How Should I Talk About My Ex's New Partner To My Kids?

04/30/2015 05:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

Reader Reeling writes,

I'm very curious about the introduction of a "person of interest" to kids when one parent is leaving the other parent to pursue their affair (emotional/physical, whatever).  The leaving spouse already has the potential desire of introducing someone new to the kids and the "left" spouse is still trying to figure out what the heck just happened. The kids are still confused and extended family is still reeling. Do morality clauses in parenting agreements do any good here to at least try to prevent overnights when kids are used to mommy and daddy? Do they do any good at all? How does the "left" spouse handle teaching the kids good moral standards when their other parent is exhibiting anything but. How does the left spouse handle the "just trust me to do the right thing" when there is no trust left?... kids are primary/upper grades elementary school aged children.


Dear Reeling,

I understand why you're so upset. It would be hard not to understand. Kudos to you for focusing on your children's transition and not your own pain. (By the way, you should find a supportive counselor to help you through this difficult time.) There are plenty of ways to ensure that your kids have the best transition possible, and one of them is letting go of what you cannot and should not control. If your ex had an affair, then he already has a relationship with some woman. It is likely it has been going on for a while, and if he left you for her, it's serious. So you're right that he will probably want to introduce her very soon, and then they will likely live together if not marry, and then the overnights will be constant. And before that they may be constant too.

This may be difficult for you to deal with, but what are your choices here? You can't stop him from having a relationship. You can try to make some parenting agreement clause but usually those exclude serious relationships/fiances (and so he will likely just propose to her if she's that important and if you give him an ultimatum like that). Your best bet is to focus only on your kids and their transition. Discuss with them that daddy may have another partner, and she will probably be very nice, and they should try to enjoy their time with her. There is absolutely no up side and only down sides to making your kids dislike this person. She may be their stepmother and it would be horrible for them to start off on a bad foot with her.

On a more important note, your ex's poor choices when it comes to cheating on you do not have anything to do with his ability to be a good dad. He is right that you need to trust him -- not with your own heart but with the hearts of your kids. If he behaves egregiously, like getting drunk around them or having loud sex with his new girlfriend, you can intervene at that point. But if he is anywhere in the realm of normal, he is worried about the kids' transition too, and will be trying to be a good dad. You don't have much of a choice but to trust him, so try to focus on his positives as a dad.

You need to realize that anything you do in this situation will affect your children, and you have the power to either make sure they remain close to their dad, or you could singlehandedly alienate them from him. Read this post about a reader whose parents trash talked one another, and the terrible effect on her. Read this one about how parents (even when still together) can mess up their kids by causing the kids to side with one parent against the other.

I am not saying you are going to alienate your kids from their dad. But I am concerned by what you call his "lack of morality." If you mention this, or if you so much as roll your eyes about your kids' dad in their presence, they are going to pick up on it and may start to view him as a bad person. This means that they will view themselves as created by a bad person, which means they will have low self esteem. Through whatever therapy and conversations with friends and family and whatever other self-care you need to do, you need to put on a game face in front of your kids and only mention the positive parts of dad. And if your extended family mentions anything bad about your ex in front of your kids, you need to stop them from doing that right away.

So, basically, you have to trust your ex to do the right thing, while you raise your kids however you would have before all this. On top of this, you have to focus on the positive parts of your kids' dad and mention those parts out loud. Encourage them to love him. It is the best thing you can do as a mom and your kids will learn whatever they need to about your ex as they become adults. For now, loving him is the healthiest thing they can do, and you must facilitate and support them in their love of him and their trust in him, even if it nearabout kills you. (As I mentioned before, now would be a good time to start seeing a therapist who can guide you through this.)

Good luck and keep me updated. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Stay Strong!

For more, visit Dr. Rodman at Dr. Psych Mom, like her on Facebook, and join her on Twitter @DrPsychMom.