Signs Your New Girlfriend or Boyfriend Doesn't Like Your Kids
Can You Continue Your Relationship If Your Partner Doesn't Like Your Children?
Today, it is not uncommon for couples with children to break up. This means that it's becoming more and more common for people with kids to start dating again. This is a very tricky thing indeed. Your new partner might be a very good match for you, but how do you know whether or not your children will get along with him or her, and how do you know that your new partner will accept your kids?
According to Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, Therapist, Certified Premarital Interpersonal Choices & Knowledge (PICK) Instructor,
"Before entering into a relationship, it's important to consider your values and which values are most important for any long-term relationship you hope to have. It is crucial to consider your values about family: parenting, step-parenting, child rearing, including if and how you may be triangulated between your partner and your child. If your values are not matching up with your partner and his/her actions, it may be time to say goodbye."
Sometimes, togetherness just won't happen, and you'll have to choose between your partner and your children. That was the situation I was in. I hope that you will protect your children and show your new partner the door if needed. But where do you draw the line?
I want to share my experiences with you. After five years in a relationship with a woman that was very special to me, I had to end it. It broke my heart because I still loved her, but I knew I had to draw the line.
Signs Your New Boyfriend or Girlfriend Is Not Bonding With Your Child
- Communication Breakdown: If your boyfriend (or girlfriend) has a hard time talking to your kids—if there are constant miscommunications or they just don't engage in conversation—this is a warning sign.
- Gifts With an Ulterior Motive: If your boyfriend or girlfriend gives your kids gifts that are meant to keep them holed up in their rooms, that might be telling.
- Avoidance: If your partner actively looks for ways to avoid spending time with your kids—and your kids avoid him or her, too—this is a problem.
- Hoarding Time: If your partner seems jealous of the time you spend with your kids and actively tries to get you to stop seeing them, this is definitely a problem.
- "Us" vs. "Them": If your boyfriend or girlfriend tries to make you choose the romantic relationship over the parental one, you just can't win.
- Lack of Empathy: If your partner seems incapable of seeing things from the kids' perspective, this is cause for concern.
- A Gut Feeling: If your parental instincts kick in and you suspect that something is off, wrong, or problematic, it's time to pay attention to your gut reactions.
Each of these situations is described in detail below.
Signs to Watch Out For
1. Your Partner Doesn't Talk Directly to Your Children
Starting from the very first moment, the communication between my new girlfriend and my children was very difficult. At first I didn't think much of it, but in retrospect, I should have.
When you always have to be the mediator, interpreter, and communicator.
In my case it seemed reasonable since I'm Belgian (my mother tongue is Dutch) and my girlfriend was Croatian. Since my children don't speak English (yet), I didn't think much of the fact that she didn't talk directly to them.
I began to become worried when she learned to speak Dutch perfectly after a few months of intense courses (she is a polyglot and has a thing for languages) but still didn't communicate with the kids. She'd use me as a channel to talk to them. Moreover, it was always something negative. I felt really bad about this. Although it was perfectly okay that she wanted the children to be disciplined (as a divorced dad I was typically a bit too lenient), I also felt that it was not right that there were never any positive messages for the children.
At one point I wanted to break up with her, but she was desperate to keep the relationship going. Since I didn't want to lose her either, I told her that we could continue the relationship under certain conditions. I said I couldn't put up with so many negative emotions if there was not a real positive bond underneath it all. She promised she would initiate some communication with the kids, but she never did. After five years I had to make the terrible decision to break up with the woman I was still very much attracted to. I just wished I had done it a lot sooner.
2. Your Partner Gives Presents That Are Intended to Keep the Children Away From the Two of You
To be fair, my girlfriend did give some nice clothes to my children, and they were very happy with them. But when she suggested that they should have a TV and a computer in their room, I didn't have to think twice about what the message was: stay in your room.
The sad thing is that I went along with the idea to avoid conflict. When the children were watching a program when she felt like watching something, she'd get very irritated, and it was also difficult when one of the kids was on the computer when she wanted to be online. Of course, she never told them directly to get lost. Most times she didn't even tell me, but she surely made it felt that she was annoyed.
"I'll buy you a TV so you can watch it in your room!"
For a while, I thought it would be a good idea that my children would have their own internet and TV in their room to avoid complications. Looking back, this line of thinking was screwed up. I hoped for so long that we'd all just be able to relax and watch TV together. We tried once or twice, but it was forced. We never succeeded in having nice evenings together as a family.
3. Your Partner Tries to Avoid Being With Your Kids
In the end, my children got used to leaving the computer and the TV when she came home and going to their room. This was a sign I should have paid attention to: They no longer felt welcome in the public areas of our home when my girlfriend was there.
To be a family, you need to spend time together.
But it was not only them evading her. She tried to be home as little as possible when they were around. I know it took a lot of effort to plan stuff to escape seeing them.
In retrospect, I could have saved us all some pain and suffering if I'd seen these signs.
4. Your Partner Would Love to Go on a Trip With You . . . but Only Without the Children
We all don't have enough free time, and we all cherish our leisure time, and yes, it's a good idea to spend time with your partner without the children . . . but when he or she never wants to go anywhere with you and your children together, this is a very bad sign.
Being a family involves sharing time, taking turns, and sacrifice for the greater good sometimes.
My girlfriend loved to go places, and when she first came to live in Belgium, we made a trip almost every weekend to somewhere new. We only went a few times to places together with the children. And every time it was a disaster.
Once we went to Bruges to meet my brother and his new girlfriend. Since this was a family thing she felt she couldn't refuse having the children with us on a trip. But when I asked the children if they would like to take a small boat trip on the 'reien' (canals), my girlfriend thought it was a stupid idea, something for mindless tourists. Since I felt I already made a promise to the children, I went ahead with the idea anyway. She turned cold and went her own way. The day was spoiled. The point here is that she couldn't have it that we would do things especially for the children.
On another occasion we went to a theme park. The children loved it and my girlfriend actually tried to enjoy herself, but when she noticed that I wanted to do some attractions with my kids that she didn't like, she became very upset. The bottom line was, again, that she found it very hard to cope with the fact that sometimes I wanted to give precedence to the wishes of my children. Alas, I was too much in love and too naïve to let go of her then. :(
5. Your Partner Is Jealous of Your Children
I would like to think that an adult I'm in love with would be too grown-up to compete with children, but sadly, that is exactly what happened between my girlfriend and my kids. Often I felt as if I was put in a position to judge who was good and who was bad. Not a good thing!
You don't want to be only adult in the room!
If your partner is not mature enough to deal with situations that he or she doesn't like, quarrels about stupid little things, and then asks you to decide who is right, then they're probably not mature enough to be with your children.
That is not to say that your partner should just accept all the tricks the kids play, but they should realize that it is a better strategy to be on the same level with you instead of picking a fight with your child. As adults, you should form a separate subsystem in the family and be 'above' the children. If not, if your partner puts him or herself in the child's position, then you are alone as the parent.
It is also a big problem when your partner and your children are competing for your attention. It is normal that there is a tension between the needs of your children and the needs of your partner, but it should not be played out in front of the children. Both your partner and your children should know when they can lay claim on you! Jealous reactions of your partner with your children should be a no-go!
6. Your Partner Expects Your Children to Behave Like Adults
As a single parent, it is very easy to let slip the rules that your children should respect.
First of all: if you broke up with the mother or father of your children, there is a good chance that, at least partially, you had different ideas about how to raise kids. When you break up, it's very tempting to throw out all the rules you disagreed on. Later on, though, you might find out that your ex had a point.
Second, breaking up is very hard. When you find yourself without the intimacy you had with your ex-partner, it can be tempting to look for closeness with your children. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, as long as it doesn't stop you from being a parent and imposing rules!
Now when a new partner arrives on the scene, it can be quite a shock that he or she thinks that you are being too soft on the children and expects them to shape up. Your new partner probably has a point. But if your work and accommodations are never good enough for your new partner, if the kids can never do things well enough, that might be a sign that your partner doesn't really want to accept the children at all.
Children should be able to just be children.
This is what I learned the hard way in my relationship. When the children were joyful, she thought they were too loud. When they were playing, she urged me to ask them to go and play outside. There were always new rules and when the children (and me!) learned to attend to those rules, there were new rules on top of the new rules. My girlfriend also insisted that the children didn't make any effort, which was clearly not the case. In the end, I insisted that the rules should be written down, so we could check if they all had been followed on a certain day. But this also didn't work. She also stressed that her rules were 'natural,' that any normal child would follow those rules without effort.
In short: it was impossible to live up to her expectations. Moreover, she was never very irritated when I broke her rules, but when the children did something wrong, she would become mad or even vile. Many times, I found myself in the position that I had to protect the children from her temper.
7. You're Hesitant to Introduce Your Children to Your New Partner
Maybe you've been postponing the introduction of your new partner to your children. The question is: do you have good reason to believe you should?
In my case, for various reasons, I was forced to immediately introduce my new girlfriend to my children. Looking back, I should never have taken this risk. I think it's far better to take it slowly and pay attention to what happens at each stage. After each small step, talk to both your partner and your kids to find out how it's going. Talk about the difficult moments afterwards, both with your children and your new partner. If it is all happy happy joy joy, you're probably safe.
What is your gut telling you?
Take the time to see the red flags before the disaster. You probably know all this instinctively, so the fact that you're still doubting is probably meaningful. You also might not be ready for a serious relationship (be honest with yourself!), which is just fine. You don't have to rush things and there is nothing wrong with exploring a new relationship for awhile before trying to knit it into your family.
Believe me, it is better to lose a potential partner than forcing your family to help you figure it out. Everyone will be happier if you take things slowly and listen to your gut.
8. Your New Partner Doesn't Seem to Like Kids Very Much
My girlfriend told me from the beginning that she had never wanted to have children. I thought she just had to get used to having kids in her life, but I probably should have listened. This one should go without saying, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to avoid seeing the obvious. When your feelings get involved, you may stop seeing clearly.
The most obvious signs are sometimes the easiest to avoid.
Ask your new partner what they think about kids before you introduce them to yours. If they have kids, find out about their relationship with them. If they don't have any children of their own, find out why. Know their future plans regarding parenthood and having a family before you involve them in yours.
Not everyone is cut out to be a parent. If your girlfriend or boyfriend has never been tempted by parenthood, or if they've actively avoided having kids, these are important pieces of information. Don't conveniently overlook the obvious signs.
It's important to consider the impact their non-interest is having on the children, as well as your relationship. Are your children experiencing thoughts and feelings of being unloved, brushed aside, or not seen? Children may not understand that one partner's disinterest is a choice the partner is making, and instead, may internalize that something is wrong with them instead.— Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, Therapist
9. When Your Children Don't Like Your New Girlfriend or Boyfriend
Don't forget that the relationship between your new partner and your kid goes both ways, and sometimes, it's the kids that voice the problem. Of course, bringing a new partner into your family is guaranteed to be difficult. There will be bumps on the road, for sure. But I'm not talking about those "normal" problems—I'm talking about serious, irreconcilable differences between your kids and your new partner. When your children can't form a bond with your new partner, this is something to pay attention to.
Especially if your kids are young, it's easy for a parent to think that they know better than the kids do. Kids don't have a lot of experience with these things, after all, and their perspective is limited. Plus, it may turn out that they are resistant to your new partner because they're secretly hoping you'll get back together with your ex (their biological parent). Or they might just be worried that they're losing you or expressing a fear of change. All of these reactions are normal, and can be handled graciously.
But our kids are sometimes able to see our relationship better than we can. After all, they have a front row seat, and their vision isn't clouded by romance. Whatever the case, it's always important to listen to and value what they say.
Your kids' thoughts and feelings should be a priority.
If your kids come to you and share their negative feelings about your new partner, take the time to really hear what they're saying. It might be that you simply need to give them more time, love, and attention . . . but it might also be a red flag that your new partner will never be able to form a relationship with your kids or become a full member of the family.
What about you?
When did you first notice that your new boyfriend or girlfriend wasn't bonding with your kids?
- 10% In retrospect, the signs that they didn't like kids were always there, I was just so excited by the new relationship that didn't pay attention.
- 43% I always knew it wasn't great, but I just thought things would get better with time and effort.
- 28% I thought that since my boyfriend/girlfriend has kids of their own, things would eventually work out.
- 10% My new boyfriend/girlfriend promised things would get better... but they didn't.
- 10% I had no idea how bad things were, but I just found out!
In the End
I still feel bad that I didn't intervene earlier. I just hope that by writing this article I can help you see the signs I didn't see. When your partner doesn't let your children be themselves, this is a sure sign your partner is not ready to have a relationship where children are involved.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.