So, you’ve read another of our posts, Are We There Yet – When Is The Right Time To Introduce A New Relationship To Your Children?, and you and your partner have decided it’s time for you to meet your future stepkids. Feeling excited and extremely nervous all at the same time is par for the course. Like dogs and bees, we are pretty certain it is a scientific fact that children (toddlers and teenagers in particular) can smell fear, nervousness and desperation!
You want the meeting to be a good one and luckily there is a lot you both you and your partner can do to make that happen. It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that if things do not go quite according to plan, it is not the end all or be all. There will be plenty of second chances as getting to this stage means you are planning to be a part of these children’s life for a long time.
First up, never underestimate the importance of being prepared. Before meeting the kids, take the time to learn about their likes and dislikes and their interests. Talk with your partner about what might be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour when they are around (for you and for them). Get to know about your partner’s relationship with the children. What do they enjoy doing together? When are they happiest? How does your partner handle discipline? Find out what can expect to see when seeing your partner and their children together for the first time. You may also want to find out if there are any taboo or touchy subjects to avoid when it comes to the children’s relationship with their other parent. Pre-warnings are a good thing!
It is important that your partner talks to and prepares the children for that first meeting as well. They will also benefit from knowing what they can expect to see when seeing their mum or dad with you for the first time. Have a think about what you would like the children to know about you before they meet you and share it with your partner.
That first meeting should ideally involve only you, your partner and your partner’s children.
If you have children of your own resist the urge to include them in that first meeting. For things to go positively you need to be able to fully engage and interact with your partner’s kids without being interrupted by the needs of your own children.
Ideally you also shouldn’t involve other family members such as grandparents etc (either your own or your partner’s). You don’t want the children to be overwhelmed by meeting too many new people all at once and/or to be confused about who they are actually there to meet. Nor do you want to take away from the fact they are meeting you, because you are the special someone their parent cares about. (Let’s face it, you also don’t want to be meeting your future stepkids and in-laws all at the same time. How would you decide who to talk to first!)
Location, location, location
The age of the children should play a part in where and how you are introduced to them. If older teenagers or adult children are involved it’s best to meet on neutral territory and on a more mature level say over brunch, lunch or coffee. Young children are typically more comfortable in their own element. Meeting them at their house, a favourite play ground or something similar, that is child friendly are all probably okay. Just keep in mind that young children rely heavily on routines. Tired, hungry, stressed or overstimulated youngsters are less able to manage big emotions and more likely to lose it! If there is a toddler involved, plan the meeting around nap times.
You and your partner should have a think about how you might greet the children during that initial introduction. Forcing the children to hug or kiss you “hello” might make everyone feel uncomfortable, especially if they shy away, say “no” or freeze and do nothing. Consenting to hug they actually don’t want also takes away from their ability to control the pace and might also make them feel resentful – not a good start.
For children of any age you could just say hello and a bit of of hand wave or offer to shake their hand. Let younger children in particular warm up on their own pace. If they are shy or look like they are finding the situation difficult, you (or their parent) could say in a calm, easy going manner “I’d like to say hello to you, but it looks like you may need a few minutes, That’s okay. I’m happy to wait until you are ready”. Then you and your partner might engage in some general (child friendly) chit chat or activity. The main goal is to take the pressure off.
Aim to keep the first meeting low key and light hearted. Plan for a relatively short get-together with a definitive end – you don’t want to magnify potential tension and awkwardness by dragging that first encounter on for too long. With this in mind don’t plan an overnight (particularly if meeting at the children’s home) or a weekend away, right away.
In a nutshell:
- Do have realistic expectations.
- Do project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nervousness.
- Do expect that the kids may have experienced some mixed feelings about you and about your first meeting.
- Do limit displays of affection – the focus of the meeting is the children and them meeting you – it is not a romantic rendezvous.
- Do things that are age appropriate and that your partner believes the children might personally enjoy to try to show them you care about their interests.
- Do dress appropriately – spandex pants, and stiletto heels are unlikely to help your mini golf game.
- Do organise for you to meet your partner’s children and him or her to meet yours separately before you introduce all the children to one another.
- Do gradually build up the amount of time that you spend with the children. That first meeting doesn’t mean you need to be there every time your partner has time with the kids.
- Do recognise the kids will need time to build a relationship with you (and your children if you have them) – relationships don’t form overnight.
- Don’t be afraid to go super slow with getting to know your partner’s children and them you. If your partner is “the one” and the relationship serious, you’ll have a lifetime to bond.
- Don’t expect to fall in love with the children overnight (or at all!) or them with you. Remember the first point above –realistic expectations.
- Don’t assume that if the first meeting goes well that it will be smooth sailing from there on in.
- Don’t put the children in a position of having to respond positively when it may not be a positive experience (for them). E.g. don’t ask them if they “like” you or if they are having “fun”.
- Don’t try to jump straight into being a parent or disciplining the kids during that first meeting.
It’s important to let your future stepkids set the pace from that initial meeting and keep in mind that your relationship with them is not a reflection of your relationship with your partner. They can, and will, go at different speeds.