Build relationship between children and your new partner
It goes without saying, but you should make every effort to develop a solid relationship between your children and your new spouse or “significant other.” Surprisingly, many child custody cases continue to be built around the children’s difficulty in dealing with another adult figure in the house. Bad relationships between children and stepparents can contaminate your chances for success in family court.
Many people falsely believe that the reason that children have difficulty with new spouses and partners is because they miss their biological mother or father (or because they object to anybody trying to fill the shoes of the missing parent). But just as often, children see new spouses and partners as a threat to their relationship with the biological parent they live with. Children often express concern that their mother now gives all her attention to her new husband and doesn’t seem to focus as much on the children.
Children also frequently conflict with stepparents who try to assert disciplinary authority. A child might be heard to say: “I don’t have to listen to you! You’re not my real father.”
If you are embroiled in a custody or visitation dispute over your children from a first marriage or an earlier relationship, and you’re now married or cohabiting with a new partner, be sure to work collaboratively with the new partner to develop a strong relationship with your children. Here are some worthwhile tips:
- Don’t allow the stepparent to fill the parental role too quickly or too aggressively, but don’t allow him or her to ignore the responsibility altogether. The stepparent should be available to children, gently counseling them when appropriate, until the relationship is more developed.
- Show the children that the stepparent or new partners loves them too, but do this gradually with an eye toward the children’s willingness to form new relationships.
- The stepparent should show respect and give encouragement to the children. If the kids feel that their opinions and emotions are valued by the “other adult” in the house, they’ll be more likely to warm up to that adult.
- Shared decision-making needs to become the new rule of the household. Don’t make decisions with your new partner without first soliciting the thoughts of the children. Try to show the children that you’re building new relationships collaboratively, and that you value their input on how to do things.
- Don’t allow the stepparent to be involved in imposing discipline until well after the relationships are established, and codes of conduct are deeply embedded. In the beginning, too, discipline should be imposed with both parents present (if possible). Some families prefer to draft a list of rules with everybody involved in the process, and then the rules are posted in a visible location.
You may also find that you can establish new connections between the children and the stepparents or other partners by involving the entire household in a recreational project. For example, what if dad, stepmom and the children all collaborated in building a treehouse. At the end of the project, the family celebrated by holding a christening party, replete with burgers and potato chips — inside the treehouse. Fun family projects such as this can often draw everybody closer together.