When your co-parent finds a new romantic relationship—and their significant other will be spending time with your child(ren)—how do you cope?
The Basic Rules
There are several points to remember when dealing with your co-parent’s partner. Talking Parents
recommends that the co-parents respect one another; do not criticize, blame, or accuse one another. Do not force your children to take sides; set consistent standards between households; consider the feelings of your children first.
Beyond these guidelines, psychologist Felicitas Heynes reminds us, “partnership ends, parenthood never does.”
As you navigate co-parenting, your kids should always remain the priority in all interactions, which means that you and your co-parent need to be a team.
Talking to Your Children
While your children want you to be happy, they may struggle to understand the new dynamic. Helping them comprehend another relationship should bring some peace into your lives.
When dealing directly with the significant other, explorable.com—a website founded by a research psychologist whose goal is to “make the scientific method more available to laypersons”—mentions a few strategies to help establish peaceful interactions.
- Normalize the situation. Explain to the kids that it’s OK for you or your co-parent to have a new significant other:
“Mom and dad have a right to fall in love with other people, but whether we do or not, it doesn’t change how we feel about you.”
- Offer the S.O. tips on how to connect with your children.
Sharing insights about your children’s personalities will help them to bond with the new significant other, and it will build trust within the co-parenting team. Sharing this information keeps the kids at the forefront of the family unit and will give you peace of mind.
“Jimmy hates broccoli and may throw a tantrum at the table if you try to make him eat it; however, he will
eat green beans, peas, or spinach. Janie won’t go to sleep without her teddy bear and a story before bed.”
- Talk to the co-parent and the S.O. about any worries that you may have.
Approaching them in an upfront and non-confrontational way can open opportunities to talk when you run into other issues later on.
“I’m concerned that both of you are working second shift; it may be difficult for you to get the kids to and from soccer practice. Sports are important to them, and I don’t want to see that interrupted.”
- Discuss what your kids have expressed about the situation with the co-parent and S.O.
Remember that as co-parents, you want to share consistent information with your children.
- Offer compliments to the new significant other.
“Tommy loves your pancakes. That’s a nice treat for him. Thank you.”
Communication is Key
Despite your best efforts, children still may have difficulties with the new significant other. They may feel a relationship with a new person is a betrayal of you. Assure them often that is not. You know nobody will take your place in your children’s hearts, and that goes both ways. Ask your co-parent to have the same conversation with the children.