For many men and women returning to the dating scene, they often come to a new
relationship with a ready-made family and it is for that reason, it is often asked, “when is the ideal time to introduce a new partner to your kids?”
The research suggests there are some prescriptive one-size-fits-all timeframes you can place on this decision; however, at the end of the day, it is best to make a decision based on an individual case-by-case basis.
High profile psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg consults to government, schools and the private sector on mental health and the wellbeing of children. When interviewed on the How to Date podcast, he mentioned that research and psychological literature indicates that “anything from six months to twelve months (into the new relationship) is ideal”.
However, importantly, he then points out that the main focus should be on what has been going on before that. He explains, “if your children are still grieving the family of origin and there is still quite a bit going on, then you might like to delay it because you have got to balance up what your needs are versus the needs of your children.”
So, this begs the question, why is six to twelve months the sweet spot? According to Carr-
Gregg, a lot of children still have “reunification fantasies” (that is, holding on to the hope that their parents will get back together) and it may take some time to “put those fantasies to bed”.
The duration of the reunification fantasy lasting depends on such things as the child’s age,
personality, temperament and history of loss and trauma. According to Carr-Gregg, the best time to introduce a new partner is when the children have come to learn that, “the relationship is over; it wasn’t their fault and that the mother and father are happier living separately and that the new order is being established”.
Carr-Gregg suggests we need to be mindful that “children don’t tend to do change very well. They like ritual and they like predictability so you want to minimise disruption as much as possible.”
A child who is resuming “healthy risk-taking behaviours” (A term used by Carr-Gregg to describe the pursuit of activities such as an interest in art, music, drama and sport) is often a good sign that that child might be ready to accept a new partner. That is, they have come to terms with the reunification fantasy being exactly that, a fantasy.
Carr-Gregg recommends conducting regular “emotional check-ins” with your children. He explains this could be done by allocating special time once a week with each child; you get down to their eye-level and you are both device-free and it is simply special one-on-one time that allows for frank and open communication about the change in circumstances. By doing this, one may be able to assess a child’s readiness to accept a new partner more accurately.
The topic of introducing a new partner to your children can provide a steep learning in terms of the suitability of the new partner. Carr-Gregg highlights two warning signs to look out for before introducing the children: firstly, it’s a red flag if they are pushing too hard to meet your children too soon, and secondly, if they are demanding to be put ahead of your children, it says a lot about the way they prioritise (or don’t prioritise) the importance of your children.
Similarly, it’s important to still take note of the warning signs that can present after introducing the new partner to the children: it is a concern if they are telling you how to
parent; if their interest in your children is limited and insincere, and most importantly, the greatest sign of all is if the children’s feelings towards the new partner is unfavourable.
As Carr-Gregg explains, “kids have a brilliant built-in B.S. detector”. It is fair to say that whilst you can stick to the six-to-twelve month timeframe, the greatest indicator is
the signs of readiness exhibited by the individual child in question.
On that basis, one must ensure one’s child is not still holding on to the reunification fantasy; that the child’s life has restored to some sense of normalcy and routine, and that the child themself has expressed positive feelings towards the new partner or at least the prospect of the new partner.
Monique Robin is a yoga teacher, wellness coach, mother-of-four and the co-host of How To Date, a podcast about how to master the messy, complex, and downright bizarre world of dating.