Introducing new significant others (SO) to your children is often done so poorly and causes so much unnecessary emotional damage both to your children as well as to your co-parenting relationship. Following this 5-step, STOPP strategy will significantly reduce the probability of that damage happening. In fact, it will maximize the chances of this new person being welcomed into all your lives rather than being viewed as an evil intruder who is hated for years to come.
The 5-Step, STOPP Strategy
As is true for so many things in life, timing is everything when introducing a new significant other to your children. There are two very specific parameters that are essential for you to follow if you want to protect them from emotional harm:
- Do NOT introduce a new SO to your children while you are still married and are going through the process of divorce. It will be confusing to your children, will inevitably inflame your spouse’s rage, and will potentially de-rail your divorce negotiations. Breaking this rule is truly a very selfish decision that ignores what is best for every member of your family and has the potential to backfire in so many ways. Avoid it at all costs!!
- Do NOT introduce a new SO to your children until the relationship is long-term and committed. Your children have already experienced so much loss and instability because of the divorce. The last thing you want for them now is to create the potential for more loss by prematurely bringing a new person(s) into their lives who is only going to disappear if the relationship does not last. This needs to be avoided despite your strong desire for your kids to meet this important new person in your life.
Tell your ex:
Introducing a new SO into your children’s lives is a significant event for them. Given that, it is important for the other parent to be aware that it is happening. There are several benefits to that:
- It removes it as a secret that your children need to keep from their other parent.
- It provides both parents the opportunity to help the kids adjust to this new life event.
- It gives the other parent the chance to give their children “permission” to have a relationship with this new person. That is so hugely important since it frees the kids up from feeling guilty or disloyal about liking this new person or enjoying spending time with them.
- It allows the other parent the option of meeting the new SO if they desire to do so. This is a totally appropriate request and one that you should grant if possible. I know that you would want this same courtesy if your kids were going to be spending time with your ex’s SO that you had never met. Try not to let your emotions dictate your response to this request but respond to it based solely on what is truly best for your children.
Only share what is necessary:
Your dating life is adult business, and there need to be clear boundaries regarding what you share with your kids about it. Try to do your dating when they are with their other parent and avoid sharing every intimate detail about this new relationship with them.
I have seen so many parents try to get around this suggestion (as well as the Slow suggestion) by playing a variety of games that eventually backfire. For example, they create “accidental meetings” and introduce their new SO as a friend that they just happen to be running into everywhere they go. Your kids are not stupid! They will figure this out and it will negatively impact their relationship when they eventually find out the truth.
Preserve quality time
Once the introductions have been made, it is essential that you do NOT include your new SO in all your time with your kids. That will only lead to a further sense of loss for them and an inevitable feeling of resentment toward your new SO for taking you away from them.
It is so important that you give your children time to slowly develop a relationship with your new SO. They may be someone that you have come to love, but to your children, they are simply strangers who have the potential to further complicate their lives. Give them time to get to know the person and anticipate that there will be resistance to accepting them. Try to meet that resistance with empathy and support, rather than with anger. Trying to force a relationship before your kids are emotionally ready for it is another strategy that will invariably backfire.
This is another important part of your divorce journey that you can either do poorly or that you can do well by taking a child-centered approach. Following the 5 Step, STOPP Process will be your guide for most successfully introducing new SOs into your children’s lives and significantly reducing the chance of this process causing them unnecessary emotional harm.