Should My Ex Have His Girlfriend Around Our Children?

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Single Parenting, Relationships, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Tweens, Expert Advice: Teens, Expert Advice: Just For You, Expert Advice: Home Base

Dear AdviceMama,

My husband and I are currently in the divorce process and have two young children together. My ex is still seeing the last woman he had an affair with. Is it appropriate for him to have our children around this woman (who coincidentally is recently divorced) when we haven't even finalized the divorce? I can try to set aside my own personal feelings about this, but still want to be sure there are no negative effects on the kids. Thanks.

Concerned for the Kids

Dear Concerned,

Going through a divorce is one of the hardest things you'll ever have to do.

Coming to terms with infidelity, and then adjusting to the reality of a partner's new relationship makes the experience even more difficult. This is especially difficult as you try to navigate the minefield of helping your children adjust, while you attempt to do the same.

Congratulations for keeping your head above water.

Children are innocent bystanders when it comes to the dissolution of their parents' marriage; they didn't sign up for the turmoil or sorrow, yet they are caught smack dab in the middle of it all when divorce happens. They need loving care and support to grieve the many losses that come when their parents separate.

Seeing mommy or daddy in a new romantic relationship is hard on children, but when they have had sufficient time to deal with their feelings, they do tend to adjust. But it takes time for children to move through the anger, frustration and sadness that accompany their adjustment to the divorce.

This means getting to cry or rage with each parent, while being repeatedly reassured that they are loved just the same. It also means having mommy and daddy fully present when they're with the kids, rather than splitting their attention with a "friend."

When a new person is introduced too soon, most children will either openly reject them, or repress their feelings of confusion and upset if they're forced to be nice, potentially fueling issues like depression, defiance, distraction at school, anxiety and sibling rivalry.

I urge you and your spouse to wait at least six months after your divorce before introducing your children to a special someone, and only if the relationship is exclusive, monogamous and serious. It's hard on children to come to terms with the end of their parent's marriage, and harder still to get comfortable with a stepparent.

Give your kids time to accept the divorce, and to forge a solid connection with Mommy and Daddy in the new family configuration. Then, introduce the children to the girlfriend or boyfriend, including them at family outings on occasion, without allowing their presence to monopolize the children's time with their parent. By taking it slow and building a foundation of trust and safety, your children -- like so many others -- will adjust to the divorce and the new partnerships you and their father will eventually form. Give them time, and remember to put their needs first.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.