Dating is challenging enough. You’ve found someone you’re attracted to and feel a connection with based on your interests and values. Whatever stage of the dating relationship you are in, dating someone with children adds an extra layer of complexity to the relationship, especially if the person has primary custody. If you do it with sensitivity, flexibility, respect, and a sense of humor, you have a good chance this aspect of your relationship can be successful and fulfilling for both you and your mate. How you handle your interaction with these children, and even just your attitude or what you say about them, can make or break the relationship with your dating partner. Your impact on these children and how their mom or dad responds to your attitude and/or relationship with them is critical whether you’re on a first date, a fledgling relationship of several months, or in it for the long haul.
If you have children of your own, your innate parental experience may make this guidance seem obvious and help you put these tips into practice. If you don’t have children of your own, know that there are certain things you may not get to the same degree as someone who has their own children. Trust the importance of honoring these suggestions as well as the expectations of your mate that are not reflected here.
- try to be another parent
- date this person only because you wish you had children of your own
- push yourself and your relationship on the children
- judge your partner’s parenting unless they are dangerous to their own children, in which case you should seek professional help
- let your fears stop you if you know she’s a catch
Rather than an extra disciplinarian or new rulemaker, show up when your dating partner is ready as a role model for the children. Take an interest in their passions, and share yours, if appropriate for children. Accept them as they are. Let them know you enjoy their mom or dad’s company and importantly that you respect her.
Once a parent, always a parent, 24-7. Accept that your dating partner has parental obligations. This may simply mean seeing each other may take a little more planning and you may need to rely on quality time together, not quantity, especially before you meet them. Your partner’s children will always affect your relationship to one degree or another, depending on their ages and your partner’s parenting style.
Talk with your partner in private (without the children around) about the tips here and how they work for her. Ask her what other boundaries she would like you to honor regarding her children. Tell her your thoughts and concerns and get her feedback so you can adapt to her family’s needs.
Whether you agree with her or not, honoring your partner’s wishes is critical. As the parent, she gets to decide what’s ok and not ok for her children. This can be about anything, such as when it is ok for you to meet the children or if you are going to stay over night when the children are there. Tell her you support her making these decisions in concert with her values.
Whether in the moment or over the course of the relationship, one of the constants of parenting is change. Because children are continually developing, you may notice that once you and your partner figure out how to handle something with the children, the children enter a new stage and you have to start all over again. Or, you think you have the night off to be with your mate, and suddenly the child is sick and you get sent home or asked to go to the drug store.
Trying to be another parent to the children is not a good idea, even if you are a great person and you think you would make a great parent, or you are a great parent. No matter what your opinion is of your dating partner’s ex, the children have enough of a challenge reading signals from their own split up parents. The last thing they need to cope with is another adult telling them what to do or disciplining them.
This may seem obvious, but make sure you are dating this person because of what they themselves bring to the table to enrich your life. Unless you think she could be the one, there will be others with children who are a better match for you.
Being overly affectionate in front of the children or insisting you are called the “boyfriend” or girlfriend” in front of them if the parent is not comfortable is just not necessary. If you can’t trust you have your girlfriend’s love or affection unless you parade it with the children, perhaps she is not the right one for you. Besides, the children may or may not be ready for their parent to have a close romantic relationship, or ready to accept another adult figure into their life. If they are unreceptive to you, you be the adult: the accepting, steady person, ready when they are. As hard as this may be for you, it’s probably harder for the children. Have patience.
Do not judge your partner’s parenting unless they are dangerous to their own children, in which case you should seek professional help
There is more than one way to be a good parent in general, and sometimes different ways of parenting depending on the personality and needs of the child. So even if you disagree with your partner’s parenting choice, let her do her thing. You are not there every day. You don’t know her child as well as she does. You are not on the front line. Trust her and support her. Tell her you do. She’ll appreciate it.
Don’t let your fears about navigating the challenges of dating someone hold you back if you know this an awesome person for you and you are willing to do the work to enrich your mate’s life and her children’s in a way that honors all of you. On the other hand, dating someone with children is not for the faint of heart. Unless you can see yourself “in it for the long haul,” consider moving on. Do not lead him or her on. It will be less painful for all involved. It’s hard enough that these children saw their parents break up. If you stick around knowing this isn’t for you and you already have a relationship with the children, you will be adding to their pain and confusion, so end it sooner than later.
Although dating someone with children can be challenging because it adds another layer of complexity to the relationship, don’t let your fears stop you if you know believe the relationship has promise. With sensitivity, flexibility, respect and a sense of humor, you can navigate the ins and outs of dating someone with children. Remember, though, your attitude towards your partner’s parenting and how you act around the children can help or hurt your relationship, so do pay attention. You will likely get extra points for telling your mate you support her parenting and for acting in line with your promise.
As with other areas of a relationship, clear communication and boundaries are critical to success. If you realize you’re not up to this challenge once you’ve started something, ending it sooner than later will minimize the pain felt by the person you’ve been dating, and their children, if you have met them. No relationship is simple, and especially after divorce, we all bring complexities due to life’s experiences. If you value what you bring to each other, working through the challenges of dating someone with children can allow your relationship to grow and be fulfilling to you, your mate, and even the children.
More expert advice about Dating
Photo Credits: © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com