As we’ve noticed while watching newly-single Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton ferociously flirt on The Voice, dating can be so fun, you can’t stop swooning over your new partner. The emotions that come with getting to know someone new are magnified after finally getting over your ex — and can be even trickier to navigate when you have your kids’ feelings to consider. We reached out marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin for some expert advice on blended families. Scroll on for her tips, which are sure to help you stay level-headed while bringing the person you love and your kids together.
1. Introduce the idea first
Springing a new, serious relationship on your kids can be challenging, as it’s often hard for kids to see their mom with a new love — and their feelings about this new person in your life are often complicated.
Esther says, “Start talking about the idea that you are dating as soon as you start doing it. Once you are dating someone you really like, introduce them in conversation first too.” Talking with your kids about who this person is and why you enjoy their company before you actually introduce them face-to-face can help set the stage for a positive first impression.
2. Talk it out
Allow your kids the freedom to have their own opinions about your new significant other! While that doesn’t mean they have the right to be rude or disrespectful, they should have the the right to decide that they don’t like someone just because YOU do. Esther says, “Don’t be too quick to dismiss their opinions as jealousy or stemming from a loyalty to their Dad. Instead, hear them out on why they don’t immediately like this new person, and then ask them to keep an open mind. Relationships take time to evolve, and that’s just as true for romance as it is for your children and your new partner.”
3. Take it slow
The right timing can be tough to figure out in any relationship, but requires even more thought when it comes down to your kids. Esther advises, “Don’t wait too long, but remember that not every date deserves to meet your children. There will be people you date, even for a couple of months, that are fun, but might not meet the criteria for a long-term relationship.”
She says to be honest with yourself about the qualities you’re looking for in someone who might go the distance, and then to introduce potential partners ONLY after they’ve demonstrated those values. “Dating can be a numbers game, and though it’s absolutely great (and healthy!) for you to get to know new people, very few will earn an intro to your kids.”
4. Make it fun
Though the first meeting may be something you dread, planning a fun activity is a great way for everyone to get to know each other. Esther suggests, “Keep the first few meetings simple and lighthearted without going overboard.
The first time your new significant other meets your kids doesn’t need to be at Disney or on a tropical vacation — it should be a fun outing in a neutral place. Give them something to do together that allows your child and your new significant other to show off the aspects of their personalities and interests that are likely to mesh well.” So if they both like sports? Head to a ballpark to play or take in a game. If your kids love books, consider a cool bookstore where they can explore new authors and chat about interesting topics. Everyone likes people more when they have fun together.
5. Set expectations for everyone
Bringing a new special someone into your life can leave everyone leaping to conclusions that might not be true. To avoid letting your kids’ imaginations run wild with ideas or your new partner suffering from confusion regarding rules and family traditions, set expectations up front. Esther notes, “Kids should respect adults — but it should also be clear that despite how close you feel to this new person, they are NOT a substitute parent. Not only is it confusing, but [it] can complicate your relationship when there aren’t clear boundaries from the beginning.” Encourage questions and open dialogue to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and content as you spend more time together and the relationships grow.
Have you recently introduced a new partner to your kids? Tell us how you did it on Twitter @BritandCo!
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