Q: I’m recently divorced, although separated for over a year and a half, with two young children. I’m dating someone I’d like to introduce my kids to, so we can all spend time together and eventually move in together. I get lots of unsolicited advice from family, friends, and co-workers about when and how I should introduce my kids to her, leaving me more confused about what to do. I know I’m an overly protective dad, but my ex also wants to introduce the kids to her boyfriend, so any guidance about the best timing and how to handle introductions to new partners would be great. Thanks.

A: There’s really no right answer to your question. Without knowing whether these new partners have children of their own, and how long you’ve been together, etc., I’ll simply make some generalizations. I usually recommend waiting to introduce children to a new partner for at least five months, maybe longer. That said, the length of dating time is less important than how well you know the other person. Timing depends on several factors; the ages, temperaments and, particularly, consideration of any changes each child has experienced during this period are all important. Children are resilient if given the necessary time, support, and understanding to adjust to the developments inherent in divorce. Some children experience moving out of the only home they’ve known, adapting to two new homes (Dad’s and Mom’s); some children must move to a new area away from their friends and familiar surroundings, and with that, change schools as well. Parents need to closely monitor how each child is adjusting to the changes before exposing them to yet another change, the new relationship. It’s in the children’s best interest to wait until you are pretty confident you have a secure future with this person before putting them through another failed relationship.

My advice is to proceed slowly, starting with brief encounters that are at a playground, somewhere fun, that doesn’t make your children feel trapped. You might think the timing is right, as all signs indicate the children are settling into their new life, having adjusted to their parents’ divorce. This depends on how the parents are communicating and treating each other. As I’ve mentioned in more than a few articles about co-parenting during/after divorce, when parents communicate with mutual respect and kindness, children can thrive. However, if contentious battles continue, if anger and bitterness undermine the children’s security, then the emotional and mental damage to them will be irreparable.

Be patient with their respective reactions, as they may have strong feelings that manifest in different ways. Children need to adapt to the reality of their parents’ divorce and then to one or both of their parents dating new people. Although you may think dating is the natural, next step after divorce, your children may view it quite differently. Young children often hold the fantasy of their parents getting back together, or worry about their other parent feeling hurt or sad. Take your cues from your children, talking to them honestly and openly about the divorce and dating, letting them ask questions. Remember that once a new partner is integrated into their lives, it means they now have to share their dad/mom.

Q: I seem to be struggling with friendships and I’m not sure what I can do better. I asked my sister if she had any ideas, and she told me it’s how I talk to people, that I’m too intense and overbearing, that I come across as arrogant. I was shocked when she said I always have to be right, that I act like I know more than anyone else and need to have the last word. We all have different personalities and say things differently, but I think it’s because I feel a lot of shame and I don’t know how to change. Any advice?

A: This is an excellent question, because you’re certainly not alone. I’ve heard this same dilemma many times, as some people communicate in a way that offends or turns others away. There are many different ways we can communicate the same message, however the delivery is the key. This requires us to be intentional, fully conscious of how we speak to ensure our message is heard and understood. We must own our feelings, our experience, without projecting them onto the other person, remaining fully present and listening respectfully in return. If our delivery is arrogant, self-righteous, aggressive, and/or mean, there’s a high likelihood that’s coming from a place of shame, ultimately offending or hurting the listener. Often we have that knee-jerk reaction to what someone else says or does, speaking before thinking. The delivery comes from our past, our emotional reactions stored from our family of origin. To make the shift to being more responsive, rather than reactive, try to stay quiet, to be still, telling yourself “say nothing” until you’ve breathed through that initial “off the cuff” comment or need to be right. That “arrogance” is typically to protect a core of shame. Just quietly connect to your functional grown-up, to thoughtfully speak in a way that delivers your message with kindness, respect, compassion and honesty. Be assertive, yet not aggressive, which requires having strong boundaries that communicate your needs, your worldview, without attacking someone else’s values and perspective.

How we deliver our message, the way in which we communicate, will make all the difference in whether we are heard and whether we will authentically connect with others.

“We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.” — Brene Brown

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