Moving on after a divorce by pursuing a new relationship can be difficult for the children of the previous marriage. While the parents may be ready, even eager, to move on and engage in new relationships, a child can only see how the breakup of the marriage affects him or her and how the new relationship will create even more change. Children are not emotionally ready to think beyond themselves. While they may “want” to like the new person, they often feel that liking the person will be a sort of betrayal to their biological parent. In some cases, the child outright refuses to accept the new person and demands that the parent make a choice between the two. How should this be handled?
First and foremost, remember that the child is going through a tough transition. Although you may be very excited to have a new person in your life, this could feel like an outright betrayal to your child. Does this mean that you will never love their mother again? Will you end up liking this new boyfriend more than you like your children? It may not make sense to you. It doesn’t need to make sense to you. Children think differently and process emotions differently. Always be aware that your child is coming at the situation from an entirely different perspective and be patient with him/her/them. That being said, the child still needs to show respect.
Here is a case that I see quite often: Jose and Bonnie divorced. They had two children. The oldest child, a daughter, was very unhappy about their divorce. Both Bonnie and Jose moved on and found other relationships. At one point the daughter seemed to accept this fact. However, as Jose and his girlfriend become more serious, the daughter started to make demands on visitation to Jose. She would refuse to visit him if the girlfriend was present. He and Bonnie worked around this to make the daughter comfortable and give her time. This empowered the daughter, so she finally demanded that he leave the girlfriend or she wouldn’t come around anymore. Is this fair? What do you do?
This may seem like an outlandish situation but I can assure you it happens quite often with children. Children often need to push as far as they can to test the boundaries. Parents have to remember that they are parents; not friends. Jose and Bonnie stood together as the daughter’s parents and refused to allow her to do this. This is not always the case. More often than not, I see that the ex will use this as a tool to divide the child and other parent.
Here are a few pointers to remember this when your children are involved:
- You may despise your ex but that is ALWAYS going to be your child’s parent. Respect that. Do not tear it down.
- You may still be bitter and angry down inside. Your child has an entire life ahead of him or her. Let them live it without your bitterness and anger. They deserve that opportunity.
- No matter what you may feel; no matter what your regrets – you are the PARENT. Your child has friends. They need you as a parent.
- Do not be afraid to say “no. We are going to do it MY way because I am your mom/dad”.
- Listen to your child/ren but don’t take it all personally. They are emotional beings especially when they are teens.
- Get your child therapy if you suspect they may need a little more help handling things; it’s ok to ask for outside help. Your child is worth it.
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