So you’re dating someone with children, and it’s starting to get serious. It’s time to meet your lover’s children. How can you make a good first impression and ensure this relationship gets started on the right track? The following advice will help you out.
- Plan for the possibility that things might not go well
Children aren’t always so thrilled about letting new people into their world, especially people who are going after the affections of their mother or father while threatening to become a new authority figure in their life. In one study, 9% of people reported having strongly negative first meetings with their partner’s children. The good news is that their future success rate in a stepfamily was almost exactly the same as those who had positive first meetings, likely because it provided a sobering dose of reality. (Artlip et al., 1993, p. 35)
So be prepared for the possibility that things might not go well. If a child is standoffish or hostile towards you, don’t take it personally or be rude or hostile towards them in return. Understand that these feelings are derived from hurt (they were traumatized by a divorce and still want their old family back) or insecurity (they’re afraid of the changes you might represent or are worried you’ll interfere with their relationship with their parent). So recognize them for what they are: wounded children. If a child was bleeding in the streets and snapped at you when you came upon them, you wouldn’t kick them or try to hurt them back. Respond with the same amount of empathy and understanding in this situation:
- I can see you’re not thrilled to meet me, but I hope someday I can get to know you a lot better.
- I might feel the same way at first if I were in your shoes.
- Should you buy the children a gift?
Many potential stepparents are so concerned with starting off on the right track that they’ll buy all the children gifts on their first meeting. But this can set up a problematic pattern for the future. Children might come to expect it, and lavishing them with gifts doesn’t develop a bond with them, it covers up the absence of a strong bond.
So if you buy gifts for the kids, make it something small…a box of chocolates they can share or some other small gift. Don’t be lavishing them with new video games, and don’t bring a gift every time. If you are inclined to do something bigger down the road, think about gifts that provide shared experiences rather than possessions, such as a trip to an amusement park or a paintball excursion.
- Talk with your partner ahead of time
Get with your partner and have them tell you some useful things about each child ahead of time. What are their likes & dislikes? Who are their friends? What are they most proud of? If they have a hobby or favorite sports team, learn a little something about it yourself. Knowing some of these things ahead of time will help you avoid awkward silences and give you things to talk about. It also shows that you care enough to learn about the children.
- Talk up your own children
Talk up your new partner ahead of time with your children. What do you like about him? How is he fun? Don’t overdo it or set up unrealistic expectations, but try to plant a few positive ideas in their mind.
If both of you have kids and there will be a stepsibling dynamic involved, do the same for the other person’s kids. Tell them a few interesting things about each child or talk up their strong points, so that they have a few positive images about them when meeting for the first time.
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