His child needs you to move slowly
Before meeting you, it would also help if her father could communicate directly with her mother about his new relationship with you. My advice to separated parents is that if they are going to introduce a new partner to a child, they should be prepared to communicate this to the other parent.
This saves the child from feeling they know a secret, or worrying what the other parent might think, or witnessing the other parent’s reaction when they find out etc. This is, of course, a difficult communication to get right, although it can be best done in a concise matter-of-fact way – “I am just letting you know that L will be meeting N my girlfriend this weekend and I wanted to let you know.” The introduction of a new partner could put tension on their co-parenting relationship especially if she has not moved on from the original separation and your boyfriend should anticipate this and work hard to positively communicate and seek mediation if necessary.
When you do meet his daughter for the first time, I would keep this low key and informal – perhaps the three of you could go for a walk and keep it short. In forming your relationship with her over time, the key is to go slowly and not to expect too much. You should make sure that she continues to get alone time with her father and she does not see your arrival as a threat to this.
Take your time in getting to know her, focusing on establishing a friendship with her. Don’t expect to be adopting a parenting or discipline role in the near future – this is her father’s role. Also, it is very important that you speak only positively about her mother in front of her and are sensitive and supportive about her relationship with her.
Finally, though being introduced to and getting on with a new partner’s children can be a delicate process, in many situations it can go very well. Lots of children I work with accept their parent’s new relationship especially if they see that it makes their parent happier and it does not compromise their own relationship with their parent. Further, they can also gain a new supportive person in their life and, handled well, this can be a bonus to them as well.
A new Parenting when Separated course developed by the Parents Plus Charity is being rolled out nationally in 25 centres this autumn. See parentsplus.ie
Dr JOHN SHARRYis a social worker and psychotherapist and director of ParentsPlus charity. His website is solutiontalk.ie.
Readers’ queries are welcome and will be answered through the column, but John regrets that he cannot enter into individual correspondence. Questions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org