As complex as dating can be (um, very), when you add children to the equation, the confusion, emotions and potential heartache increase about a hundredfold. If your boyfriend or girlfriend has a kid, you’re not only navigating a new romance, you’re also trying to figure out where you fit in the hierarchy of people vying for his or her attention, and how to establish a bond without overstepping your bounds.
Lauri Mattenson wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Times about the best advice she’s heard for dating someone with kids: Be like a cat, not a dog.
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Her friend Jennifer, who has a stepfamily of her own, told her the importance of this. “You’re going to want to hug them and bond with them, but it will be better if you relax and hang back,” Jennifer warned. “Wait for them to come to you.”
It’s hard, especially if a laidback, no-big-deal demeanour doesn’t come naturally, and you yearn to be something more than Mum or Dad’s “new friend”. But in order to not overwhelm the kids, let them express their own range of feelings about the situation, and show respect for the other parent, it’s necessary to be patient.
The first time I attended a school play, David’s daughter came out after the show. I wanted to run over and hug her, give her the flowers we brought, congratulate her on a good performance — until I saw her mum and realised that my desires were tertiary. The girls come first, their parents second, and I’m a distant third. That’s the reality. I took a physical step back and let their mum have the moment.
It happens all the time. Even now, out of respect for the girls’ privacy, I self-limit sharing stories. I usually sit on the other side of the couch so the girls can cuddle up with their dad when we watch movies. They bicker and I remain silent, allowing him to parent as he sees fit. This is not to say I’m invisible, merely respectful. It’s a conscious choice. I resist my own nature and slow down, try to remain responsive to the girls’ needs, subordinate my own.
Dating someone with kids takes a level of maturity. As one writer puts it, “They don’t need another child to rear, so behave like an adult.”