dad”
- The kids are afraid of the person
- Your child mentions domestic violence in the home
- Your child is harmed or threatened by the new GF/BF
- The new person is left to supervise your child alone often or for long periods of time
- The GF/BF becomes the person you are supposed to deal with at custody transfer times (your ex doesn’t get to allocate this: he/she has to be there) or talk to about parenting time
- Your child is ignored because your ex is focusing on the new relationship or the new person’s kids
- The new GF/BF harasses or threatens you in person, online, or via text
Eventually your kids will adjust to the new person and while you may never feel completely happy about the situation, you may be able to get to a place where you can feel somewhat comfortable.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Guide and The No-Fight Divorce Book. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.