Copyright (c) 2010 Lucille Uttermohlen
After the divorce, where the kids live is still an emotional issue. Parents feel special grief and stress when a new person enters the picture as a significant other to the ex-spouse. Of course, there is often left over hostility from the divorce, but there is also genuine fear of the new person’s place in the child’s life.
Too often, the new lover is well aware that he is a replacement for the ex. Consequently, he is defensive and territorial about his place in his lover’s life. He is likely to insert himself in the lover’s interaction with her ex, and add to what is already a tense parenting relationship.
When the parents can’t deal with each other well, several things can happen. Kids can pit their parents against each other by lying or exaggerating about occurrences in their respective homes. Kids can easily sense any resentment brought on by the new lover, and use it to gain their other parent’s sympathy to meet their own ends. When the parents stop communicating with each other, their ability to parent effectively suffers.
The new person may seem more liberal and understanding to the child. After all, she is trying to become friends, and is likely to present herself as less authoritarian then the child’s other parent. In turn, the other parent feels left out in the cold, and helpless to control the child’s actions and attitudes. Teenagers, who already feel tied down and misunderstood are most vulnerable to any adult attempts to win their favor in this way.
Thus, it is important that the parents, and their new friends and lovers take care to understand the dynamics of their situation, and work together to keep the adults in control. These tips should help.
1. All of the adults must demand to be treated with courtesy and respect. Children should understand that bad manners are unacceptable, no matter how they feel towards the adult in question. This is not an invitation to physical violence on the adult’s part. However, stern reminders and firm consequences should result when the child is rude, mean or to use the common phrase, “snotty”. The child may not like being forced to be polite, but if the message is consistent, and the rewards for courtesy are greater than those for bad behavior, he will eventually accept the rules and be comfortable abiding by them.
2. The adults should enforce the child’s obligation to be courteous to each other, no matter how they actually feel. You may not like your partner’s new honey, and she may wish you’d get hit by a truck. However, using your kids to make this point is just cruel and stupid. It is never good for a child to feel unwelcome in his parent’s home.
If your child feels he is hurting you by interacting positively with his other parent’s lover, it will make it harder for him to maintain a strong bond with his other parent. His visits will not be anticipated with joy, but will be uncomfortable times that must be gotten through. You may have to bite your tongue, but you should never say or do anything that might make your child feel that he is doing wrong by trying to make friends with his other parent’s new partner.
3. The significant other should not be in charge of the child’s discipline. If the child is rude or unkind to the new partner or her family, she has every right to put the child in his place. However, if the issue has to do with the child’s schooling, friendships, or failure to meet his responsibilities either in the home or out of it, his correction is best left to his parent. The parent and the lover should discuss their expectations privately, and the parent should enforce the rules decided upon. The new partner is not obliged to raise the child, and there won’t be nearly as much tension if he is not thrust in the position of having to take a parental role.
If the adults keep the situation from being anymore awkward than necessary, children will be better able to adjust when a new lover becomes part of the family. It may be tempting to enlist a child’s help in getting revenge against your ex by encouraging the child to be rude and difficult to your ex’s new partner. However, it is the child who will have to live with the fall out, and the results can be traumatic. If the child is encouraged to acquaint himself with your ex’s new partner, and even try to become friends, his adjustment to the new situation will be healthier, and make his life a lot easier.
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