Divorce is always wrought with complications, from property and money to how to co-parent your children. Even the most peaceful and friendly divorce agreements issues can come up that you did not expect. Both of you may be fine with the way you split up the property and happy with your co-parenting arrangement but no one is prepared for the feelings and concerns that are stirred when your ex starts dating again, even if you have also begun to move on emotionally and romantically.
While you may be able to cope with the wave of insecurity and self-examination that comes from thinking about your ex with somebody new, the situation gets entirely more complicated when that new somebody moves in and becomes a part of your ex’s parenting time. Suddenly all your urges to doubt and think negative things about the new partner come to the surface because suddenly there’s a chance that there will be a new parent in the mix. A step-parent, whether or not a legal remarriage is in the cards. So what is a good, loving, and overwhelmingly worried parent to do?
What Not to Do
First and foremost, now is the time to remind yourself about all those things you promised yourself and your co-parent you wouldn’t do during and after the divorce. You’re not going to start spying on your ex and their new girlfriend or boyfriend. You’re not going to plant cameras in your kid’s backpacks or hire a private investigator to spy on them or run a criminal background check as giving in to the paranoia starts to eat away at your sanity.
While the extremes may be obvious, you should also remember that right now is the most important time to choose carefully how you talk to your kids about their co-parent. Do not try to turn them into spies or accidentally pump them for information because you’re nervous during your conversations. In fact, what you want least of all is to give your kids a reason to be fearful or hostile toward your ex’s new partner so try to be as mild and pleasant as possible until you sort out your currently tumultuous feelings.
Bring it Up with Your Ex
The first healthy step is to bring the topic up with your ex during one of your co-parenting discussion opportunities, but be friendly. Mention that you noticed/have heard about/are curious about their new partner and gague their reaction. If your ex is happy, relaxed, or a normal amount of nervous getting back into the dating scene, be understanding. Then ask how much their new partner will be around and involved in their parenting time. This will give you an idea of how much the new person will become a part of your children’s lives. Do your best to be cool no matter what answers are given unless you see very clear red flags.
Red flags in conversations with your ex might include nervous or evasive response to the discussion about their new partner, signs of new erratic behavior or drug use, or overwhelming defensiveness if you have been friendly and mildly curious. If you sense something is wrong, it may be necessary to take drastic action but first, collect more information.
Talk to Your Kids
The next step is to ask your children what they think of the new partner, but not like you’re trying to juice them for information. Your goal is to assess how comfortable your children are with this person, if your ex’s home environment is still relaxed and kid-friendly, and if the relationship might be interfering with parenting time. If your kids’ reactions are anywhere from “Yeah, they’re okay” to “It’s great, we built a pillow fort!” then everything is fine. Even if your children “Aren’t sure” about the other person, this is also perfectly normal for children dealing with seeing a parent with someone new.
However, there are some very clear signs if your worst fears are true and a toxic person has been introduced to your children. If your children start to show emotional or sleep problems after coming home or seem fearful when you ask about the new person, there is probably upsetting is going on during your ex’s parenting time. You should also watch out for over-enthusiasm and stories of grand, possibly late-night, adventures as this can be a sign of an unstable person who may not be respecting the normal parenting boundaries.
Meet Them Over Friendly Lunch
Finally, make a point of meeting the new adult in your children’s lives, and not just during the hand-off at your ex’s door. Invite your ex and their new someone out to lunch somewhere public, well-lit, and clearly neutral ground and dedicate an hour or two to getting to know them. Give the new person the benefit of the doubt and do your best to be friendly. This is your chance to establish your two primary goals. First, you want to know the person who will be a new member of your co-parenting team. Second, you want to help them get on the same page with parenting policies like bedtimes, sugar intake, and any medical concerns your child may have while they are in charge. If they are a normal, reasonable person, everything should go pretty well.
If they are not a normal, reasonable person, you will also be able to tell fairly quickly. Be forgiving of strange appearances and unusual cultures but be on-guard for signs of drug use, hystrionia, or an unseemly insistence on flaunting lovey-dovey stuff with your ex. This also can also indicate a lack of healthy boundaries.
If There Are Red Flags
Most people are reasonable and happy to be a contributing member of your co-parenting team, especially if they really are a good match for your ex, so our article has been mostly optimistic. Even if you’re not sure how to feel about your ex’s new partner, most split families are happier when both parents find someone truly compatible to support them and children often enjoy the extra attention and care that comes form a good step parent. However, if there are serious red flags like emotional problems, instability, and signs of upset with your children, it will be necessary to take steps. Start by talking to your ex. Sometimes, this is enough to help them break away from an accidentally unhealthy relationship.
However, if your ex refuses to protect your kids from the new toxic influence, you may need to take legal action. If it comes to this and you are in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, contact us today. Here at Villaume & Schiek, we are experienced with complex custody issues and are ready to help you deal with this new threat to your children’s health, happiness, and ability to bond safely with both of their parents.