After the pain of your divorce, you are excited to be in a successful relationship with someone new. Even better, your significant other has a positive relationship with your child. This could be headed somewhere good. So why is your ex-spouse/co-parent so upset that your significant other is with you at your child’s parent/teacher conference?
Navigating the introduction and integration into post-divorce life of a new significant other can be challenging. While your ex-spouse certainly has no say in who you date or remarry, he or she is likely to have strong opinions about the role a new person takes in your child’s life.
Sometimes a co-parent’s objections to your new significant other are related to lingering hurt or anger over the end of your marriage. Sometimes, however, your co-parent’s concerns are based on the inclusion of a non-parent in decision-making related to a child, and that objection can be valid.
When faced with decisions about how involved a significant other should be in the important moments of your child’s life, it’s important to keep as your goal a peaceful and successful co-parenting relationship with your child’s other parent. Placing your desire to include someone special to you in everything above a well-functioning co-parenting relationship is essentially placing your own needs above those of your child (whether you mean to or not). Keep these general rules in place:
- Discuss the inclusion of a significant other with your co-parent or at least warn him or her that you intend to bring someone to a child-related event. This allows your co-parent to express concern or objection away from the child and the event. An emotional blow up at a child’s sporting event is humiliating and upsetting for your child. As hard as it can be, have the conversation ahead of time. Nothing makes things get ugly faster than surprise.
- Continue to personally manage all co-parenting communication. Even if your new significant other is a Pulitzer prize-winning writer, he or she should not be drafting emails or text messages to your co-parent. That’s your job and should always be your job. You must be the one and only person managing the parenting communication on your end.
- Invite your significant other to certain things and keep him or her out of others. Bringing your significant other to a child’s baseball game which can be attended by anyone in the public is an appropriate way to integrate your significant other into a child’s important events. Bringing your significant other to a medical appointment or parent/teacher conference is not. First consider that your child’s private medical and educational information are protected by law and should be protected by you. In addition, including a significant other in these important child-related discussions appears to place that person on the same level as a parent, which is inaccurate and likely to cause conflict. Consider how you would feel if your co-parent brought a stranger to the meeting even if that stranger stayed silent. Consider how much worse it would be if that person “weighed in”.
- Take cues from your child. At the end of the day, it is your job to protect the one and only childhood that your child gets to experience. Creating discomfort and anxiety in your child because of your insistence on including a significant other in child-related events is likely not your intention. If it’s happening, consider backing up a bit and slowing down the integration of a new person in your child’s life. Remember, that divorce is tough on kids. Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a therapist to give your child a safe place to explore the topic.