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Being introduced to your partner’s children

First things first, I think this is a pretty big step, most parents aren’t willing to introduce their kids to a new partner until they’re sure it’s a long term or serious relationship, so congratulations on reaching this important milestone!

Some things that will likely be running through your mind:

  • Will they like me?

  • What should I wear?

  • How should I behave?

  • What if they’re rude to me?

  • How affectionate should I be with my partner?

If you already have children, likely you’re wondering when they will meet, and when will be the right time to introduce your partner to them if you haven’t done so already.

So taking it one step at a time… will they like you? Of course there’s no straight answer to that, but there will undoubtedly be some feelings and consideration to how the other parent may feel, so be prepared for there to be a degree of suspicion or hostility in the initial meeting. This may last five minutes or five years (let’s hope not!) but the important thing to remember is that it is not personal. How can it be when they haven’t got to know you? Any negative behaviour will be borne out of what you represent to them, not who you are personally. You may represent the person taking their parent away from them, the person who has broken up the marriage / relationship, the person responsible for making the remaining parent (ie not your partner) unhappy etc etc It is totally natural to want to be liked and appreciated, and this will happen over time, so take heart and remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. With patience, resilience and consistency, which are three of the most important qualities a step-parent can possess, you will find the relationship(s) will blossom in their own time. My own relationship with my step-daughter brings a great deal of joy to me, but of course it was hard at the start, sometimes it seemed impossible – but I kept those three qualities in mind at all times. You will however want to make the best possible impression on them to help the initial meeting go as smoothly as possible, which brings me on to some tips to help you make the best possible impression.

Unity with your partner is paramount. Have a chat beforehand and agree any topics that might be better kept ’off-limits’.

Let’s start with clothing. This may seem like a small point, but for many people, choosing the right outfit is crucial in helping to prepare them for a major event – when I was married for example, I remember meeting my step-daughter for the first time and I think it took me about three attempts to find the right outfit (blue jeans and a black polo neck if you’re wondering, with about three hours of nervous hair straightening to complete the look!) After all, your clothes reflect your personality, and can make you feel confident and more prepared for the task ahead. What you choose to wear will undoubtedly reflect the situation, for example are you going for lunch? Are you doing an activity such as bowling? It’s important to be yourself, of course, authenticity is always crucial when meeting people for the first time, but remember you are acting in a step-parental capacity – so if your preferred uniform is a mini skirt and crop top, perhaps tone it down for the initial meeting at the very least! This is especially important if your prospective step-children are teenagers, and teenage girls especially. Psychologically there must be a clear distinction between the child and the parent-figure for the right boundaries to be able to form.

When you actually meet the children, how you behave will be affected to a large degree by how old they are. It’s important to keep your wits about you, as you’ll naturally want to adjust your style according to meet their needs. Are they quiet? Talkative? Inquisitive? Boisterous and playful? Sullen? Friendly? Hostile? Some good rules of thumb include being patient, asking appropriate questions that are relatively neutral, for example about hobbies, school, things they like. Nothing too probing or controversial. Try to find some common ground – young children might like painting, and if it’s an activity you also enjoy, or did a lot of as a child, then why not tell them that? Take it at their pace and don’t rush them.

Unity with your partner is also paramount. Have a chat beforehand and agree any topics that might be better kept ’off-limits’. Have a consistent view between you as to who you are – a ‘friend’, a girlfriend / boyfriend, someone special that mum / dad likes to spend time with etc. Perhaps think of some questions that might arise and try to think of what answers you’re both going to be comfortable with. When it comes to the other parent, it is absolutely crucial that neither of you, especially you as the newcomer into their lives, are in any way negative about your partner’s ex-spouse. No matter how difficult it might be, no matter what the child says, no matter how badly they may have treated your partner, no matter what your partner says – for you as the prospective step-parent, this is an off-limits topic. At the very least it may hurt the feelings of the children, and cause them to shut down or become resentful toward you – and at worst it may cause damage and affect your chances of a strong and healthy relationship with them. Your role in this is to be either positive or neutral – and remember the old saying, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all!

OK, next up, what if they’re rude. This is partly covered above, but I would also add, this is a Big Deal. They will feel so many different emotions, and many of them are likely to be conflicting (happiness that mum or dad has found someone, guilt on behalf of the remaining parent especially if they’re not in a relationship already, curiosity towards you and perhaps a feeling of resentment) So it’s best to keep this in mind, and remember it will be a daunting meeting, no matter what the emotions are beforehand.

Next to remember, they’re only human. They may not be the model of polite behaviour, but they will have their reasons, and try to be considerate, I’ll say again – this is a Big Deal for them as well as for you. In their case too, they don’t have the luxury of being the adult in the situation, they’re not in control of who their parent chooses to have a relationship with, and they may well feel a sense of loyalty to the remaining parent – and even caught between the two relationships, which is also a very common feeling. So remember two of the crucial qualities I outlined above - be super patient and as resilient as possible. Keep in mind too, that you are NOT the parent. Don’t try to chastise the child in any way, instead this is the parent’s responsibility – likely your partner will leap to your defence. However there is a difference between ‘parenting’ and boundary setting, which is important in any relationship. It is ok to be assertive, and respond gently, in a way that makes it clear that although you understand this may be difficult, you don’t agree with X, and it’s not acceptable to say Y etc. Finally, you are only in control of your own behaviour. It is important to move on from any negativity, and ensure you remain consistent in your behaviour toward them, which hopefully will be calm, patient, kind and gentle.

What about your interaction with your own partner? OK, so if you’ve followed the advice above, you’ll have had, or be about to have, a conversation with them to understand how they would like to play it too. Add on to that agenda how you should behave towards each other. Is hand holding ok? Hugging? Kissing? What if the child wants to know how long you’ve been together? For example if the real answer is a year, and your partner has kept quiet about the relationship, then whatever the reason is might be best to be tactful and say you’ve been friends for some time, but nothing happened for a long time, and when it did you wanted to be sure you were right for each other before taking the next step. It’s best to be prepared rather than caught off guard. Ultimately the answers to these questions are for you two to decide, but try and remember to be authentic yet tactful and diplomatic. Overall, the meeting should be about getting to know each other, rather than treating them to a PDA between you and your partner – which might not go down brilliantly!

Keep in mind too, that you are NOT the parent. Don’t try to chastise the child in any way, instead this is the parent’s responsibility – likely your partner will leap to your defence.

If you already have children, the best solution will likely be for you both to meet all of your children at the same time – especially if they’re all of a similar age. It may be different if there are older children involved, who may be away at university for example, or less likely to be so bothered by the situation, but in that case the meetings should happen close together so the relationships can all grow at a similar pace. The danger for doing it separately is for people to feel excluded / less important than other siblings or the ‘other’ children. If you do decide to plan a joint meeting, keep in mind that this will make the situation more complex. Now the dynamics will not just be between the relationship between you and your step-children and partner respectively, but will also extend to your partner’s relationship with you and his / her children when you are around, as well as getting to know their prospective step-children. Finally, you will have to negotiate carefully the introductions of your mutual children to one another. So there’s a lot to contend with, and not an approach for the faint hearted! It’s perfectly possible to do this of course, but you just need to remember the three key qualities of patience, resilience and consistency, and add into the mix a high degree of planning and unity with your partner. That pre-agreed scenario planning will become even more important, as you will now have to consider your different parenting styles. If you go out for lunch for example, and would not normally allow your children to have dessert, but your partner’s children are used to tucking into their ice-cream sundaes, you will need to adopt a consistent approach for the whole family unit for obvious reasons.

Finally, once the initial meeting has happened, you will need some time to reflect and possibly debrief how it went, depending on your own personality. So find some time to do this, in whatever way makes sense to you. Talk things through with your partner, see your therapist, call your friends, whatever you need. Overall, meeting your prospective step-children is a big milestone, and no matter how it went, you should be proud of yourself for doing it. On that note, take some time for yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back and some time to relax and then digest what happened, whether that is a luxurious bath, a spa treatment, or a piece of cake with your favourite magazine. Visualise how the next meeting will go, and plan it in with your partner to keep up the momentum and build on the foundations you’ve just laid.

What tips do you have for that initial meeting? I’d love to know your stories so please share in the comments below!

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