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Helping Your Child Adjust to a Stepparent

In with the new
Divorce is hard on parents as well as children. It is healthy for you to move on and meet new people after healing from your divorce. However, it can be hard for children to see their parents dating. Common reactions from children include thoughts that they hope that mom and dad will get back together, or resentment toward you and/or the person you are dating for taking time away from them. By taking things slow, keeping things consistent, and establishing some ground rules, you can make the adjustment easier for everyone.

Tips for bringing a new adult into your child's life
Take things slow. According to parenting expert Barbara Meltz, therapists who work with children of divorce recommend introducing the person you are dating to your children only when it becomes serious, because children tend to get attached to adults quickly and it can be confusing and upsetting when people come and go from their lives. When you think the time is right, sit down with your children and explain to them that you get lonely and need adult company, and the person you are dating is special to you. Reassure them that you love them and that they always come first no matter who is in your life, and encourage them to come to you with any worries. Don't push things. Start with an activity, for example by taking everyone to the zoo, so the focus isn't only getting to know everyone. Don't rush the relationship – it may take weeks of your children meeting your significant other once a week before they get comfortable.

Making things permanent. Even if you have been dating someone and your children have gotten to know this person, the adjustment starts all over again when you decide to marry that person. Marriage makes things permanent, and in your child's mind it means that there is no hope for mom and dad to get back together. Make sure your children know that your relationship with them will not change, and this person will not take the place of their other parent. Children may express their emotions by acting up around the stepparent, so hold a family meeting and make sure everyone is on the same page about house rules and discipline. As the parent of your children, it is your role to enforce the house rules.

Becoming a stepparent. When you marry someone with children, make sure your new spouse and the children still have their special time together. Don't try to take the place of the child's other parent, but do try and find something special that you and the children can do together or have in common. Try to create some new rituals for all of you to do together, but also respect the children's already-established routines, and make sure they get some one-on-one time with their parent. Even if you do not necessarily agree with them, try to respect the already-established rules and routines the children have. Be sure to talk to your new spouse about your concerns, because he or she has a different relationship with the children, one that is already established, and may not understand what you are going through.

Blending families. Sometimes, both sets of partners have children. It can be fun, especially at first, for children to have a big, happy family and more people to play with at home. However, after the initial excitement, it can be hard for two families with different rules and routines to adjust to living together. Although you and your new spouse should hold a family meeting to go over house rules that you both agree on, in general each parent should be responsible for disciplining their own children. While it may not be feasible for children to have their own rooms, make sure your child gets the space he needs to do homework, have some quiet time, and also time with you.

For more information, read Parents who date by parenting expert Barbara Meltz and the KidsHealth article Becoming a Stepparent .


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