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How Do I Introduce a New Authority Figure Who Isn't Mom or Dad?

​This information is included in our Guide to Parenting for Today's Family. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

When parents get divorced or separate, it's expected that they'll eventually find other life-partners. Adding a new adult who is not a child's parent to the parenting mix can be tricky and can impact how children are disciplined. 

Initially, a new non-parent authority figure should take a support role in rearing a child, at least until children get better acquainted with and used to him or her being in the home. Rather than using discipline in response to bad behavior, that adult should concentrate on proactive parenting - preparing children for particular situations and offering praise for positive behavior. Correction, discipline and consequences should be left up to the primary parent, at least at the beginning of the relationship.

So how do you explain the presence of a new significant other? First, and most importantly, wait until you're sure your new relationship is serious enough to bring up the subject with your kids. Introducing an adult with whom you have a casual relationship as a potential authority figure can confuse children. This also can affect authority issues if you later develop a more serious relationship with another person.

Once you do introduce a new partner, allow your children to voice any concerns they may have. Don't judge their opinion and don't try to "talk them into" accepting the relationship or liking the person. And timing is everything. Make sure everyone is ready to move forward with the new relationship, not just you. Try to pick a time of relative calm to introduce the relationship to your kids. If there's a lot of stress and chaos going on - going through a move, kids are struggling in school or a death in the family - it might be best to wait until things settle down.​​