Dating:  Did I Mention I've Got Kids?

By Terry Carson

It's not easy to introduce your new significant other to your kids after divorce or the loss of a spouse. You may really like this person and are happy with your new relationship, but how will your kids react? Will they like him/her? Will they get along?
Sometimes kids don't warm up to someone the parent shares a strong connection to.  And sometimes parents are too quick to criticize the children for not likng their new love interest and insist on forcing the relationship on them.
When a family goes through divorce, separation or bereavement, everyone, even after many years, has lots of adjusting to do.  When a new love interest comes into your life children may fell threatened as they are still finding their place in this already shifting family.  This may be especially true if the relationship was kept a secret or that the kids didn't know the parent was dating.  As well, children can feel rejected if you and your honey are obvious in your affections for one another, or they may compare the newbie to their real mom or dad.  Your childrne may feel that their special club (the family) has just had a total stranger invited in without their knowledge or permission. All this can lead to feelings of isolation, anger and resentment.
Beyond these feelings, sometimes kids and your new love interest just don't click. It's important to get at what is underlying here without dismissing the child.  Pay attention to what your kids are saying.  Your new friend may be inadvertetnly making your child feel uncomfortable.  Rather than judging the child as being critical or having a bad attitude, take a look at some of the rules of etiquette, outlined below, for your significant other and notice is any of these boundaries have been overstepped. It is very tough being the newcomer in an already established family.  Talk with your partner about these guidelines to help make life easier for everyone involved in your new arrangement.  It will take time and effort to break through some of the tougher issues.  Explain to your children that there is a place for everyone in your new life, kids and partner alike.  However, it is the adults who have to do most of the wiggling in order to make room. 
Rules of Etiquette for Significant Others (adapted from Gary Neuman’s tips in Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce)
1.      If the child has a difficult time warming up to you, keep trying. Don’t dismiss or reject him.
2.      Allow for a warming up period. Don’t expect affection immediately.
3.      Avoid put-down humor and never say “I’m just kidding”.  Never tease the child, even if that’s how you joke.
4.      Avoid correcting or disciplining the child.
5.      Don’t talk about the other parent (the ‘ex’) in front of the child, no matter how warranted.
6.      Never mention anything to the child about him/her that was disclosed to you in private. Even a small comment like “Your mom/dad tells me you’re quite a piano player” may not sit well.
7.      The child’s room (tree house, bathroom, studio, etc.) is their private space. Ask permission before entering.
8.      Wait to be invited by the child into a conversation or activity before becoming involved.
9.      Never touch or interact with the child in a way that feels uncomfortable for him/her such as wrestling, ticking, etc.
10. Never try to convince, cajole or coerce a child to do something he/she doesn’t want to do, especially if she is fighting with her parent.
11. The kids will need and want private time with that parent without you tagging along. Don’t expect the parent to spend all his/her time with you and the kids together. 
12. If you have kids, don’t expect your kids and your new friend’s kids to socialize or get along. 
I have coached many parents over the years. Each time problems with dating and kids comes up there is inevitably a connection to one or more of the issues in the above rules. While it may feel uncomfortable for you to discuss such a sensitive topic it can be valuable in the long run in helping everyone get on side. If you discover that your significant other responds negatively, then sadly, this may be a wake-up call for you to reevaluate your own priorities.  

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