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Meeting your partner's children

When you enter a relationship with a separated parent, it can be hard to know how to play things when it comes to your partner’s children.

When parents separate, their children often hold on to the hope that their mum and dad will someday get back together. Older children may be more aware of some of the problems that led to the separation but still struggle to accept that their parents are no longer a couple.

Whatever age your children are, they may struggle to adjust to their mum or dad finding a new partner, or even dating. This will need careful handling. As the parent, you may well pick up signals from your child and recognise how they are dealing with the change.

Each situation is unique and the best way to handle it depends on several issues – the children’s ages, the relationship they have with the other parent, the stage at which you and your partner get together, and whether you have children too.

As the new partner, you could find yourself caught up in parenting conflicts between your partner and the children’s other parent. It might feel like you are being tested and caught up in family difficulties that you would rather avoid.

Meeting your partner’s children can be daunting, and figuring out the nature of your involvement can be even more so.

The following tips can help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls

  • Don't rush things. Allow the relationship to develop slowly and don't expect the children to love you or even like you straightaway.
  • However much the children test your patience, aim for a relationship where you respect each other and treat each other fairly.
  • Be prepared to take a back seat when the children are around.
  • Accept that it is not a competition - the bond between parents and children is always going to come first.
  • Make it clear that you understand your partner's first responsibility is to the children. This will help take pressure off both of you - your partner will need to hear that you accept this.
  • Be patient – your partner can give you their undivided attention when the children are not around.
  • Don’t try to be a substitute parent. Be supportive but don't expect to take on a parenting role.
  • Don't criticise, complain or even joke about the other parent in front of the children. Children of all ages can struggle with loyalty issues, so be sensitive.
  • Accept that there will need to be communication between your partner and their ex - partner about the children. Good communication is essential if things are going to work.
  • Try to understand the loyalty conflicts your partner might be experiencing, even if they don't talk about it. There will be times when they feel pulled in several directions.
  • Even if your partner’s children accept you very readily, try to give them some time alone so they can have their mum or dad’s undivided attention.

Try to support your partner when they feel caught in the middle. If there are arguments and disagreements between your partner and their ex, remember that you’re only hearing one side of it.

Try and talk to others who aren't involved - this might include friends who are in similar situations or anonymously here on Click. You may start to find that there are common issues, and that they can be worked through.

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