Introducing children to a new partner

When you start dating afresh, one mistake you should not make is to rush to introduce your new partner to your child or children

Filling a void caused by separation or death of one’s partner can be tricky when there are children involved. COURTESY PHOTO 

BY Roland Nasasira

IN SUMMARY

Filling a void caused by separation or death of one’s partner can be tricky when there are children involved. Roland Nasasira explores how one can bring up the subject.

In 2008, Florence Birungi (not real names) separated with her husband of eight years. The separation was as a result of infidelity that had caused a rift in their relationship.
The children, both boys were in boarding school and under 18 years. One evening, Birungi returned to their rented house only to find an almost empty closet. Her husband’s clothes were gone and the rest of the household items were intact; hard to notice that someone had left the house for good.
“I called his phone numbers and they were all off. After a number of interventions, I found out that he had travelled out of the country and to date, he has never returned,” recalls Birungi, who is in her mid-30s.
She later learnt that her husband’s new partner had organised his travel to France where he also got a job.

When separation is inevitable
“It was relief from his cheating behaviour but it left a dent on the lives of my sons. Opening up to them when they returned for holidays that their father had got another partner was the greatest challenge of my life. I composed myself and talked to them,” Birungi says.
She adds ; “I took them out, we had a good meal and I told them what had happened. I was shocked that they understood quickly because they always heard me and their dad quarrel about his cheating ways. They cried about the fact that they would not live with their dad anymore but I always gave them a shoulder to lean on. I am seeing someone but at the right time, I will introduce him to them when they can understand why I had to move on.”
Shamim Nassali has a similar experience. The difference is that at that time of separation, she was 31 and had a three-year-old child with her ex.
After approximately five years of being single, Nassali was able to find love again with a lawyer whose name she declines to share.

Take it slow
“When you start dating afresh, one mistake you should not make is to rush to introduce your new partner to your child or children. You can start by telling your child about your new friend in conversations you have with them. When you tell the child the first and second time, they will, at some point, ask you which friend you always tell them about and ask to meet them if they are inquisitive. Go slow when it has reached this stage,” Nassali advises.

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Understanding the child
Whether your child or children gets along easily with your new man, is determined by the age of the child. You can let the child spend time with your new partner so that they can engage in conversation and explore different topics.
“Advise your new partner to keep the conversation with the child simple and not at the mature level. If it is about what they studied at school, then he should keep it around school matters and if it is an inquiry about their friends, so be it,” Nassali says. That way, it is easier for the partner and child to get along, she argues.

Fathers and new partners
Benson Mujuni who separated with his first wife in 2002 says quite often, men, unlike women, tend to move on immediately they break up with their partners with whom they had children. In the process, their emotional needs are taken care of and they forget those of their children, who, in such a scenario, are innocent victims.
“When my wife left, we had one son and suddenly, I was single all over again. When I fell in love two years later, I did not want to impose my new partner on my son. Much as I was excited about my new partner, I prioritised the needs of my son because he was as important as my new partner. I gave him undivided attention and this made it easy for him to get used to my new partner because she kept around us. We shared meals and the closeness between them grew as time went on,” Mujuni explains.
Much as your new partner needs to be shown love, Mujuni advises that your children need to equally be shown the love and parental care; otherwise, the effects of your separation might disorganise them mentally, emotionally, socially and psychologically and can retard their performance at school.

Do not force it
Evelyn Kharono Lufafa, a counselling psychologist at Suubi Medical Centre at Kiira, says introducing your children to your new partner is not an easy load.
Depending on their age, they react differently. Those aged five to 10 years are a little younger and may at times misinterprete your separation or divorce, which affects their behaviour.
“They may accept or reject your new partner. You have to talk to them without making them feel as if you are forcing your new partner on them,” Kharono advises.

Introduce the idea gradually
Alternatively, Kharono suggests that your new partner and your children should have met earlier on an outing. When your partner comes into the home, they do not respond negatively.
“If they are teenagers, you have to sit on a round table because this age bracket understands and reasons things out. If you talk to them, they take time to think about it and it will help them cope with your new partner without being traumatised,” Kharono says.
One thing you ought to do, Kharono emphasises is to avoid speaking negatively about your ex-partner because no child loves to live without their biological parent.

How to deliver the the news
“Your new partner and children should have met earlier on an outing so that by the time your partner comes into the home, they do not respond negatively. However, your children’s response is dependent on how your new partner treats them.
If they are teenagers, you have to sit on a round table because this age bracket understands and reasons things out. If you talk to them, they take time to think about it and it will help them cope to with your new partner.”
evelyn kharono lufafa, counselling psychologist, suubi medical centre

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