Eastenders storyline poses common problem for divorced or separated couples introducing children to a new partner

21 Oct 2011

An interesting storyline is currently developing in Eastenders where Syed has just discovered that his estranged wife, Amira gave birth to a daughter following their separation. Having returned to the Square, Amira is keen for Syed to have contact with their daughter, but is not prepared to allow Syed's gay partner, Christian to be involved.'

Coming to terms with a separation or divorce is usually a challenge enough without having to then confront the ex's wish to introduce a new partner to the children. It is often the case, therefore, that the "resident" parent refuses contact with the "non-resident" parent unless they promise not to involve the new partner.

It is the responsibility of the adults to place the welfare of their children at the forefront of their mind and in the vast majority of cases, the children's welfare dictates that there should be a continuing relationship between children and both parents. Depending on the length of time since their parents separated and having regard to their age, the children may also still be coming to terms with the fact that Mum and Dad are no longer living together and may be struggling to understand why Mum or Dad are now involved with someone else. Emotions and tensions will be running high and these issues need to be dealt with sensitively by the adults.

Whilst the children come to terms with the fact that their family is changing, it is important to ensure they are given reassurance that although their parents may no longer love each other, the children are still loved. This can best be achieved by the children spending quality time with each parent and, until they are used to the idea that Mum or Dad may have moved on from the separation, preferably in the absence of a new partner.

The introduction of a new partner is a sensitive issue, not only for the "left behind" parent, but also for the children. They may be confused by the new arrangements and be concerned that Mum or Dad are trying to introduce a replacement parent. They may even feel that Mum or Dad are more interested in their new partner than them and receiving less attention from their parents after a separation is upsetting.

Introductions should therefore be dealt with carefully and sensitively and only once both parties are satisfied that the relationship is settled and "long-term". Children should not be rushed into meeting a new partner or be expected to spend long periods of time with them during contact visits as this may lead to the children suffering feelings of guilt that they may in some way be betraying their other parent.

Wherever possible, the parents should discuss between themselves the existence of a new relationship and agree how best to introduce the children to the new partner before doing so. This will enable both parents to support the children through the challenges they will face as they adjust to the changes in their family circumstances.

Returning to the fictional world of East Enders, It remains to be seen whether Syed will place his daughter's need to form a relationship with her father above his own established relationship with his partner, Christian.