Divorced? Widowed? Dating Again?
How to introduce your new love to the family
You’ve finally found that special someone. It might have started with online conversation, then real-life friendship and coffee dates. Somehow, you can imagine dinner and breakfast, barbecues and shared bag lunches for years to come. S/he’s capable, considerate, makes you laugh and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. This is it: New love.
It’s also new territory if you’re a divorced or widowed parent with kids at home. Your family is anything but small stuff and you and your new flame may well be sweating the introduction. There’s good reason. However wonderful your sweetheart is, you cannot help but wonder whether he or she will get along with your loved ones.
How do you break the news to the kids? How do you introduce him or her to them and set the stage for success?
When feelings, family dynamics and long-term relationships are involved, it can be tricky to navigate, with Cupid notably absent.
Three life coaches offer some wise words and professional advice to help you deal with this turning point and all the emotions and interactions involved.
“Finding that special someone, regardless of your age or past experience, is normal and natural and healthy for your overall happiness,” says life coach Patricia Carr, patriciaclifecoach.com. “How to fit them into your life is more complicated.”
Indeed. “Children’s identities are linked to their parents’ and when that changes,
it can threaten the child’s sense of who they are.” That’s why, Carr says, it’s important to speak to your kids ahead of time, to discuss how your romance will impact your relationship with them and to explain to them why you want to be dating again.
Just because you’re ready for a new chapter in life, it doesn’t mean they are. “Remember that starting a new relationship is a life transition and with any transition there are mixed emotions – for you and those closest to you,” notes midlife coach Vickie Townson, who heads Life’s New Chapter Coaching www.lifesnewchapter.com. “You may be ready to move on but your family may still be grieving (whether from a death or a divorce). The key is being sensitive to your family’s feelings while still honouring and respecting what is important to you.”
How do they feel about it? Find out, urges life coach Jane Miller, www.janemillerlifecoach.com. And be specific when you ask your nearest and dearest. “For example, the question ‘Can I bring my new love to the Christmas party’ may evoke the response, ‘Yes’. On the other hand, if you ask ‘How would you feel if I brought my new love to the Christmas party?’ the answer might yield much more in-depth information,” she explains. “Often the simple act of asking will open the door. It tells your family that you care how they feel and respect that their grieving process might (be) at a different stage than yours.”
Whether your kids are in primary school or almost grown up, they may initially have a hard time sharing you – especially if they’re mourning the loss of your old love. “Having a parent bring someone new into the mix is difficult at any age,” Carr notes. “Reassure them that the new person is not a replacement, but that it is important to you to spend time with someone your own age and to feel connected to someone.”
What if your family doesn’t approve – period? “My approach to a situation in which your family doesn’t approve of something you’re doing is to explore whether you approve of what you are doing,” Miller says. “Once you have confronted and appeased your own feelings of doubt, fear or guilt, you will be able to face your family’s disapproval with peace.
“Perhaps the most difficult situation is when the family liked your now-divorced partner a lot and you are now introducing a new love. Your challenge is to understand and respect their feelings, while at the same time respect and honor your own feelings.
And here’s the secret: When you can honor your feelings with no guilt and live your truth with peace and joy, then all opposition will vanish.”
As for the all-important first encounter with the family, consider an outing that will allow you to all enjoy shared time together.
“A family activity is a great way to introduce a new person,” Carr says. “Particularly if the children are young, going to a baseball game is a lot easier than forcing the child to have a conversation at a formal dinner.”
Townson provides some simple guidelines to remember:
1. “Do speak with your immediate family members before bringing your new love to a family gathering.”
2. “Be clear about your relationship. For example, is it:
- a new relationship, someone whose company you enjoy and you are still getting to know one another?
- someone you have known for some time but there are no current plans for a more serious commitment?
- a committed relationship and you want your family to meet your new love?
3. “In discussing a new relationship with your children or grandchildren:
- Keep it simple.
- Be honest, open and straight-forward.
- Allow them to express their feelings and concerns.
- Answer any questions they may have.
- Reassure them of your love and that your love will never change.”