They meet, and a few months later, introduce their new partner to their kids. When it works out, the kids benefit from having more adults in their lives. But what happens, as so often does, when the relationship breaks down? How do we help kids through these transitions and avoid instability? For the answer, I turned to Dr. Kristen Hadfield, a post-doctoral fellow I supervise at the Resilience Research Centre who has been doing research in the US, Ireland and Canada on mothers, stepparents and kids.
First, parents are cycling in and out of romantic relationships at a higher rate than ever before. All those online dating sites are doing what they were intended to do. While there are no firm statistics on the number of lifetime partners of parents, we know that almost a third of live births are to single women and that their children are more likely than other kids to have a half- sibling by age Whether we want to admit it or not, children are going to experience instability as their parents go in search of romantic partners.
For example, Hadfield found that custodial parents wanted their new partners to take on a parenting role with their children, as well as being the parent's romantic partner. Strangely, Hadfield found that very few of the people she interviewed talked about money as the main reason for having a live in romantic partner. After the Relationship Ends: What do we Tell the Kids? The problem, of course, is what to do after the relationship breaks up?
Of course, this all depends on the strength of the relationship, the age of the child, and dozens of other factors. In general, though, if the kid and the ex-partner were close, then parents should do what they can to make it easy for their child to stay connected.
In truth, most ex-lovers are not going to want the contact. But for those who do, and feel connected, a few visits, birthday cards, and texts could make the transition a lot smoother for everyone involved. The Next Relationship And what about the next relationship? Many parents prefer not to tell their children about their new relationship until it becomes more serious, usually after a few months.
Kids, Hadfield says, may actually mistrust the new partner more if they feel like he or she was the reason their parent lied. So which is better? Wait instead until the relationship is getting serious. Moving In Then what? As I mentioned earlier, custodial parents often want the stepparent to be a real parent with responsibilities for the kids. Most of the evidence suggests doing otherwise, especially if the child is over the age of 6.
A friendly, supportive person who occasionally holds children to account for what they do. If that feels too weird, then at least realize that as a new person in the home, it's the adult who needs to adapt to the house rules rather than expecting the rules to adapt to them.
It just means we need as adults to create as much stability as we can for kids over time. There are plenty of ways of helping children remain connected to other parent-figures even after relationships break down.