Introducing my child to a new partner

father-childQuestion 1
I read your answer recently about the right way and time to introduce a new partner into a child’s life, (Read it here) and it has led to renewed discussion about this issue with friends of mine who are also single mothers. We all agree with the approach of taking it slow, but we feel a need for some new ideas, especially for single mums who do not have a lot of support with their children, and who are simply not free to meet a new partner without the children over an extended period of time before introducing him.

How do you do this when your child is almost always with you? How do you get to the stage where you are sure “a new partner is a long-term feature” when you can only carve out a meeting here and there, after the child is in bed and all involved are bone-tired, if no one takes your child overnight or for a day at the weekend?

Of course you can introduce a man as “just as another friend”, but experience shows that children sense the difference. Also, some children seem to have a desire for a new partner or a man in their life and are eager to “attach”.  Any ideas? I would be interested in your advice because if you search the internet for advice, it mainly says wait until you are sure you’re going to marry the new man, but this is unrealistic in our circumstances.

A. Your question raises a number of challenges for separated and lone parents when it comes to trying to meet new partners and make new relationships work. Even when parenting with a partner, raising children can be time-consuming and stressful and there can be little time to attend to the couple’s relationship.

The situation is harder for many separated and lone parents who are doing the lion’s share of parenting alone and there can be even less time for personal projects or relationships.

There is an old proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”, meaning that to really parent a child well, you need many supportive people in their lives. The lone parents I know who cope best create links with other people and draw in close friends and family to help them.

This might mean that you rely more on grandparents, aunties, uncles or other lone parents who can share some of the tasks of parenting with you. It is also a reason to try to re-engage the children’s father to get him to share more in the parenting.

Even if this was not possible in the past, this does not mean that you might not be able to reach out and involve him more now.

You are right that the most important principle in forming new relationships as a parent is to go slow and to ensure your relationship is steady before introducing the person to your children. This is not only because the children might be unhappy with the new relationship but also, as you rightly say, they may “over-attach” quickly and be devastated if the relationship ends.

In dating and getting to know potential partners, I think you have to try to be creative to find ways of meeting them without necessarily involving your children. Could you and the other single parents form a babysitting rota that supports each of you in turn going on dates? Or are there other family members who you could rely upon? Even if you weren’t interested in dating, it is a good idea to try to include other people to help you care for your children, so you get time to pursue personal projects and your children have contact with other supportive adults.

Question 2
Q. I’ve a question on introducing a new partner to a toddler as a separated father. Basically my daughter is almost three years old and I’m wondering how best to manage the introduction of a new partner in her life. My daughter typically sleeps over with me on a Saturday night and I would like us both to be able to stay at my new partner’s house rather than my own.

A. If your relationship is steady and going well with your partner then it may be time to introduce your daughter to them. The general principle is to go slowly. It is a big step to take your daughter on a sleepover to your partner’s house, where she is in an unfamiliar setting. It might be better to start more gradually, maybe with your partner meeting your daughter at your house when your daughter is staying, then building up to your partner staying over in your house when your daughter is there, before taking the step of all of you staying in your partner’s house.

The key is to tune into your daughter and to notice how she is responding to each step. Hopefully she will get on with your partner and things will then be a lot easier but, if she does not, you need to take a step back and to consider how best to approach things. Either way, she will probably need to be reassured that the inclusion of your partner in her life does not reduce her importance in your eyes. She will need to see that you still spend quality time with her.

It is also important to communicate with your daughter’s mother about what is happening. Though this is a delicate conversation to get right, if done well it can free up your daughter from thinking your new partner is a “secret” not to be told to her mother. This helps her feel more relaxed with your new partner.

Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, October 2012.  John writes in The Irish Times Health Plus every Tuesday.