Finally, you’ve found someone worth dating. One problem: your child hates him/her. And unless your child is really good at hiding his or her dislike, your mate may soon be wrestling with a similar sentiment.
Before you sacrifice your newfound love on the altar of parental duty, explore what might be behind the hate-fest … and what you can do about it.
How to respond when your child hates your new mate
Keep interactions appropriate for your relationship level
If you are uncertain about the future of your relationship, minimize interaction between your child and your new significant other. Don’t put your child through a potentially unnecessary emotional rollercoaster. As your relationship deepens, find non-threatening ways to help your child and your new partner connect. Recreational activities can keep the situation light while your child and your new mate are getting to know each other.
Explore the why behind the dislike
If your child hates your new mate, he or she will likely tell you so, over and over. What your child may not disclose as readily is exactly why he/she dislikes your mate. If your child expresses aversion to your significant other, ask what specifically he/she doesn’t like.
The reasons could be petty—he isn’t as funny as my dad; she wears too much makeup. Then again, your child’s response could be telling—he is rude to me; she drinks too much. Your child may even pick up on unhealthy elements in the relationship which you might not be able to see clearly. Listen to your child’s reasoning and then respond according to the nature of the feedback.
Address the fairy-tale reunion myth
Often, a child resists a new partner merely because this person threatens your child’s fantasy of a reunion between you and his/her other parent. If reconciliation with your child’s father or mother is never going to happen, find an age-appropriate way to help your child understand this reality. Your new mate is not the barrier to this reunion—the nature of your relationship with your ex is.
Support your mate in his/her new role
Parenting can be frightening, particularly when it involves someone else’s children. Understand that your significant other is not only dealing with your child’s dislike of him/her, but perhaps his or her own parenting fears as well. If your partner is new to parenting, expect a learning curve. Be gracious during this educational period. Share the insights you have learned in non-confrontational, non-judgmental ways.
Having a new love in your life can trigger jealousy in your child, particularly if you have been single for awhile. Don’t reprimand your child for being jealous. Your child is incredibly dependent on you, so his/her feelings are perfectly understandable. Instead, continue providing plenty of quality time and verbal affirmation to your child.
Watch for warning signs
After getting to know your new partner, does your child seem unusually wary of him/her? Does your child avoid questions about why he/she doesn’t like your new mate? Or, does your child hint that he/she feels uncomfortable around your new partner?
If so, your child may be uncomfortable around your partner for a good reason. The majority of children who are sexually abused are abused by a family member or someone they know well. Additionally, children residing in households with unrelated adults were eight times more likely to die of maltreatment than children living with two biological parents. (The risk of death by maltreatment was not increased for children living with only one biological parent). Your greatest responsibility is protecting your child. If you think abuse could be involved, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD for immediate, confidential help.
Set ground rules, based on the status of the relationship
If your relationship is still relatively casual, you should continue to act as the parent—and the only parent—in the situation. However, as your relationship becomes more serious and your lives begin to merge, some gray areas will inevitably develop. Is it ever OK for your partner to discipline your children? If so, in what fashion? Be sure you have established ground rules and communicated them to your partner.
If you intend to marry, be sure your child understands that your new mate will be a permanent part of your family. Communicate that while your mate is not your child’s biological father/mother, he or she is a part of the family now. Enforce that he/she is to be respected as a parent, just as you are. From this respect (and from the consideration you have shown toward your child during this transition) hopefully true love and affection will eventually develop between your child and your new partner.