This is a potential mine field with lots of strong emotions in various directions. It's a question we are asked about in mediation so thought we would quote Penelope Leach from her book Family Breakdown with her consent. It would be interesting to hear thoughts from differing perspectives on this point too. We will put it on twitter, googleplus and Facebook.
"Parents separate for "grown-up" reasons and often because one or both of them want a new and different "grown up" life.
Sometimes those reasons are clear fault lines in the original marriage, such as one or both partners being abusive, alcoholic or perhaps addicted to drugs or gambling. But often these grown up reasons are to do with having found, or being on the lookout for, a new sexual partnership and when that's the case it's especially difficult to put children first.
If your marriage is falling apart primarily over an affair with another man or woman, children will soon know and if they are old enough to think about other people's relationships at all- over seven say-will probably see the stranger as having straightforwardly stolen one parent from another. There is a childish parallel in shifting best friendships at school and children may find such a "theft" a more comprehensible - and even forgivable - reason for parents separating than the incomprehensible emotional betrayal of just not loving each other anymore. But if children usually forgive the "stolen" parent-as-victim, they may not easily forgive the person who "stole" him or her. If the love affair turns out to be a life affair this can be a nightmarish route into step-parenting.
If another person comes on your scene after you have separated and new living arrangements have been achieved, do your ex the courtesy of telling him or her before anyone else does. Don't be in a hurry to tell your children though, or to introduce him or her to them. They may deeply resent anyone who even looks like edging into a missing parents place, but that's the less dire of two equally probable possibilities. Children who have recently lost their taken-for-granted-everyday father are often easily enraptured by the making-an-effort charms of a new candidate. If he plays football in the garden with the middle one, shoulders the little one on walks , talks usefully to the eldest about her forthcoming exam and makes you laugh, he may soon be a welcome visitor and within weeks an important part of the children's life. If the two of you then decide that the relationship is not going anywhere-and face it, not many affairs do-childish hearts will be broken all over again. Not because losing this lover man is as bad as losing their dad, but because losing their dad has left them acutely vulnerable to loss and the household short of an adult male. Although children react differently to changes to a household they visit rather than live in, roughly the same possibilities apply if the children's father introduces a new lover.
Research on this point is rather sparse but what there is suggests that it's best to keep the new person merely as one of your friends in the children's eyes, holding back any sense of the relationship being special and any business of theirs until you are truly convinced that it is going to be long lasting and a partnership is planned between you and ready for implementation.
Until that time comes (if it ever does)
- Don't have a new partner staying overnight with you when the children are in the house. Their reaction to finding you in bed or in the shower will vary according to their ages but every variation will be disastrous.
- Don't underestimate children's ability to pick up clues to this "friendship" being special. It doesn't take an intimate garment of clothing in the laundry basket to raise a child's suspicions; switching to their preferred brand of tea or changing the newspaper may be enough.
- If the children live with you don't encourage - or even allow parent like behaviour with your children, "
Perhaps we will leave this blog for now as the above is quite a lot to digest alone, and there is more on this point from Penelope. The above isn't an easy list to follow when parents may be keen to move on, seeking an exciting new relationship in the midst of horrid and traumatic divorce proceedings and or selling the family home. A second relationship is so much more complex when there are children involved.