For re-dating parents, figuring out when to introduce their children to a new partner is a tricky calculation: how many months should you wait? Does the relationship feel stable and secure enough to take that step? Is your son emotionally ready to meet someone new since he separated from her co-parent? What will your ex say?
The stress does not end there; Once the introductions have been made, you should check in with your kids to make sure it’s not too much, too fast, and that they feel comfortable with their new partner.
This common post-divorce dilemma has played out on a very public stage in recent months, ever since reality star Kim Kardashian began dating Saturday Night Livekim comedian Pete Davidson.
Things seem to be going smoothly for the new couple, but Kardashian’s ex Kanye West has raised concerns about Davidson’s relationship with their children. (At one point, West even dramatically wrote, “NO YOU WILL NEVER KNOW MY KIDS” in an Instagram post.)
Still, photos taken recently show that Davidson has met the couple’s children. And earlier this month, another photo surfaced showing what appears to be a new tattoo for the comedian: the ink reads KNSCP, letters many fans believe represent Kardashian’s four children with West: North, Saint, Chicago and psalm.
If the tattoo is real, and Davidson has a history of getting tattoos for the women in his life, including a mark dedicated to Kardashian, it’s a striking show of commitment on his part.
The family therapists we spoke with wondered how committed a person could be after roughly six months of dating.
“The tattoo seems more like evidence of his impulsiveness than his genuine attachment to his girlfriend’s children, which he couldn’t possibly have in any substantial way after only six months,” says Virginia Gilbert, a Los Angeles-based therapist who is specializes in high contentious divorce.
“I think six months is too soon to meet your children, especially with a messy divorce in the works and Kanye being so opposed to the reunion, but everything Kim does is in the public eye, it would have been hard to keep Pete. in secret. , so the question is probably moot,” she added.
Kurt Smith, a family therapist in Roseville, California, who works primarily with men, says the desire to connect more deeply with your partner by showing interest in their children is understandable.
Ultimately, though, new partners need to recognize that it’s a delicate dance, one that usually requires a healthy distance.
“Pete should ask himself why it was so important for him to do that at this stage of the relationship,” he says.
Since this co-parenting dilemma is top of mind for many right now, we decided to ask family therapists and other experts on blended families to share advice they’d give re-dating parents like Kardashian. This is what they say.
First of all, when should the presentations be made?
For divorced parents, when to introduce and involve a new partner in their children’s lives is a complex question with no single answer.
For some people, six months is enough; for others, a slower approach might be necessary, says Dawn O. Braithwaite, a professor of communication studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Braithwaite has spent her career studying how families interact to create, navigate, and change relationships, routines, and traditions, especially in stepfamilies and chosen families.
According to her, parents should consider the following six things before making presentations:
What do you think the future of your new relationship will be?
the age of the children
How long it has been since the separation or divorce
How well children have adapted to changes in their family situation
The relationship with the co-parent
The interest that the new partner has in meeting the children.
“While there are exceptions, most scholars have found that new partners can play a positive role in children’s lives, but that they should go slow and act like children’s friends rather than overdo it and act confused. or inappropriate for children. says the teacher.
Meetings should be informal at first
To avoid being too strong or overstepping the boundaries, keep those early get-acquainted meetings as informal as possible: arrange a date in the park or meet up for a Marvel movie and pizza.
“The onus should be on the new partner to meet the kids where they are, which means they should be involved in the kinds of things they like to do,” says Gilbert. “I would also suggest postponing adult sleepovers until the kids are comfortable with the new partner.”
Remember that your relationship is not with your partner’s children, it is only with your partner.
If you’re the parent, reinforce the fact that it’s not a package, at least not yet.
“Maintaining this boundary is important for both partners, the health of the new relationship, and more importantly, the health of the children,” says Smith.
Move too quickly and you could quickly incur the annoyance of children. Y the potential anger of the other parent.
“I’ve counseled parents going through a divorce where their new girlfriend posted photos on social media of their kids at a birthday party as if they were hers and believe me, it didn’t go well for the other parent,” says Smith.
“It’s hard enough bringing in new couples and merging families, so anything that could cause tension or conflict should be avoided,” he explained.
Get comfortable being a stranger for a while.
Children in situations like this often grapple with conflicting and confusing concerns, says Amy Begel, a family therapist in private practice in New York City and author of the Most Human blog: “Will they betray their father if they have a relationship with Will this new boy? Will they betray their mother if they are loyal to their father and want to protect their feelings?
That is why it is important to spend some time in the background if you are the new member. It may seem like a blow to the ego to be treated as an outsider or, worse, an outsider, but patience during this process is crucial, says Begel.
As Jenna Korf, stepmom and founder of StepmomHelp.com, previously told HuffPost, you’re an outsider joining an established family, even if your partner and their kids eventually move in. his House.
“A lot of this is unintentional, but kids automatically go to their parents,” she says. “You may be sitting next to your partner and they won’t address you, often leaving you out of the conversation.”
If you are the new partner, take the approach of a new friend or neighbor, not an automatic stepparent.
New couples should try to make friends with the kids, but move at a pace set by the kids, says Ron Deal, founder of SmartStepfamilies.com and author of several popular books on blended families.
“In my book with Dr. Gary Chapman, Building Love Together in Blended Families, I tell stepparents that it’s like making friends with a new neighbor,” says Deal. “You don’t make your way to their house and tell them you’re their new best friend. That makes enemies.”
Instead, the stepfather and author advised, knock and wait patiently at the door.
“You might even have to talk to them through the door for a while until you find some things they have in common. Only when they open it up can you start connecting face-to-face,” says Deal. “Little by little, over time, a friendship forms that stands on its own terms.”
Avoid “delete and replace” messages if you are the new member
According to Deal, exaggerated gestures like Davidson’s tattoos send the wrong message to kids. The goal of the new partners is to appear as additives rather than substitutes. Children must feel that they are potentially adding to the family, not to get a surrogate mother or father.
“Pete’s tattoo may sound romantic, that’s the kind of thing people do to win their partner’s affection, but to kids it says, ‘You’re mine,'” says Deal. “Someone could say, but isn’t that great too? Not necessarily a child. In his world, it can seem like Pete is trying to ‘erase and replace’ his father.”
A child’s loyalty lies, understandably, with his biological father, not with the new stepfather. A message like that threatens his relationship with his father “may partly explain Kanye’s strong reaction and only escalates the battle between the parents,” Deal tells HuffPost.
“Here’s my rule of thumb: A new partner who tries to erase and replace a biological parent will, in fact, be erased and replaced,” he says.
Most children with recently divorced parents are dealing with abandonment issues; don’t add them
It’s horrible for a child to become attached to a new partner who then disappears from their lives. If your partner is coming on too strong with the kids, Gilbert says to acknowledge that this is a difficult transition for everyone and tell them that you really appreciate their efforts.
Then, change the conversation: try to encourage them to see things from the children’s perspective: among other things, your children may feel more loyal to their ex or may be suffering that their parents are no longer together. They may not want to share you with a new person and they may not want anyone to have control over the changes in their lives.
“Your new partner needs to understand how overwhelming your relationship can seem to the kids and that their ambivalence isn’t about them,” says Gilbert. “If the issue is creating conflict between you and your new partner, consider seeing a therapist who can help you both make child-centered decisions.”
The big takeaway here, though, is to take things slow: “As a general rule of thumb, it takes at least two years before a new couple can take on any kind of traditional parenting role,” says Gilbert.