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Children and New Relationships

Submitted By Benjamin Yates:

When and how you introduce children to your new friend is a delicate balancing act. Keeping children a secret means starting the relationship off on a lie.

And keeping your love-life hidden until a surprise breakfast tray gets dumped into the wrong lap one Sunday morning could be disastrous. But avoid the temptation to fix up jolly days at the zoo in the first few months – everyone needs time to get used to the idea.

Introductions

Your date – even if they are only casual – needs to know you have other people in your life. Arrange to meet and say “Give me time to make sure the kids are settled – don’t worry if I’m a few minutes late”. If they stick around they’ll soon realise that you and the children s come as a package deal. To pave the way with your family, talk about this new person in your life before they meet. As the relationship progresses keep them up to date. This doesn’t mean giving them blow-by-blow descriptions of your love-life. Just tell them you’re seeing someone and what they’re like.

A new Mum?

It can be very tempting to move in a new partner and expect everyone to accept them as a new parent. But as far as most children are concerned, they already have two parents and however poorly the job is done, they remain the only Dad or Mum they want. Very young children, or children who have never known the other parent, may accept a new step-parent and settle fairly easily. But you can expect older ones to act up. A child who has had to take on responsibilities with one parent gone may feel this is a rival and become critical and argumentative.

Not bad but sad

Teens may flaunt their own sexual experiments, as if to say “If you can do it, so can I”. Defiance is common in all ages, with the challenge “You can’t tell me what to do – you’re not my Dad/Mum”. However upset or angry you may feel, try to put yourself in the young person’s place and understand what may be behind this. A new adult is the final proof of their worst nightmare – their parent’s marriage has broken up forever. And if they do actually like her, it’s even more confusing because that adds guilt over disloyalty to their other parent.

While you can ask they behave politely, it helps if you can accept they aren’t being unreasonable or unfair to you in finding it difficult. They haven’t chosen this situation. Talk to them, reassure them, listen to them and give them time.

My girlfriend’s children hate me and do their best to bust us up. She’s such a nice person – how can these horrible kids be hers?

Children aren’t horrible – they act horribly. And they do so because they’ve had a terrible thing happen to them – their family has broken apart. They don’t hate you but what you represent, and they hope against hope that if you go, their father will return. See them as hurting rather than evil and be sympathetic rather than angry.

When should I let my girlfriend stay overnight for the first time?

Once your children have got to know her and recognise the relationship has some meaning. Tell them to expect her there next morning – don’t spring it on them.

Should I ask my children if my new partner and I should get married?

Tell them you’ve decided this, include them in planning the event and allow them to have both positive and negative feelings about it. But don’t ask their permission, because it’s your life and your decision, not theirs.

Next Steps

  • Tell your date about your children, your children about your date from the beginning. Both need to know the other exists.
  • Make a first meeting between your date and your children casual and quick and increase time together by minutes rather than hours over a period of weeks.
  • Set aside some time every day to both talk and listen to your children.
  • Discuss and agree ‘house rules’ that everyone is expected to keep, and anyone can demand, whether or not they’re a parent.
  • Ask for help if you need it – don’t let pride stop you.

Need to Knows

  • a new relationship is a new beginning for you. For your children, it’s the final end to their original family. You have reason to rejoice, they have every reason to mourn.
  • don’t try to introduce someone on a first date. Let them know from the beginning that you do have children, but don’t impose either on each other.
  • you deserve a life and love of your own. But don’t get so wrapped up that you forget your children’s feelings or needs.
  • the new person may replace your partner, but while he or she may become a significant other in your children’s lives, they can’t replace their parent.
  • remember – children tend to act bad when they’re sad. Instead of punishing them for what they’re doing, discuss and deal with what they’re feeling.

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