Dear Dr. Jann. It’s been seven months since my ex and I separated and our divorce is now final. My kids, ages 13 and 15, seem to like my new girlfriend, even initiated a vacation together—she’s sleeping in a separate room, but my ex says it’s too soon and the kids are really uncomfortable. How do I know who is telling the truth?
Dr. Jann says: They are probably both telling the truth. Although your kids may like your new girlfriend very much, after only seven months they are still in mourning after your divorce and are probably confiding their feelings to your ex. She hears them, thinks they are devastated, and tells you about it. You see them easily interacting with your new girlfriend and think YOUR EX is nuts. It’s a very common problem often experienced by divorced parents.
Normally, I would say seven months is too soon for your kids to meet a new girlfriend, but your children are older and the time frame you mention may be enough for you to have a casual relationship. How you portray this relationship in front of the kids is really the key. You say your children like having your friend around. Make sure that is really true and not just wishful thinking. It’s not uncommon for divorced parents to take note that their children don’t mind having a new partner around, so they invite the partner to every outing. Kids want SOME one-on-one time with mom or dad and resent when that option is taken away. Too much too soon actually sabotages the new partner’s relationship with the kids. Be careful you are not one of those parents using wishful thinking as the catalyst for your decisions.
Since your children are teenagers, it may be time to openly discuss the situation. Think about something like taking the kids out to dinner ALONE, no girlfriend, and initiate a conversation. A good icebreaker might be, “Mom tells me that you feel uncomfortable with “Sally” around all the time. I know your mother has your best interests at heart so I take her observations very seriously. I love you guys and certainly don’t want to make you uncomfortable. Let’s talk about this. I want to hear your thoughts.” And, then listen. The words you use must be chosen very carefully. You don’t want to make your kids feel as if they have to defend their mother’s good judgment. Make it clear that you are interested in finding the truth so you can do what is best for them—they do not have to pick sides.
Finally, make sure if you ask, you are prepared to abide by what they tell you. If you find out that your ex is right, don’t become defensive or continue in denial. Make the necessary changes to help your kids adjust.