New partners

I was really nervous about introducing anyone new to my wee boy. I don’t know if I overthink things. I’m just really aware of his emotions and how sensitive he can be. He gets really attached to people and I didn’t want to bring someone new into his life if it would upset him, or they might not stick around to be part of his life. I think you just have to do what feels right for you and your children. Take it one step at a time. Maybe meet somewhere familiar that your kid likes going to such as the park so the focus isn’t too much on your new partner, and they can be introduced as a friend at first until you can gauge your kid’s reactions. You don’t want them to feel under pressure to say they like them just because they want you to be happy.

Meeting someone new, after the loss of bereavement, separation or divorce, can be very exciting.

Lots of people have more than one close partner in the course of a lifetime. Some single parents never live with their children’s other parent(s).

You may feel ready to have a new partner, or your children’s other parent may have a new partner.

You may find it hard to think kindly towards your ex’s new partner. Their new relationship may remind you of your feelings of past hurt, and vice versa.

When you or your ex introduce a new partner to your children, it’s good to be as positive as you can. And at least neutral. Your children need to make up their own minds about your new partner, or their other parent’s.

Remember that your child will want you to be happy. Seeing you happy can be a great relief to children as it can mean they don’t need to feel responsible for you!

Finding a new partner

It’s OK to look for or have a new partner. You’re not ‘just’ a parent but a person in your own right (with the right to adult relationships).

Whether you are recently single or have focused only on your children for years, it can be quite a challenge to make time for another person. It takes a lot out of you to look after children on your own, as well as working or studying and managing a household. You may still be trying to cope with feelings of rejection, loss and loneliness or an ex who is trying to control you in some way.

Some tips are:

  • Take it slowly so you can be in charge of what’s going on. This is as much for your own sake, as your children’s. You have built up a life for you and them, and it’s not something that you want to risk in a hurry. Everyone needs time to re-adjust, including a new partner.
  • Do things that feel good for you. If someone makes you feel bad or unsafe in any way, they are not for you.
  • Remember what’s important to you, and that your priority has to be your dependent children – but it’s OK to have fun! 
  • Although the person you are seeing is interested in you, you are not just you. You are a parent. Be honest with this other person about your priorities.
  • If someone can’t accept that part of you, or is not interested in it, ask yourself if they are the right person for you. The right person will understand your circumstances and that you’re not a free agent.
  • The same applies if the person you are seeing is also a single parent: you can’t expect to be their number one priority. Their children come first to them.
  • For you, and also for the other person, there may be ‘baggage’ and unhelpful patterns from the past. Try to get support for this so that things left unresolved don’t come back into a new relationship. 
  • It’s not the job of a new partner to ‘sort out’ your ex. It there are ongoing issues with coercive control, domestic abuse and child contact, refer to the police, solicitor or a specialist agency such as Women’s Aid (see below).
  • Depending on your children’s age, you may need to rely on babysitters, family and friends to see someone else.
  • Remember, if you decide that you and your children are ready to move in with a new partner this can affect any benefits you receive. You’re responsible for updating your information on your living arrangements. If you don’t, you could be at risk of being sanctioned. If you need advice about this, you can call or chat online to our Lone Parent Helpline or contact Citizens Advice.

Useful links

  • Some people might face extra challenges when it comes to finding a new relationship, for example if you have a disability or learning disability. Disability Information Scotland has a useful page of advice and links to dating and social groups and websites which might make things easier.
  • For any of us, simply getting ‘out there’ can help you to meet a new partner. Our pages on ‘feeling less lonely and more in touch with others’ could help you if you’re looking for ways to socialise and connect with new people. This includes links that might help you find social groups and activities that interest you, and links to organisations aimed at black, minority ethnic (BME) people, LGBT people and disabled people.
  • The Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse Scotland allows people to ask the police if their partner, or the partner of someone they know, has a history of committing domestic abuse. This could be useful for checking out a new partner.

Introducing a new partner

Children and young people can react in many different ways to meeting a parent’s new partner. They may find it difficult to adjust. It can be complicated for them if their other parent died or if you have been seeing another person while you were still with their other parent. It’s good to be prepared for many possible reactions, and to introduce any new partner sensitively. There’s some useful information on how to do this on the Relate website and the Single Parent Action Network.

If you can, it’s best to introduce a new person when you are sure that the relationship has a future. Try to avoid exposing them to a succession of people, especially people you don’t know that well. When adults arrive and then leave their lives, it can be unsettling for children. 

Some tips are:

  • Take your time. This is even more important if this new relationship was part of a separation. Children also need time to accept that their parents’ relationship is over or that their other parent has died. If you introduce a new partner too soon, they may feel their other parent is being replaced, no matter how much you tell them otherwise.
  • You also need time to get to know this new person. Early on, people tend present the best version of themselves. It takes time to learn more about how they tick.
  • Be open. If you can let your children know that you feel ready to let someone into your life, this can help prepare them. Children don’t need all the details, but knowing how you are feeling, or that you have started seeing other people, could be helpful.
  • Be patient for you own sake as well as your children’s. Take the time to get to know this other person and give your children the time they need to get to know them. Your new partner may not be used to children.
  • Encourage your children to talk to you. Listen to your children and reassure them. It’s a big shift for children to accept that they aren’t your sole focus. Let them know they’re your priority. 
  • They don’t have to like this new person just because you do. The new person has to earn and deserve your child’s trust and liking. Also, there’s no guarantee that your relationship with this new person will last.
  • Take things a step at a time. Wait till your children have met your partner a few times before your partner stays over when the children are in the house. And make sure that you and your children really trust your new partner before you leave them to look after the children alone. 
  • If your new partner has children, your children may be more interested in their children than they are in your new partner. What’s in it for them will be different from what’s in it for you. 
  • Look at the My Children pages for some tips on managing children’s behaviour. Sometimes, children express their feelings through their behaviour and you may need to give them a break. 

Useful links

Coping when your children meet your ex’s new partner

It can be hard when your ex gets a new partner, especially when they want to introduce them to your children. It’s common to be anxious about it. On the one hand, it can remind you of the loss of your own relationship. On the other hand, as a parent, you’ll want to be sure that your children are happy and safe when a new person becomes involved in their life.

There are steps you can take to manage any worries about this:

  • Remember to focus on your children and try to be as positive for them as you can.
  • If you and your ex can agree to let each other know when you are going to introduce your children to new partners, this could help you both ease some of these worries. If you can both be prepared for this, you can help your children to be prepared too.
  • As difficult as it might feel, try not to let your children know if you are upset about them meeting their other parent’s partner. Think about supporting them to feel relaxed and positive about this new situation – if they see that you aren’t happy, this will affect them.  
  • Even if you can’t be positive about your ex’s new partner, be neutral in front of your children. Don’t badmouth them – this is likely to cause stress and make your children feel caught in the middle.
  • Encourage your children to talk about how they feel. Whether that’s happy, sad, or worried – listening to them and respecting their feelings and opinions is the best way to make sure they are OK and that they will continue to be open with you.
  • When you ask children questions, make sure it’s really about them and their experience – if you use your children to find things out about your ex and their partner, your child will probably notice and it could make it harder for them to be honest with you.
  • If you need support to deal with these changes, reach out to friends, family or a professional who can help you work through your own feelings.

Useful links