Your single parenthood came to an end when you made the decision to move in with your new boyfriend or got engaged to be married. What boundaries do you employ with your new co-parent, and how do the experts suggest you proceed?
Parenting with your child’s father isn’t always an easy task, but co-parenting with a non-biological parent can be tricky and challenging — where do you draw the line on discipline, for example, and how is it best for your partner to become integrated into the family?
Take it slow and encourage your partner to follow your lead, experts explain. Here’s how.
Take your time
Experts advise taking your time when choosing a new mate. Janeen Diamond, author of Save Your Marriage in 30, notes that it’s easy for men to like your kids when they are trying to establish and maintain a relationship with you, but often, all bets are off once the marriage deal is sealed. “It isn’t that men are bad people,” she explained. “It’s that they honestly didn’t realize what they were getting into. Some men can handle that and some cannot.” She says that moms should date for a long time, and be sure to ask plenty of questions of him, his family and friends.
Watch your kids
Janeen also says that your children are a good barometer of how a potential partner will be once they are in the family — both their behavior and how they interact with him. “Men who will truly be able to bond with your children will make efforts with them when you’re not watching,” she told us. “They will show genuine concern about their feelings. They will respect the relationship you have with them. And they will not try to come between you and them.”
A natural concern of a new stepparent is the arena of discipline. Janeen advises moms that it’s often a smoother transition if your partner follows your lead. “A man who will allow you to set the boundaries of discipline without interference is showing you he respects you as a family,” she said.
Leslie Petruk, Director, The Stone Center for Counseling & Leadership, agreed. “Don’t put your new spouse in the role of parent or disciplinarian,” she explained. “You should maintain that role and give your child the time needed to establish a trusting relationship with your new spouse.”
The evolution of the new “Dad”
This depends on the age of your child, but most experts agree that you shouldn’t force your children to call your new spouse “Dad” from the get go. “Have an open discussion about what your child is comfortable calling your new husband,” said Leslie. She also recommends keeping an open dialogue with your children about what it’s like to have a new person in the household. Make sure that your child knows that they can be honest — they are not required to like your new husband, but on the other hand, let them know that it’s OK for them to love their new stepfather and it’s not a betrayal of their own father.
Going from a single-parent household to gaining a new spouse can be challenging, but it also can be beautiful. Keep your mind open and take it slow, and give your children a voice to help ease your transition.