Suzy Miller writes for Wikizine on parenting. I've just read the Times article "The Step Family Files: dealing with new partners" and all the upset, indignation and confusion that is reflected in the comments.
I see this situation occur with both sexes and telling couples to 'discuss these things amicably' is like telling two hungry dogs to have a friendly chat over who gets to chew on the bone. Families need mentorship and training, where they can openly express their fears and resentment of new partners no matter how 'illogical' or hypocritical. There is no room for judgment here - more useful is creating honest lines of communication, and I see a role for mediators to encourage a step by step guide for making a bad situation gradually work better, putting the welfare of the children at the heart.
There are online groups that can help, like www.successfulsingleparenting.com, who deal head-on with the issues created by becoming 'blended families', and Resolution have accredited parenting courses which can help prepare divorcing couples for the complexities of parenting apart.
Perhaps what is most hard to accept, is that bringing new partners into your life will inevitably have consequences on children and ex partners. Parents who want to take on new relationships with the same ease as pre-parenthood may be in for a shock - as a sole parent, you are never really 'single', with the freedoms we associate with that. At least, not until the kids have left home, by which time most of my potential dates will be wondering if their knees will hold out for another ski trip and may no longer fancy a night out in a pub watching a live band.
But consideration for your children when going back into dating does not have to require a long term sacrifice of creating quality relationships with others - albeit new partners will have to accept that they are becoming part of a complex family situation. I have felt the consequences of that in my own life, and seen it as the creator of the Starting Over Show.
I didn't like it much at first, but now see that a quality relationship can be strengthened by the rigors of working together to keep children and ex-s feeling secure, and also I've learned not to beat myself up over the inevitable fact that kids do get drawn into their parents' love lives whether we like it or not, and keeping everything 'separate' prevents forming relationships with new partners who want to share and be part of your family. Even the way you meet new potential partners can be influenced positively to prioritize other single people who have an awareness and understanding of the patience required when going out with a sole parent and their associated children, ex's and previous history, which is why using introduction agencies where interviews take place can be wiser than taking your chances on the internet sites.
Forget about perceptions of 'justice' and indignation over hypocritical ex's who seem to want their cake and eat it, even though sometimes the way children are introduced to one or more 'new parent partners' can seem crass and brutal and is enough to make you scream. Focus instead on balancing what is to be lost and what is really to be gained by sharing every aspect of your lives with your children just because it suits you, and without sensitivity to when it would best suit them. And when you do bring new partners into their lives - don't expect them to like them as much as you do. Why should they?
Suzy Miller is the creator and producer of the Starting Over Shows in London & Brighton March 2010.