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How to Introduce Your Teenage Kids to Your New Partner

Will your teens accept your new love? Follow these tips for minimal drama


spinner image parent introducing child to new partner while child blows bubble gum
ILLUSTRATION BY CHRISTINE RÖSCH

After her divorce, Oksana Marafioti, 49, a writer in Las Vegas, spent 10 years dating for fun. Then, in 2021, she met her current partner, Tyler. “This felt different,” she recalls. A few months in, she told her two sons that she wanted them to meet her new beau. “Great,” the then 14-year-old son responded, only half joking. “You are going to ruin my life!”

It’s a common dilemma among single parents: how to introduce a partner to a skeptical or reluctant teenager.

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According to pediatric health psychologist Emily Edlynn of Oak Park, Illinois, your split from your child’s other parent can influence how the introduction goes. “If there is a lot of unresolved emotional distress, adding a new adult to the mix will be more complicated,” she says.

Your child’s developmental stage makes a difference as well, says Samantha Rodman Whiten, a clinical psychologist and host of The Dr. Psych Mom Show podcast. Teens can be leery of anything that might shake up their own day-to-day lives. “There’s something called healthy adolescent narcissism, which is a stage that any parent knows,” Whiten says. “They can be really self-centered.”

That said, conflict is not inevitable. We asked experts to share guidelines for negotiating this transition. ​

Test the waters​

“Kids this age pick up on everything,” says Elizabeth Cohen, a clinical psychologist and author of Light on the Other Side of Divorce. Assume your kid knows there’s a new person in your life, and follow their lead on how much detail they want, Cohen suggests. ​​​

Don’t jump the gun​​

“You don’t need to introduce your teen to every one-date wonder,” says Ann-Louise Lockhart, a child and adolescent psychologist and parent coach in San Antonio. Still, make the introduction before years go by. John McElhenney, 61, a life coach in Austin, Texas, had an agreement with his ex-wife to wait six months before introducing their two kids to anyone new. ​​“I didn’t want to wait forever,” he recalls. “When I met my now fiancée, it was important to see how she would get along with my daughter and son. If she resented the time and attention I spent on them, I knew it wouldn’t work out.” ​

Keep things light

​A first meeting should be brief, with low stakes. Think smoothies in the park, not an all-day beach hangout. “Awkward but funny” is how Marafioti describes the first meeting between her partner and her sons, at a breakfast spot. “My older son asked my boyfriend, ‘What are your intentions with our mom?’ That cracked all of us up.” ​

Expect some blowback​

Early reviews of your squeeze may be less than ecstatic. Don’t rise to the bait. “Teens tend to externalize their emotions and want to off-load them on you,” says Edlynn. “If they are feeling anxious about a new person entering the picture, they might express that by blowing up at you.” ​

Accept new information​

Consider your teen’s opinions carefully, and hear out any concerns they may have. They might be picking up on things you’re not. “Are they giving him the thumbs-down because they think his jokes were corny, or was there something he did or said that made them truly uncomfortable?” Whiten asks.​

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Establish house rules

​Teens don’t want to think about their parents as sexual beings, but if you’re in a long-term, committed relationship, you’re eventually going to want your partner to spend the night. Like any good housemate, give your kids a heads-up before that happens. ​

Remember: They’re kids​

Teenagers can seem independent, but they still crave your love and support. Alicia Reitz, 52, a secondary school teacher in Toronto, made a point of spending lots of time with just her two teens while they were getting to know her partner. “I didn’t want my kids to feel that every time they are spending time with me, my partner would be there too,” she says. ​​​

Think big picture

​Even if they’re a bit resistant in high school, your kids may be relieved you won’t be alone when they go off to college. Says insurance agent Lisamarie Monaco, 51, of Blackshear, Georgia, a divorced and remarried mom of four: “My kids are in their 20s, and they want me to be happy. I appreciate the chance to model a healthy, loving relationship for them.” ​

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