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You have children from a previous relationship and now you’re starting a new one. You need to put your children first 99% of the time.
I know I’m going to get flack for saying 99% of the time. The truth is that 1% of the time, your needs and your partner’s needs are going to come first. This is if you have a child who is trying everything to maliciously ruin the relationship—although that’s a cry for help and should be looked at carefully—or if there is a genuine emergency for you or your new partner.
There is barely going to be anything that I do without thinking of my children first. If that means ending a new relationship, so be it. And there are people I’ve not gone further than the second date with because my gut has told me they’re not right for my children.
Your children rely on you to do the best thing for them. They don’t need a new relationship forced on them, especially if they have both biological parents in their lives. Here’s how you can make sure to put your children first as you start a new relationship.
Cancel a date for your children
Children get sick. This happens more than you would like, and it happens at inopportune times. I’ve had to cancel dates for my children because they’ve come down with something, or because their dad/a babysitter has canceled on me.
A red flag in a relationship is when a new partner doesn’t understand why you’re canceling. They expect to be put first all the time, telling you to leave the child with the babysitter despite being sick.
This can be trickier to do as you and your new partner are exclusive and getting somewhere with your relationship. You may have introduced the new partner to the children, and that could be when they get sick all the time. They’re not faking sick just to be malicious. There is usually something going on, whether it’s anxiety or they just don’t like the new partner. Some children just don’t want their parents moving on with others, especially if it’s been a long time.
Younger children can be harder to deal with. I have a daughter who is anxious that her father is going to choose his girlfriend over her. And he’s proving time and time again that he will through little things he’s doing. She has no issue with him choosing her over the child. This is leading to more anger and anxiety for my daughter.
There are times that I would say put a relationship on hold completely instead of just canceling a date. Children need time to work out their feelings and understand what’s going on. If a relationship is meant to be, it will survive a three- to six-month break for the needs of the child.
MORE: Top tips to manage your morning routine with your kids
Put your children first by not forcing a bond
You want your children to like your new partner. That’s understandable. After all, this is a person you want in your life and is going to be in your children’s lives. However, you can’t force a bond to happen.
The more you force something, the worse it will get. Let’s say your child has made it clear that they don’t want to see your new partner. They don’t want to do dinner, and they definitely don’t want you to have sleepovers when they’re with you. Respect that. This is a reasonable boundary as they get used to you dating.
There are all sorts of reasons children don’t want to get to know the new partner. It could be that this new partner is an affair partner and the children are hurt by what you did to their family. It could just be that they get a bad vibe from the new partner. Or maybe the new partner has children who have been mean or shown some bad behavior toward them.
Instead of forcing a bond on them, respect your child’s boundaries. Wait for the child to be ready to change those boundaries. You can discuss the problem, but don’t bring up a potential meeting until the child has made it clear they’re want this. Young children can say yes to your suggestions because they are scared they’ll lose you to the new partner. That’s not fair on them.
The right partner for you will understand the boundaries. They won’t try to push the boundaries either. If they do, it shows that they don’t have your children’s needs first. They are only thinking about spending time with you. Is that something you really want? If they don’t understand at all, then they’re not the right person to have in your child’s life.
Listen to how your children feel
All of this about how to put your children first in a new relationship comes down to listening to your children. You’ll want to listen to your own gut, too, but you need to pay attention to what your children are and aren’t saying to you. They may say it all to the other parent, so listen to them, too.
While you are in the honeymoon phase, you won’t see the flaws in a new partner’s parenting style. You won’t see any problems with how they treat your children. You may miss every single red flag there is. It’s after the honeymoon phase that a lot of this comes out, but by then, you’ve made the decision to be with them.
The problem is your children don’t have that honeymoon phase. They will immediately see if your new partner treats them well. There may be things that happen when you’re not around that has them worried, such as poor parenting when it comes to bullying. If they don’t see the new partner’s child being disciplined for bad things, they’ll lose trust and respect. It’s going to be hard to build up a good relationship with them.
If they’re scared that you’ll choose the partner over them, listen to that. Just by staying in this relationship could suggest to them that you are choosing them. After all, it will lead to moving in together, and then they have to spend more time around this new partner, which is something they don’t want to do. Again, if the relationship is meant to be, it can handle a three-month break while you work on things with your children.
Being single and having your children know you put them first is much better than being in a relationship that isn’t good for them. As they get older, you can start putting them first, but when they’re young, they need you to make the best decisions for them.
MORE: Why children need to see more of a work-life balance
How do you put your children first in a new relationship? What are you struggling with when it comes to parenting? Share in the comments below.