The Biggest Ask
How do you come to terms with the fact that your ex-partner has someone new in their life and your children have met this new person?
Remember, it is completely acceptable and natural for your partner to move on and find themselves a new companion and partner. In fact, at some point in the future, you will be doing exactly the same, if you haven’t already.
First of all, that rising tide of nausea you feel when you first find out, and the waves of stress you feel when you start to hear all about them, is completely normal; as are all the other feelings that wash over you – anger, resentment, confusion, hurt, jealousy, loss and betrayal. Regardless of what caused you to separate from your ex-partner, it is quite likely that you will experience at least some, if not all, of these feelings at one point or another.
Below are ten tips to help you deal with this most difficult of situations: “The Biggest Ask”.
(Although this article is written from the point of view of a separated dad, it applies equally well to separated mums if the genders are reversed, so all these tips are dedicated to every separated parent (dads AND mums) who at some point have to accept that their ex-partner has met someone new.)
Remember, you will always be your children’s dad
You are their only dad, they love you unconditionally, and no one can ever take your place. Your children will never say ‘he’s my dad’ about anyone else - because that’s you. You are not being ousted or replaced by another man, even though the new person may spend more time with your children. In fact, it is right now that your children need you to be ‘their dad’ more than ever before, and help them as they adjust to the new situation.
Let your anger out, but not in front of your children
Don’t bottle up your anger, because that will make you ill. However, you have to find the right time to express your feelings. Don’t let your children see your anger and frustration about the new person.
They have to spend time with the new person and they need to feel free to build a normal friendship with them. Remember you want your children to be happy. It is likely that they are going to find it difficult to get used to a new person in their home, and you can’t help them if they see you hurt and angry at the situation.
However, do allow your anger to come out. Sit in the back garden and bark at the moon if you must. Rail against the injustice of it all if that helps. But do it in an environment where you feel safe, with someone you trust – a friend or family member; if you have neither, then tell your doctor. There are always ways to let your feelings out and it’s important that you do let them out.
Don’t criticise your ex’s new partner in front of your children
Accept that this new man is there in your ex-partner’s life, in the lives of your children and in part, in your life too. If you criticise him in front of your children then they may become defensive or withdrawn. They may like him and criticising him will set you on a collision course with your children – the worst of all worlds.
Think of the situation from the children’s point of view
There is a new adult in their lives. They may feel guilty about liking him, because they think it might be disloyal to you. They may resent him taking up their space and their mother’s attention. It will probably confirm to them the sad truth that you and their mum will never be together again.
If they have fun times with the new person, it is likely that will feel awkward about things they have done together. They may even have been told to keep certain things secret. All of these thoughts and feelings are big things for your children to deal with, and come at a time when things are difficult anyway.
Remember, this isn’t just about you and your feelings, however awful you may feel, your children may not be too far behind you.
Don’t try and buy your children’s love with toys and treats
You can not show your children that you love them by buying them presents. Don’t suddenly start going out for big treats or expensive meals. All that will do is set up a bad association between establishing new relationships and material gain. Be the same person you have always been to them, that’s what they want and need.
Expensive toys and treats won’t make them love you more and won’t make you feel better, and is absolutely no substitute for your time. It’s really tough to keep your nerve when your children come to your house and tell you of a wonderful trip they went on, or the new person’s big posh car, or a fabulous holiday that they are planning, but remember, this isn’t a competition and you have nothing to prove.
Over and over, grown up children of separated parents say that these “big gesture” treats are no substitute for the parent that was always there for them, always knew what they were thinking and took an interest in them as a person. If you are in doubt, think back to when you were a child… what are the important things that you remember?
Show your children that you love them and you are there for them
As things change around your children, and new people come into their lives, you will of course feel that you want to demonstrate your love for them. This would be a good time to sit down together and plan a picnic, a day out or some other activity. Why not use this opportunity to book all their school concert dates into your work diary and make sure you have enough annual leave to attend their school fate and or sports day.
Do nice things with them, don’t go to a restaurant, instead, cook a meal together, or play football with them, or make something together (there’s plenty of ideas on dadcando). If you haven’t already done so, start a little routine with them, like getting a bun together when you pick them up, something simple that can become special to you, and something they can rely on.
Let your children talk about how they feel about the situation and listen to them
Your children may be experiencing many of the feelings you are and you may be the only person they can turn to who really understands them. You are their dad. You have it in you to make them happy. Accept that you can’t change things, but you can let your children know that it is OK to talk about their feelings to you.
This will be quite tough, because it means you will have to put your own feelings on hold while you help them. It also means not letting your own feelings about the new person intrude into the conversation. Treat what they say with care and respect and do not use this opportunity to manipulate their feelings.
Do make use of the special and irreplaceable bond between you and your children to help them through this potentially confusing time. Reassure them that whatever they have to say, it’s OK, because ‘you’re their dad.’
Depending on their age, you might find that you have to explain that there are different types of love and that just because mummy has a new partner it doesn’t mean that she loves them less. Whatever you do, be sensitive and respect the trust they put in you by telling you things.
Mentally prepare to meet the new partner
Either picking up the kids or dropping them off, or even while shopping in your local town, you are likely to meet the new partner at some point. It is a good idea to mentally prepare for that moment.
Some single fathers can accept the role their ex’s new partner plays in his children’s lives and are content with the situation, so long as their children are happy. However, the majority of fathers don’t relish the thought of meeting their ex’s new partner, particularly if that means meeting him at the door of what was once the family home.
Now, you don’t have to be pals with the guy, or take him down to the pub. Aim for polite civility, a business like relationship. Remember, your children are NOT having to choose between the two of you, he is just another part of their lives now, and you have to adjust to that.
Never be threatening or violent, it is unjustified and illegal and your children will lose all respect for you.
Don’t compare yourself with the new partner
It’s any easy trap to fall into, but you must try not to compare yourself to the new person. This is harder than it sounds, because even for the most emotionally secure people, even for those who have fully accepted that the relationship they had with their children’s mother is over, the arrival of a new man on the scene seems to exaggerate their past inability to make that relationship work.
Fight the urge to compare yourself with the new person. Stop yourself thinking: ‘Why does she like him instead of me? - What does she see in him? - What can he do that I can’t?’ Remember that money or looks are not what makes a great relationship (there are plenty of film stars to prove that), so comparing yourself unfavourably in either of those departments is less than useless.
If there are lessons to learn from how you have behaved, or things that you did wrong that helped finish the relationship, then look to yourself to correct those, so that you don’t make the same mistakes again, rather than comparing yourself with your ex’s new partner.
Don’t start a new relationship of your own just to spite your ex-partner
If knowing that your ex has found someone new gives you the permission you feel you need to start dating again, great, but don’t start (or finish for that matter) a relationship, just to make a point to your ex-partner.
You are separate from your ex-partner now and doing things to spite them or just to show them that you don’t care, shows exactly the opposite, in a disastrous way that ends up hurting you, your children and whoever else gets caught up in this particular game.
Getting into a relationship (for all the wrong reasons), that isn’t right for you, is bound to make your life much worse not better.
If you want to show your ex, that like them, you have moved on too, do so by being independent of them. Start making decisions about your life based on what makes YOU happy, not by what makes your ex-partner unhappy.