Family

Communication key when introducing children to new partner

By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Divorced parents in a fresh relationship should not be in a hurry to introduce the new love interest to their children, advises Toronto family lawyer Leanne Townsend.

“If you meet someone and develop more than a friendship, you need to move very slowly and put your children first,” says Townsend, a partner with Brauti Thorning LLP.

“Remember that your kids have gone through the breakup of the family as well, and they may be stressed and dealing with issues stemming from that,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The age of the children is a critical factor, Townsend says, since young children may not fully understand what is happening.

“Sometimes they are really thrown off by the arrival of moms or dad’s new friend, while other times it may not faze them at all,” she says.

Teenage children can also have mixed reactions, Townsend says, as some will not accept that their parents should date again.

“Some teens will be dealing with their own issues surrounding the divorce, and may be angry about the breakup of the family, so they could resent mom or dad for bringing in someone new,” she says. “That’s why I always tell people that when introducing a new partner, communication is the key.”

People who date after divorce should not introduce their children to everyone they go out with, Townsend says.

“When it becomes a serious relationship that has future potential, then at some point it will make sense that your children meet the person,” she says. “For some kids, being introduced to their parents new partner can be very stressful and traumatic, so you need to be respectful of their needs.”

If children are upset about the new boyfriend or girlfriend, Townsend recommends the parent sit them down and discuss what is upsetting them.

“If there are legitimate concerns, the parent needs to work through those,” she says.

“Children didn’t ask to be born, and they didn’t ask for their parents to be divorced, so we owe it to them to make sure we put their needs first, as long as they are living in our homes and dependant on us,” Townsend explains.

Adult children will hopefully be more understanding about the situation, she says.

“Grown children usually accept that everyone is entitled to move on and have someone significant in their life,” Townsend says.

Though divorced parents have to be careful about who they date, she says all adults have the freedom to make decisions about what is best for themselves and their families.

“You’re the one who is in charge of your life, and you don’t want your children dictating whether you can or cannot date,” Townsend says. “Again, it’s a balancing act centring around good communication.”

Drawing from her experience working in the Crown Attorney’s office, she cautions divorced parents to be careful about who they invite back to their homes, for overnight stays or longer commitments.

“When someone ends up being sexually abused as a child, the offender is often someone living in the home, such as mom’s new boyfriend or a step-parent,” Townsend says.

“This is just another reason to go very slow,” she says. “If this new person is going to be in your home overnight, you first want to make sure you know everything about them and their past.”

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