Posted By: Kelly Seal Date: 03-15-2020 Comments: 0
Are you a single parent trying to navigate a romantic relationship and raising your kids? It’s not easy. Even though you want everyone to get along, there will be challenges as your partner and kids get to know each other and spend time together. There will be competing demands on your time. Sometimes pleasing everyone can feel like an impossible task.
It’s easy to see why: you are responsible for your kids and want to do what’s best for them – and you want them to be happy. You also want your partner to be happy and get along with your children. The problem is that when you are put in a position to choose between pleasing your kids and pleasing your partner, your partner often falls to the wayside. Your children should always come first, right?
I’m going to say something controversial: You must prioritize your partner.
I know, it seems wrong. After all, you love your kids. Why wouldn’t they come first? But here’s the truth. While it sounds good, it doesn’t really work that way if you want to build a successful family dynamic. A therapist who specializes in divorce and second families put it to me this way: your children are your responsibility. Your spouse is your priority.
It sounds strange, right? You are raising your children, and they are dependent on you – so why would they come second to your partner?
Let me explain. Full disclosure, I married a man with kids. My perspective is shaped by being a stepmom, which is no easy task, either. I saw firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate emotions in a partnership that included two kids and an ex-wife. My husband did plenty of back flips trying to make everyone happy. I learned very quickly that schedules could change often (and they did), and kids’ moods were equally fluctuating – so I had to be adaptable and accommodating, too.
The big challenge was this: my constant accommodation and understanding wasn’t sustainable in the long run. I wanted to please everyone, so it seemed easiest to sacrifice what I wanted. But over time, my resentment grew. It didn’t make sense to concede that every time a child wanted something, I would have to sacrifice my own needs. After all, I was part of the family too. I finally got where the wicked stepmother was coming from!
Jokes aside, I’m advocating for you to put your family life into context: your romantic relationship is the foundation of your family. Your kids depend on the stability of that relationship to carry them forward into an emotionally healthy adulthood. Kids are smart. They might not listen to what you say, but they are paying attention to what you do. If you show love and respect to your partner, they will model their relationships in a similar manner. Here are some tips for building a strong foundation with your partner for your family:
Keep communication open with your partner.
Kids often try to get their way by “splitting,” or asking one parent for something and not the other (usually the more lenient parent). They will try to do the same with a single parent and their partner. Instead of giving your kids what they want without a discussion and mutual decision, bring your partner into the conversation. “Let me talk with _____ first and we will let you know if you can go to the party.” Hold strong to this rule, because as they grow older, splitting only increases. If they know you make decisions together, and that you respect each other’s wishes, then over time they know it’s how you handle problems that arise. It builds a stronger foundation for them – and creates a feeling of safety. They know what to expect from each of you.
Set aside alone time.
There’s a reason why therapists recommend “date nights.” All of us crave alone time with our partners to reconnect, and this doesn’t change because kids are in the picture. Make it a priority to spend time together without the children – whether it’s making dinner at home together or going away for a weekend. The point is, set time aside for you. It helps grow your relationship and gets you on the same page. As your children grow older, they gravitate to friends and away from their parents, so building your own relationship apart from the kids is essential to maintaining a loving relationship for the long-term.
Encourage and support one another.
It’s a long road to build a trusting relationship between your children and your partner. Your kids are understandably skeptical; they witnessed their parents split up – how do they know it won’t happen again? There are no shortcuts; the process demands patience and dedication. The more you can support your partner in building a relationship with your kids, the better. When your partner shows up for your children, be sure to acknowledge this. If he falls short from time to time, extend some patience and grace. And if you fight in front of your children, show them also how you make up. Most importantly, show that you can weather storms together, that you support each other despite your imperfections.
Here’s the bottom line: the more you can encourage and support your partner, the better the entire family dynamic. Work on building your relationship with your love, and what you build together will extend to and support the whole family.
Kelly Seal is a freelance writer, dating expert, and author of the book “Date Expectations: A Guide to Changing Your Dating Life and Finding Real Love.” She got her start in the dating industry by hosting speed dating events around southern California and offering advice and encouragement to attendees. She now lives in L.A. and spends her free time hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and blogging at www.kellyseal.com.