fter you’ve recently been through a painful separation or divorce process, it can be difficult to take on a new relationship, especially when you’re also co-parenting. Like many of us who’ve been divorced, you may have even sworn off dating for good at some point.
If you and your new partner have been enjoying each other’s company and you feel your connection growing deeper, you could be imagining a future with them. You might be allowing yourself to get excited at the thought of sharing your beautifully complicated life with this person. Of course, that means meeting your children.
Taking this big step doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience. With careful planning, a cooperative approach, and boundaries in place, you can comfortably manage co-parenting while in a relationship.
In this article, we’ll give you some guidance on setting up this new arrangement in a way that truly works for everyone. We’ll cover how to:
Healthy co-parenting in a stepfamily or blended family situation starts before you’ve ever brought your new partner around the kids. When you’re having tons of fun in your new relationship, it can be easy to forget that your children and your ex-spouse may not see that as a good thing.
Moving too fast through the steps we’re about to cover can have huge consequences when children are involved.
So, let’s slow it down and talk about the prep stage that comes before the practical stuff. The best way to ensure a smooth transition for everyone is to take time to reflect before making any major decisions.
Here are a few important steps to take prior to making this big change to your children’s lives:
Move on to new partner introductions only after you’ve determined you’re in good legal standing to do so and ready to balance co-parenting while in a relationship.
Some children find it stressful to discover their parents are dating again post-divorce. After all, they aren’t the ones deciding to bring these new people into their lives. The thought of a future stepparent they didn’t choose can make them feel powerless. Your kids might push back, but there are ways to enter this phase gently.
First, ensure you’re committed to this new partner before deciding to introduce them to your children. This is nonnegotiable. Bringing casual partners into a child’s life is risky because they could get attached to someone who won’t stick around for long. So, be honest with yourself about where you see this new relationship going.
Instead of assuming the other person is committed, have at least one explicit conversation with them about where you stand. Any partner who’s going to become a considerate co-parent will understand the need for this type of discussion.
Together, determine a specific time period for introduction that would be least stressful for everyone. Ideally, it won’t coincide with any other big events or ongoing commitments and will allow time for your children to gradually adjust. If they also have children, discuss how you both envision blending the families in the long term.
After you’ve talked about the future of your relationship and feel good about your decision, it’s time to plan the first meeting. Consider an age-appropriate environment that will make each child feel as comfortable as possible.
If your children are under 10 years old, make the first meeting casual and fun. Choose a setting they’re familiar with — away from home. This way, they won’t feel like your new partner is infringing upon their safe space. A playground, park, or favorite dining spot are good options.
If your children are tweens or teenagers, involve them in the decision about where to go. A hands-on activity like mini golf or bowling could be a low-pressure way to connect. Again, keep it outside your home. With this age group, you also don’t want to try to force the fun. They’ll be able to sense this!
What if you have children in both categories? Talk to the oldest ones and have them help you figure out what their younger siblings would prefer.
No matter their ages, stick to these guidelines for easing your kids into the idea that you’re in a new relationship:
Once your children have gotten used to your new relationship — even if they’re not necessarily delighted about it — you should aim to balance honest communication with what’s best for their well-being. Regardless of your specific child custody arrangement, it’s possible to maintain healthy relationships for all parties involved.
Within your household, it’s all about having open communication. Even if your new partner doesn’t live with you and your children yet, their presence can still affect household dynamics. Your significant other needs to be aware of what you and your co-parent agreed upon in court (if applicable).
Someone who’s unfamiliar with divorce may not understand, for example, that the children need and deserve to speak with their other parent as often as possible. Ultimately, it’s your job to make sure you and your partner are fully respecting the details of your parenting plan.
This respect should extend to any communication happening between your household and your former spouse’s. Update them on any upcoming changes or big news, such as a stepparent moving in. Also, remember that time with the other parent is just as important as time with you, even if you don’t personally feel this is true. Don’t make plans that get in the way of your co-parent’s time with the children, unless you’ve made a special arrangement for them to make up the time.
All of this can be a lot to handle. This is not all on you, so we don’t want you to take our advice to mean that you’re solely responsible for everything going perfectly. Stress can creep up easily when you’re thinking about the whole family more than yourself, and it’s not the kind of stress that can be soothed by a bubble bath!
Stay aware of your own needs. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by trying to gracefully manage co-parenting while in a relationship, reconnect with yourself. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed in any way if you decide to seek professional help or reach out to a friend or family member you can trust.
It’s important to establish and monitor boundaries for every party involved in your co-parenting arrangement. Yet, it can be hard to understand what that really means in this scenario.
Here’s how to take boundaries into account in a co-parenting relationship:
You may not be able to do all of the above all the time. Focus on what you can control! There will be moments when boundaries fall out of sight, but it’s always possible to realign with them if you stay aware.
Those dreams you had about building a new happy family after divorce don’t have to stay dreams. If you wait until you’re committed to a partner to introduce them to your children and regularly check in with your own emotions before diving in, successfully co-parenting while in a relationship can be a reality. In fact, co-parenting with stepfamilies involved can become a quite comfortable and enjoyable family arrangement after a while.
The co-parenting relationship looks different in every family. You get to decide how it looks in yours. Focus on communication and boundaries and you’ll move into this new stage as harmoniously as possible.
Chelsea is a twice-divorced mom of two boys. She is happily single parenting and doing her best to balance two simultaneous co-parenting relationships. Despite the complications, Chelsea can see the beauty in her story and believes healing is possible for the whole family.