Children can have a hard time accepting a parent's new partner -- and they can make it known, writes Geraldine Lynagh
Michael thought he was quite a cool Dad. When his three kids from his first marriage came to stay, he gave them voting rights over any decisions that needed to be made.
That backfired spectacularly when he asked permission for his new girlfriend, Ellen, to stay over. Ballots were cast and the result was a resounding 'no'.
Sharon was also having problems. She sensed her daughter might not have taken to her new partner, Mark, too well when the little girl arrived home with a kitten she had asked her father to buy her. Could she have known Mark was severely allergic to cats?
Similarly, Andrea couldn't help feeling angry when her children asked to stay at their cousin's house every time she told them her boyfriend was coming to visit. As if all the tantrums and slamming of doors didn't make him feel unwelcome enough.
The names are fictitious, but the stories are true and show that dating when you have children is a minefield. These parents can't be blamed for feeling their little angels were deliberately sabotaging every chance they had of finding happiness with someone new.
But is that really what's going on?
"Kids tend to have fantasies of their parents getting back together," says Deirdre O'Riordan, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland. "It can be very hard for them to accept this new person coming into their lives.
"They might see them as a rival for their parent's attention. There are a lot of conflicting emotions going on. They might find themselves liking this new person, but not wanting to show that because they feel it's disloyal to their other parent."
Deirdre is seeing more and more people seeking help for issues that arise when a parent meets someone new.
'If parents don't handle the situation properly or don't communicate and lay down clear boundaries, then the kids are going to act out," she says.
"It's about trying to control what's happening," Deirdre explains. "They're finding themselves in a situation where they're not being asked their opinions on things. Their lives are changing, and it's a way for them to exert some control."
So, can so-called blended families ever really happily gel?
"Yes," says Deirdre, " but it's down to how the parent handles it. New partners shouldn't try to be a parent -- but an older sibling or good friend", she says, "and they should avoid getting involved in issues like discipline straight away."