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How can the child accept the new partner?
A new relationship means a new partner for the parent, a new educator for the child, often a new circle of friends and maybe even a new environment. So much newness takes time. Many families make the mistake of placing too many expectations on the new patchwork family at the beginning. They think that as soon as the new partner has moved in, they can live in perfect harmony. Most of the time, this illusion bursts like a soap bubble and the partners must first become aware of the contradiction between imagination and reality. Those who push for normality too quickly often overburden the children, the partner and themselves.
In the beginning the questions arise: When do I introduce the new partner to my children? When can we move in together? There is no patent formula for a harmonious patchwork family. It is only important that you give the child enough time. Your child may feel left out when you meet your new partner for the first time in the morning in the bathroom. Go on outings together and gently introduce your partner to the family.
Every child reacts differently
With infants and toddlers, the main caregiver is especially important. If the child stays with this person after the parents separate, he or she can easily cope with the separation. Children of kindergarten and preschool age need time to grieve the separation of their parents. They often believe that they themselves are to blame for the parents’ separation. These feelings of guilt are not infrequently transferred to the new partner. They react with anger, rage and jealousy.
As a new partner, you should try not to take these reactions too personally and give the child time to get used to the new situation. Children between the ages of six and twelve have the hardest time. Since they loved the father or mother who is now separated and now a “substitute dad” or “substitute mom” is coming, they find themselves in a “conflict of loyalties.” If they get along well with the new partner, they feel they are betraying their old love for their mother or father. The new partner should not try to replace the father or mother. Rather, he can get to know the child with respect and try to build a friendship with him. Adolescents usually understand the reasons for the separation, but have problems accepting the new partner as an authority.
New siblings in the patchwork family
Often both partners bring their children into the relationship. Talk to your child in detail about his or her fears and anxieties. Make the child feel that you take him or her seriously and, above all, that you love him or her just as much as ever. In the beginning, the new brother or sister may be seen as a competitor.
The child’s position changes in the new patchwork family. If it was an only child before, it now suddenly has to share many things. If he was the oldest, he may become the younger. If it was the only girl, it now has to share the role with someone else. The child must experience that all children in the family are equally important and that none is favored by a parent. Of course, the relationship with one’s own child is closer than with the partner’s children. And that is precisely why this situation requires so much tact. You don’t have to feel bad if you don’t love your partner’s child – but you do have to accept and respect it.
Another challenge arises when the new couple has a child together. It is basically not easy for a child to understand that a new sibling is coming with whom he or she suddenly has to share the love of the parents. When this happens in a new family, it is especially difficult: children often feel that the nestling is loved preferentially by the parents. Show the child your love and tell him again and again that he is just as important to you as before.
Who is raising whom?
Every mother and father has his or her own style of raising his or her children. If a new adult comes into the family, the responsibilities must be well divided between the partners. Before you move in together, talk in detail about what behaviors get on your and your partner’s nerves, what the children’s habits are, and how you respond to them. Try to agree on common rules, for example, about punctuality, tidiness, helping around the house, and so on.
If one partner has children who come only on weekends, it is important that there are no special rules then. Otherwise, the children who always live with the family will feel disadvantaged.
The most important rule is: Just don’t rush things. Give yourself time for all family members to get used to each other. A patchwork family can have a lot of fun and the members learn how important it is to compromise. They get to know new friends and can react better to new things. And they can use this throughout their lives.