Infertility has become more and more common among couples. The widespread availability of contraception, more women in the work force, and the age at which couples choose to get married and start their families have all contributed to increased infertility rates.
Experiencing infertility, at any age or stage, can have a tremendous personal emotional impact and a considerable impact on a couple’s relationship. There is much research that diagnoses of infertility have been associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness in both partners.
Important but Less Well-Known Consequences of Infertility:
Infertility can have a profound impact on identity.
For many women and men, although more common among women, the dream of becoming a parent starts well before trying for a baby. When experiencing infertility, a woman’s ‘womanhood’ might feel threatened. She may feel like her entire future is out of her control. This is especially painful when women are surrounded by friends and family members, who are pregnant, able to get pregnant easily, or who announce their pregnancies.
Infertility can have a tremendous impact on the couple’s relationship.
Infertility is one of the life’s greatest stressors and can contribute to marital breakdown. The process of infertility forces a couple to come together, make decisions together, self reflect and develop mutual levels of empathy. Unfortunately, many couples cannot withstand the turmoil of infertility. In both my professional and personal life, I have witnessed first-hand many marriages dissolve because of infertility and the couple’s inability to withstand such pressure.
In my practice, I always deliver the same underlying message to couples trying to conceive: couples must be on the same wavelength to move ahead with fertility treatments, at every stage. They must wait for their partner to be at the same place before any future decisions are made. This way, they will grow together in their journey rather than veer off into different directions or end up resenting each other.
Sometimes, a diagnosis of infertility in both men and women, could lead to diagnoses of other underlying health issues.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Endometriosis, Low Sperm Mobility/Motility, complications from previous pregnancies or eating disorders, etc. Often, individuals are not ready or willing to hear that ‘they might be the reason’ that they are not able to have children. Not only does this force them to seek treatment for other health related issues, but it results in a tremendous amount of guilt.
For men, in particular, having low motility/mobility sperm has been researched to have a tremendous impact and threat to their masculinity, possibly leading to performance anxiety as well as to shame and embarrassment with his partner and extended family and friends.
Sex and love making becomes a business transaction.
There is no other way to frame it. When couples are trying to conceive, the spontaneity in their lovemaking is taken way. They are on a schedule of when to do it, as well as when not to do it. During this time, there is an increase in erectile dysfunction in men who have never had problems, and performance anxiety for both men and women. Talk about throwing coal onto the flame. Couples have a tremendously hard time bouncing back from this. If the struggle with infertility is a long one, it is easy for couples to fall out of the habit of having intimacy and spontaneous sex. Over the long term, even well after ‘trying for baby’ is long over, many couples’ relationships are impacted and they have a difficult time reigniting that flame.
When to Seek Professional Emotional Support for Infertility:
The emotional impact of infertility is well researched, and there are many other factors on the self and on the couple which could be affected. Too many for the scope of this article. It is wise to seek the services of a social worker if one or both partners start to feel the emotional impact or require support at the following stages:
Being a parent is a huge responsibility, one that most people take very seriously. But when we are young and falling in love, how many of us really discuss parenting philosophies and the ways in which we wish to raise our children? Aside from discussing whether or not we want children at all, it is unlikely that we get down to the nitty-gritty of child rearing and methods of discipline.
Perhaps it would be wise for couples to have a conversation about their parenting philosophies before they are faced with the parenting challenges I see amongst my clients and within my own social circle.
As synchronized as couples might be in their work ethics, culture and religious beliefs, I see among my clientele a growing trend in couples who cannot agree on how to parent or discipline their children. Although they fundamentally agree on the message that they are trying to send, they disagree on how to relay that message.
Differing Parenting Philosophies:
Whose job is it to get up with the children during the night?
Clearly, this is not referring to a mother who is breastfeeding. (Although many would argue that even if a woman is breastfeeding, as soon as she is done the feeding, it should be her partner’s responsibility to get the baby’s diaper changed and back to sleep.) There is also the assumption that women, by default, much to their dismay, take on this role. In same-sex partnerships, I have seen a more equal division of labour.
Involvement of the grandparents.
How much is too much? How much is not enough? By involvement are we referring to physical access or are we also referring to discipline?
Couples have a tendency to disagree on this issue. While they want their children and their parents to have a relationship, they often disagree on how far grandparenting should go.
More often, when I see couples seeking guidance around this issue, it is usually the male partner who is more at ease with his parents (more so his mother) disciplining the children. His wife, however, often feels that this boundary is too fluid and that her in-laws might use this opportunity to undermine the structures and discipline that she has already put in place.
Criticisms on how our partners parent.
Who’s to say if there is a right or a wrong way to do something? Growing up, we become accustomed to doing things a certain way. We watch our parents manage the household, and we learn from their parenting philosophies, rightly or wrongly, how tasks get done.
When we get married and have children, we believe that certain tasks are supposed to get done in a certain way. But when we raise children with someone with different experiences, are we able to admit that sometimes, there is more than one way to achieve the same goal?
Couples have a very difficult time releasing control over what they feel is the right way, and it can become an ongoing source of conflict between them.
Disciplining our children.
Let’s face it, we all have our own ways of disciplining. We all grow up being disciplined differently. Some of us are strict. Some of us are more laid back. Some of us are not afraid to stand our ground with our children. Yet some of us are more worried about upsetting our children than the need to discipline them.
Our children pick up on these mixed messages. They see mom and dad disagreeing. They gravitate to the parent who will ultimately give in or discipline them less harshly.
The truth is that children are better off when their caregivers present a united front when it comes to discipline. Children thrive on consistency. And receiving mixed messages from parents has been shown to increase anxiety levels and insecurity.
So what is the answer?
Partners should take a few minutes together and discuss how they wish to approach their child on a matter that requires discipline.
Parents are better off walking away for a few minutes to discuss and regroup and then approach their child together.
Most significant, partners in parenting need to remember that parenting is a team effort. It really does take a village. If primary caregivers are prepared to communicate openly with one another, focus their efforts on supporting rather than contradicting each other, they might discover that they share more common ground in their approach to parenting than they initially realized.
Growing up, I always wanted to have a dog. I am an avid lover of animals. Throughout my childhood, we owned a rabbit, a pet duck, numerous birds, and finally when I was 13, my parents agreed to rescue a dog from the Humane Society.
Needless to say, I loved having a dog. Despite the responsibility and the numerous times when our beloved wheaten-terrier mix destroyed the house, bit our friends, or chased the mail carrier around the block (yes, we had one of those….), I knew one day, when my kids were old enough, we too would offer such an experience to them.
So fast forward 30 years, and here we are. My children are now the ones doing the begging. They have been asking for a dog since they started talking. Until recently, my husband and I were not ready. We needed to wait until our jobs and work hours were more stable and predictable, and that adding more chaos to the daily routine was realistically manageable.
Although I adored my childhood dog, the truth is, I know the responsibility and the added stressors that having a pet entails. But, I also recognize the physical benefits as well as all the emotional benefits that came along with having a dog.
Despite my personal experience, however, I don’t really think I realized the benefit of owning a pet until I was well into adulthood. As a therapist, over time I have seen first hand how pets can help a vast assortment of clients, in so many different ways. The emotional benefits of owning a pet have been compared in studies to actual human friendship. Pets are known to help your mind, body and spiritual health.
How can owning a dog benefit you emotionally?
#1 – A dog gets you outside which elevates your mood and exposes you to a natural source of Vitamin D.
#2 – A dog naturally helps you become more active. When your body is stronger and healthier, you are less susceptible to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
#3 – A dog helps build immunity against common allergens. The more you are exposed to such allergens from an early age, the less reactive you may become to them.
#4 – A dog lessens loneliness. A dog can distract you from life’s stressors or whatever else might be getting you down. Dogs can also sense when they are needed and are often a source of comfort when you are feeling down.
#5 – Dogs are great listeners. And unlike children, they do not hold grudges and they do not talk back.
#6 – Dogs love you unconditionally. They are always happy to see you, and are terrific in helping enhance your mood and increasing your self-esteem.
#7 – Dogs give you a purpose, especially if you often are overwhelmed with negative thoughts. Owning a dog means that a living creature is dependent on you for love, food and activity. Everyone needs to feel needed. And having a dog can help accomplish this while also lessening social alienation.
So, in case all are still wondering….my husband and I caved….We have officially contacted a breeder and are due to receive our puppy in the late spring. Am I crazy to add the extra responsibility to an already chaotic household? Probably.
Perhaps ask me this question again once the puppy is sleeping through the night and doing his business outside. But until then, I know the stressors will still be far outweighed by the benefits, and I am looking forward to having a ‘baby’ in the house again.
For the last three years, I have been co-facilitating a monthly infertility support group in my home. My colleague and I volunteer our time to help other men, women and couples that are struggling to start their family. The group is free of charge, and the group space allows for the opportunity to share resources, information, pain, and offer support to those who need it.
Back in 1999, when I began trying to start my family, there were no such intimate groups available in the city of Toronto.
It was a resource that was significantly lacking for a population of ‘fertility-challenged’ couples. By starting this group, it was my hope that couples could feel comfortable attending and expressing anything that was on their mind in a confidential, highly supportive environment among others who were also struggling.
As expected, there is often talk about the fertility process. Is it time to move on to invitro fertilization? Is it time to look into surrogates? What can I expect in terms of pain when my eggs are removed? In fact, no topic is off limits and there is very little we do not discuss.
The recurring theme, however, is that of loss. Miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies. Clients express that they are not sure how to feel. They often do not feel they have the right to mourn a pregnancy that they lost at 6 or 8 weeks, when they never felt the baby move or heard a heartbeat. The clients come to me confused and sad. They often do not know how to ask for, nor do they often feel they deserve, support from their loved ones.
The truth is, family and friends are often at a loss as to what to say or how to behave around someone who has miscarried.
Supporting Someone through a Miscarriage:
1) Accept that the pain is real, even when a miscarriage occurs early on. The pain and loss of losing a baby early on should never be diminished. In fact, minimizing this loss to the intended parents has been shown to have even more detrimental affects on their level of coping.
2) If you are not sure what to say, it is best to keep your wishes simple. “I am sorry for your loss” or “please let me know if there is anything I can do for you” are both lovely sentiments. Saying “I guess the baby was not strong enough” or “I guess it was not meant to be” are not appropriate. They are hurtful sentiments, even if made with the best of intentions.
3) Unless you have been through such a loss, please do not pretend to assume that you know what someone is feeling. The truth is, no matter how badly others want to empathize, unless they have been through this pain themselves, they cannot understand.
4) Allow the intended parents time to grieve. Do not tell them it’s time to move on. Only those experiencing the grief know when it is the right time to move on or try again.
5) Please do not pretend that nothing has happened. If there is an elephant in the room, acknowledge it. Do not try to avoid the subject, or ignore that something awful happened. Validate your loved one’s feelings by showing care and concern, not by pretending everything is just fine.
6) Know that the pain does ease over time, but couples will always struggle with their loss. Studies have shown that even years after a miscarriage, even after other children are born, talking about the loss brings couples right back to the pain and emotional space they were in when it first happened.
As someone who has experienced more than my share of miscarriages, I can attest that the emotional pain is real and raw. It makes us question what we have done wrong to deserve it, and why we feel we are being punished. Some people even start to question their faith in God.
Although miscarriages are often inevitable and most often not preventable, it is my hope that by educating others on how to help and respond to our grief, we will be able to ask for help, rely on our loved ones and navigate through our grief with a little more ease.
As my children get older, they are obviously learning to become more self-sufficient. For the most part, I am no longer needed for the basic every day mundane things such as bathing, grooming, brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.
Although these things sound so trivial, to me, this is an enormous accomplishment. Not only does it mean that my children are learning and have continued to learn to do these things for themselves, but their ability to be more self-sufficient has freed up time for me. This new-found free time lets me choose how I spend my time.
Wow, free time. What does one do with these tidbits of free time anyway?
Having just come back from holidays with my family, I recently learned something very interesting about parenting – the importance of having one-on-one time with each of my children.
To be honest, despite its importance and our level of enjoyment, this time alone does not happen too often. Life still gets in the way. Three children, three different sets of friends, social commitments, school commitments, extra curricular activities. Not to mention the fact that I work, run the home, and plan just about everything.
Until now, having some time alone with each of my children is something that has been difficult to achieve.
Children most certainly behave very differently one-on-one than in a group setting. This is especially true within a family unit, where one child might be more extroverted than another…causing the quieter child to somehow fade into the background…. It’s amazing how a personality emerges when there is no one else around.
Benefits of One-on-One Time:
Time alone builds CONFIDENCE. Within a family unit, it is often difficult to devote individual time to the needs and interests of one specific child. Children thrive when they feel that they matter, when they feel heard, and when they feel special and important. By spending time alone, we can embrace their interests, learn what makes them ‘tick’, and get to now them on a more intimate level.
Time alone builds SPECIAL MEMORIES. Memories that are shared between two people. Memories that only two people can laugh about. It is a wonderful way to bond.
Time alone builds CONNECTION. Children learn to feel connected when they realize that they are getting 100% of a parent’s attention. Children are more likely to open up and share their thoughts, feeling and fears with their parents when they are alone with them. What better way is there for a parent to engage with a child than when there are no other distractions?
Time alone DECREASES ATTENTION-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR. Children ‘act out’ when they feel they are not being heard, or being given sufficient attention. Although I am not condoning rewarding this type of behaviour, having time alone with our children will help alleviate the need to seek out validation by acting out or through other means.
Let’s face it, life is busy. And schedules and commitments get in the way. Despite our good intentions, for most parents, spending a whole day alone with one child is not always feasible or realistic. However, parents can learn to maximize their opportunities and take advantage, as much as possible, of the time they do have. Even if this means asking one child to join us on our errands, or having them help us cook dinner.
As the Reverend Jesse Jackson has said most eloquently, “Your children need your presence more than your presents.”.
As we all know, life with children is busy…extremely busy. At times, I cannot believe how quickly time goes by. I often I look at my children and want time to slow down, just a little bit, so that I may experience them at this stage for just a little bit longer.
As a parent of multiple children, there are many firsts that I missed with one child but am able to fully experience with another. And I thank God every day for those second chances.
In recent months, my youngest child has been asking repeatedly to have a sleepover with one of her friends. She is only six and a half years old, and with no extended family here in Toronto, and limited opportunities, she has had very little experience sleeping anywhere without mom and dad in the next room.
For months, I was reluctant to say yes. After all, she still needs me or my husband to rub her back to help her fall asleep, or to take her to the bathroom at 11 PM to avoid any unnecessary mishaps.
As her mother, the last thing I wanted was a call in the middle of the night to come to get her, or fear that an accident or nightmare would embarrass her to the extent that she would never want to sleep out of the house again. I wanted her first sleepover experience to be successful, and subsequently for her to feel pride and accomplishment and just a little bit more grown up.
So I avoided it the topic. I avoided allowing her to have a friend sleep over, or have her sleep out.
That is, until this past weekend.
Earlier last week, yet again, my daughter asked for a friend to come over. She had witnessed her sisters, numerous times, having friends here, and all the fun and mischief that ensued (all innocent, of course…)….pillow fights, movies with popcorn, games, etc. She wanted this, too.
This time I relented. I agreed to have a friend come here for the night. That was my compromise. Saturday night was sleepover night.
My daughter was beyond excited. Saturday night could not come soon enough.
The moment she woke up Saturday, she cleaned off the floor of her room to make sure there was enough space for her friend and the stuffed animals they were going to have join them for their tea party.
Throughout the day, numerous times, she would ask me when ‘night time would come’. We were both filled with anticipation, and watching her prepare for this first brought so much joy to both my husband and myself.
And the night was a total success. Fun was had by all. Bedtime was relatively painless. No one got up with nightmares or wanting to go home. There were no wetting accidents. In my book, it was win-win all around.
And as her mother, I was elated. Elated that I can watch my daughter bask in such glee over a mere play date, but also because I was proud of myself for not letting my fear of something getting in the way interfere with my daughter’s desire to grow and experience new things.
And I realized more than ever that it is often our fear or anxiety that hinders growth in our children, not necessarily the reluctance from children themselves.
So as I pause, and take it all in, I try to hold on to my youngest daughter’s innocence just a little bit longer, knowing full well that next time she will request to sleep out, or go away to summer camp, or walk by herself to a friend’s house, or take public transit for the first time…All these experiences are waiting for her. And although I am reluctant to let that little girl grow up too quickly, I am so looking forward to being a part of that roller coaster ride.
Let’s face it. For many families, getting up in the morning and ready for school and work is often the same stressful experience, day after day. Although some children can just jump out of bed and get moving, most children need prodding. Lots and lots of prodding. And in many households, parents do not have the luxury of spending a lot of time getting their children physically up. Nor should they have to.
There are strategies that parents can try to help the morning routine be a little less painful:
#1 – Prepare the Night Before
The less we need to remember in the morning, the better. The more organized a family can be before the morning chaos begins, the smoother the morning will run. It’s a great habit for children and parents alike to ensure that lunches are made, water bottles are filled, backpacks are packed and by the door, homework is completed, permission forms and tests are signed, and clothes are taken out the night before.
#2 – Get Enough Sleep
Like many adults, many kids have trouble falling asleep. They either have trouble settling down, or they feel the need to talk endlessly about their day just when it is time for lights out.
Falling asleep is also difficult for teens who biologically have a very difficult time getting to sleep before 11 PM.
Whatever the case may be, all children are different. Even within the same household, the rules around sleep routine and bedtime can vary significantly between children. If children have trouble getting up in the morning, their bedtime needs to be adjusted, at least until they can handle being able to fully function on less sleep.
#3 – Hand Over the Responsibility Torch
By about 8 years of age, (and for some children, even younger) children have the capacity to get themselves up and completely ready on their own. Parents need to stop taking responsibility for getting their kids out of bed on time. If children are completely dependent on their parents to wake them, how will they ever learn to do this themselves?
We need to hand over the responsibility of getting up and out of bed back to our children. Younger children can be woken up by their parents. Older children (about 11 years of age), should be setting their own alarm clocks and getting up on their own.
Children need to be given the clear message that if they do not get themselves ready, or if they get to school late, they will suffer the consequences…detention? Less time to write a test? Embarrassment walking into class late and disrupting the lesson?
If children are still too young for these types of consequences, they can be assigned extra chores at home to make up for the time parents lose trying to motivate them.
Parents can also remind their children that if they are not out of the house on time, then they too will be late for work. Often, kids are motivated when the consequences affect more than just themselves.
#4 – Break Down Responsibilities into Manageable Parts
Even if they are out of bed on time, some children become overwhelmed with everything they need to do.
In our home, for my two younger children, we have created a checklist (with accompanying pictures) that we leave on their mirror. They can refer to if they are unsure what the next task is…. brush teeth, comb hair, put dirty laundry in the bin, check with Mom or Dad that their clothes are weather appropriate, turn off the lights when leaving the room, etc. All this, accompanied with some cool tunes blaring from the iPod, helps them get the mojo going.
Do these checklists always work? Absolutely not. But they do provide a reference for children and give them a sense of their responsibilities.
Many parents can attest that getting their children out of bed can be tough. Kids need to be motivated. Some children are harder to motivate than others. If our children get their responsibilities completed first, they receive praise, and are rewarded with extra time for TV, more cuddles, a few extra bucks in their pocket, and most importantly, trust and respect from their parents.
Managing our feelings around infertility, at any time, is a difficult endeavor.
After all, struggling with infertility leaves us feeling overwhelmed, resentful and out of control.
It is particularly difficult to manage private emotions on holidays, at birthday parties or baby showers, when we are surrounded by family and friends who have an incessant need to ask, “So…when are you going to start a family?” or “Are you guys trying yet?” or “Come on, make me a grandmother already!”
Unfortunately, these sentiments, although intended with the greatest of love, can hurt a couple struggling with infertility so deeply to the core, that they are left winded and unable to respond.
So how do couples with infertility cope when they are surrounded by family? How can they manage their own feelings of envy when others announce pregnancies or other good news?
Tips to Manage Feelings when Struggling with Infertility:
Tip #1 – Couples can role-play with their partner or best friend on how best to answer questions. There is nothing more anxiety provoking than being caught off guard. Keep answers simple and direct without divulging any information that you or your partner would like kept private.
Tip #2 – Plan your social calendar wisely. It’s ok to say ‘no’ to some invitations. Figure out exactly how much family-togetherness and how many inappropriate questions you can handle. And then decide which functions are most important to attend.
Tip #3 – Until you have been able to master the skills to deal with your emotional triggers, it is all right at certain times to avoid these triggers altogether. I propose this solution to my clients strictly as a temporary solution, as avoiding dealing with your feelings serves no purpose other than to prolong the hurt.
For example, when my husband and I were going through our own journey of infertility, we suffered many losses and much fear of the unknown. For whatever reason, whenever I found myself at a shopping mall, I would get extremely anxious and upset. It did not seem rational to me and it made me question if there was something wrong with me. It took me a lot of time to realize that seeing all the children, all the babies in their strollers, and all the other pregnant women in such a confined area, was what was pushing me over the top. At this time, I temporarily avoided these large crowded places until I was better able to get my feelings under wraps and not break down. Slowly, I was able to reintegrate myself into these crowds and expose myself to these uneasy feelings.
Tip #4 – Always remember that feelings are feelings. And they are not right or wrong. Give yourself permission to feel sad or deprived, anxious or depressed. Infertility is emotionally difficult, and you are entitled to your feelings. Do not ever let anyone tell you not to feel a certain way. There is nothing more dismissive than being told, “Get over it,” or “Don’t worry…it’ll happen when it happens…” Allow yourself permission to take care of yourself.
Tip #5 – Surround yourself with people who make you feel comfortable, allow you to really be yourself, and those who would understand if you suddenly start to cry or leave the room to catch your breath. It’s all right to be sad and envious and happy all at the same time. It is also all right to walk away for a moment and have a cry if you need it.
Coping with infertility is an exceptionally daunting task. If you are lucky, you will have friends and family members who get it. Everyone means well as they try to support us during this difficult time, and do not intentionally try to hurt us further. But the truth is, unless you have experienced it on some level yourself, it is almost impossible to comprehend the levels of distress we experience.
So if you need to walk away, then do it. If you need to cry a little, so be it. If you need to skip an event, then go for it. Do what you need to do, and take care of yourself.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Okay moms and dads out there… I have to ask… Do you have a sassy tween girl and are you dealing with her constant obnoxious attitude and her back-talking?
Over the last few months, I have seen a shift in my daughter’s level of defiance. Although underneath she is still the same fabulous, outgoing and conscientious young lady as always, lately our day-to-day conversations seem plagued with rolling of the eyes, arguments over the most mundane issues, and just plain attitude.
I have to say, that in our case, this attitude shift started when she returned from summer camp. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming her summer camp for her change in behaviour. The camp experience is one that I whole-heartedly support and I feel is important on so many levels. Too many levels to name for the sake of this blog.
However, with two months of freedom under her belt, and with no one to tell her how to dress or what and when to eat, there were consequences. Consequences that we needed to evaluate and renegotiate once she got home.
So how can we get this extreme sense of entitlement and sassy attitude under wraps?
Tips for Parents Dealing With Tweens:
1) Try not to take your tween’s behaviour personally. Although it might feel like their foul mouths are directed straight toward you, rest assured that they behave this way amongst themselves. If I had not seen it first hand, I would never have believed it either.
2) Sit and listen, and don’t judge everything that comes out of your tween’s mouth. This is not easy to do, especially when it seems that just about everything that our children say or do is the complete opposite of the way we feel we raised them to behave.
3) Remember that it is completely natural for tweens to argue with us. They are assessing their sense of independence. They are learning the skills to become independent, well-adjusted adults. Even if right now we feel like throttling them.
4) Model the type of behaviour that you wish to instill in your children. By being patient and empathic, and by trying to get to the ‘root’ of our tween’s feelings, you are actually teaching your children to be respectful. Patience and calmness are in. Yelling and threatening are out.
5) Find some humour in their attitude. Although extremely difficult at times to do, being able to laugh at your situation will actually prevent you from totally losing your mind.
6) Encourage your children to ‘take 10’. If your tween is being rude and out of control, encourage her to take a break. Walk away. And think about her behaviour. Parents also need to walk away when they feel they are going to do or say something that they might regret. By walking away and ignoring the back talk, our tweens learn that their smart mouths are not going to score any points with Mom or Dad.
Despite all of these great suggestions, the truth is, this is all new to me as a mother, and I am still working on finding out what works best for us in our home.
I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, keep calm, and drink wine.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Change is difficult for many people, particularly for children. When my children were younger, it was not uncommon for them to shy away from new people by hiding behind my husband or me, avoiding making eye contact, or ignoring that new person altogether.
Although children are resilient, many have trouble adapting to new situations specifically when their core family lies at the centre of these changes.
There is a lot of research which addresses how to help children adapt to meeting their mother’s or father’s new significant other. The research, however, is mixed in its findings.
I have found both in my practice, as well as within my own social circle, that children will adapt best to their changing situations when parents are able to adhere to several basic principles.
These principles are as follows:
#1 – Ensure the introduction to a significant other is done in a time-sensitive manner, while keeping in mind the emotional and cognitive level of your child.
There is no ‘norm’ as to what this timeline should look like, as every relationship is different as are the coping levels of your children. And timing needs to be adapted to the needs of the child; what is a good time for one child, for instance, might be entirely too soon for another.
Introducing your children to each partner you have, could be confusing for the child. It is wise, therefore, to ensure that the new relationship is not a passing one and has potential for longevity.
#2 – Parents should try to treat this fear or anxiety as they would other childhood fears.
Parents often underestimate the impact that having a new partner can have on their children. For some children, the experience can be quite traumatic yet is often dismissed by parents who do not quite understand the effect that it is having.
Like with other fears or anxieties, exposure to a new significant other is best done in stages. The conversations are best started weeks before the intended first meeting. Slowly introduce your children to the idea of a partner, while at the same time try to assess their response to the idea.
#3 – Parents must ensure that they continue to have time alone with each of their children even while in a relationship with a significant other.
Let’s face it….It is important to have one-on-one time with our children no matter what. The individualized attention is healthy for parent and child and allows for some significant quality time.
This time is even more essential for children whose parents are split. These children often feel like they need to compete for their parents’ time and attention, making them more vulnerable. Parents need to ensure that they carve out time with their children to reinforce that the new partner has not taken their time away.
#4 – Ensure your ex-partner is aware of your new situation.
If you share custody of your children, as soon as the children are to be told or meet a significant other, it is advisable for parents to inform their ex-partners of their new romantic situation.
Children cannot turn their feelings off just at the flick of a switch. Having transparency with your ex about your relationship status provides children with the support they need regardless of which parent is taking care of them. If the relationship between the ex-spouses is a toxic one, it is wise to ensure that the child has another adult in whom they could confide.
Regardless of circumstance, introducing our children to a new significant other is a major step in any relationship.
As parents, it is imperative to remind ourselves that change and acceptance take time, and do not happen overnight.
In order for our children to be able to adjust, we must be patient with them, allow them to ask questions, and not be surprised if we encounter a little resistance along the way.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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