Childless folks who are dipping their toes into a serious relationship may consider whether their partner would make a good parent, or even whether they generally have compatible views of what that means, but one thing they'll never have to think about is whether their existing kids would actually like their partner.
Dating as a single parent, on the other hand, means this is going to come up sooner or later if you get serious with someone. If you really like your new partner — enough, say, to introduce them to your kids — you'll of course hope that your children do, too. You'll hope that the people who matter most in your life can get along, even if it takes time and even if it's not all plain-sailing. What if that doesn't happen? What if your children really don't like your new partner?
There really isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to this, and what you do is ultimately up to you, but here are a few things you may want to keep in mind.
Figure out why your kids don't like your new partner
That can start by figuring out whether your children don't like the fact that you're dating or are in a relationship (whatever terminology you prefer), or they actually don't like your new partner as a person. There's a whole laundry list of reasons your kids might be thrilled about the general idea of you having a significant other:
- If you've always been single or been single for a really long time, you're likely to have formed an especially close-knit family unit with your kids. Your new partner may feel like an intruder to your kids. They may be worrying about losing the stable and happy status quo they're used to.
- If you've been spending a lot of time with your new partner, and are seeing your kids less because of it, they may miss you and feel that their temporarily unmet needs will be met again if your partner goes bye-bye.
- If you've broken up with your children's other parent, especially if it was fairly recent, your kids may still be hoping you'll get back together. Your new partner shattering this illusion may be heartbreaking.
- Your kids may really not want to see you, their parent, as a sexual being, and the fact that you're dating is putting images they don't want to think about into their head.
- If your previous relationship was filled with conflict or trauma, they may be afraid it will happen again.
- If you've had multiple relationships, your kids may just not be that excited about someone they think is going to disappear soon enough.
What if your children don't like your partner as a person?
While many children of previously single parents are going to need time to get used to the fact that their parent is now in a new relationship, they will eventually get used to the situation. It's a bit different if it's not the idea of you being in a relationship they have trouble with, but your new partner themselves. What then?
There can, again, be plenty of reasons — not all of which your children may be able to articulate. Maybe your partner is messy and they don't like that. Maybe they've awoken new interests in you that they don't like, such as, say, spending every weekend at a soccer game, which your kids resent them for. Maybe they have different cultural habits they are not familiar with, or they don't like the way in which he's trying to seek rapport with them before they're ready. Or maybe, at the end of the day, they just simply don't like your partner. The reasons can be totally benign in the grand scheme of things, but still serious to your kids.
There can also be safety reasons, and I'll start with the most serious. When I didn't warm up to my mother's "wonderful" new man, she may have been surprised. He was nice to me in public. He bought me expensive things and "experiences" like swimming and dining out often. He was also sexually abusing me. It's a notion formerly single parents in new relationships should always consider, especially if they're female and in a relationship with a man — research shows that children living with stepfathers are 40 times more likely to fall victim than those who live with two biological parents.
Don't count on your child to disclose outright if this happens. That can be scary. Talking about sexual abuse in advance and making it clear that it's never a child's fault and you'll always be on their side may help, not just in this situation but in general. Keep your own eyes and intuition peeled, too — don't just see what you want to see, but see everything you can see. Is your partner a bit too keen on spending alone time with your child? Do you notice any other red flags that you just don't feel right about?
Then, there are other possible concerns, like:
- Your partner has different ideas about parenting and discipline than your kids are used to. Maybe harsh ones.
- Your partner is interested in you, but actually couldn't care less about your children, and this makes them feel bad.
- Your partner drinks or does drugs.
- Your partner is physically or emotionally abusive.
No matter what you do, I'd advise you to really talk to your kids, to really listen, and to really consider how you want to handle this. Give your partner and children the chance to get to know each other (if safety concerns were rule out), but don't force it. Continue to spend plenty of time with your core family, you and your kids without your partner. Do what you know in your heart to be right, with your eyes open. I do believe that, as parents to minor children, our first responsibility is to them, and that means taking them and their feelings seriously. The rest, you'll ultimately have to answer in your own heart.