I have had the pleasure of working with families during their transitions, their initial divorce, post-divorce modifications or a second marriage. I started using the language “Bonus Parents and Bonus Kids” when children had anxiety around the idea of a stepparent. I remember as a kid thinking all stepparents must be like Cinderella’s evil stepmother. Kiddos that I counsel still have those fears at times. I learned calling a stepparent a “bonus” for them, another adult to love on them, help them with homework, doing their laundry and cooking their meals, helps children to understand that second marriages isn’t something to fear, but something to embrace. Children are born with a heart the size of Texas and there is so much room to love many, love often and love people of all ages. They just need to not fear that love.
I find it’s harder to help parents adjust to the idea of a step-parent.
The anxiety around sharing their child with another parent of the same sex is difficult for many of my clients. When I can frame it for them, the perspective of a bonus kiddo for them to take care of, that doesn’t take away from their biological children, just extra kiddos to love on from a different perspective. Parents seem to be able to process and think through those different roles and dynamics. It appears to me that adults worry more about sharing their children with others than children sharing their parent.
If parents can allow their children enough time to heal from the initial divorce, adjust well to living in two homes, the natural next step is for their parents to start dating. When this process moves at the child’s pace, (the actual introduction of significant others, not when a parent actually starts dating) I find their worries and fears are greatly diminished. I’ve also experienced waiting 6 months to introduce your children to others, decreased their co-parent’s anxiety and stress greatly and met with less resistance and conflict.
3 Rules of Thumb
My rule of thumb for parents, 6 months, please allow children at least 6 months to adjust to living in two homes before the introductions of others begin. My second rule of thumb, tell your co-parent beforehand. The more information that co-parents share that impact their children, will allow for better communication, less conflict and hopefully the rebuilding of trust in your newly divorced co-parenting relationship. Lastly, please remember that children love their parents; they love their parents regardless of which home they are sleeping in at night. Their hearts are large and bonus adults in our children’s lives can be a blessing.