When a Parent Takes a New Partner

Any time the configuration of a family changes, it can be difficult. From complex situations such as divorce, to seemingly simpler ones such as bringing a new baby home to a waiting sibling, shifts can be tough. That can be especially true when, after a separation of some sort, one parent introduces a new partner. Easing that girlfriend or boyfriend into the already upended world of the children can be complicated, to say the least.

Recently, Ewan McGregor’s daughter admitted she was angry and upset when she called his girlfriend Mary Elizabeth Winstead “trash.” She has owned up to the public slam, but it raises the question of handling feelings – particularly when they are negative – surrounding a parent’s partner. There are so many raw emotions swirling around, it is really no wonder things can get heated. So what do you do if your kid badmouths your partner?

When this happens, because you are so upset you may look to respond by punishing the child, not talking to him or her, or by verbally attacking the child. And while that might feel good in the moment, instead consider taking a gentler approach.

Try to remain open-minded so that you can attempt to understand what happened even if you don’t like what was said or done. Make an effort to address the deeper issue in terms of what is driving their anger, sarcasm, or disrespect. Use empathy, whereby you can imagine what it is like in your son’s or daughter’s shoes, so you might better appreciate what they are going through. Why is your son or daughter having a hard time accepting this new person in your, and consequently their, life? It might be because they are seeing the newcomer as a replacement for their father or mother. Or, they may be viewing your new partner as a competitor for your time and attention. Additionally, it may even be that your partner actually did say or do something to provoke their lashing out.

If you find yourself in such a situation, the best tactic is to have an honest conversation and get to the heart of the matter. Begin by acknowledging your child’s anger and frustration. Ask them directly what has made them upset, even questioning whether there was any sort of incident that prompted it. Once that is determined or ruled out, ask them how they are feeling about your new partner.

Give them a chance to explore their worries and fears. After you establish what is going on, and what caused the outburst, you can begin to come to terms with it and hopefully find a solution, or at least discover a way to make everyone feel better and more comfortable. Reassure them that while things may change, your bond with them and their importance to you will remain the same. Planning some together time can be helpful to convey this message.

When you create space for the feelings your children have, you take one of the first big steps toward actually making room for this new person in all of your lives. Once that process has begun, the hope is that your kids will begin to accept this person and relate to them as a family gain rather than as a loss. Hopefully Ewan McGregor’s daughter has been able to do just that.

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