Dating someone with kids is a big deal. No matter how excited you might feel about your burgeoning relationship, the fact remains — your new love interest is already committed to their kids, and eventually, you’re going to have to decide whether you want to take on that commitment as too.
“The most important thing to know when dating a single parent is that their loyalty is to their children, first and foremost. This is especially true in new dating relationships,” says Nancy Fagan, a marriage mediator.If it’s your first time dating a single parent, she notes, you might encounter a few things you may not have planned on.
“You not only have to win the parent’s affection, but [that of] the children as well,” she says. “You may want all of the single parent’s time and attention, but you have to accept that is not possible. Their children will get an equal share, if not more.” That also means it will be difficult to get your partner’s undivided attention unless the children aren’t around.
“Never insist the single parent put you first,” Fagan advises. “It could be the quickest way to end the relationship.”
Dating is a journey filled with ups and downs, kids or no. If you’re truly feeling this person and want to continue dating them — great. But it’s important to know some of the unique challenges that come with dating a single parent, especially if you’re really into your new partner and want to put your best foot forward. Here’s what to else you need to know before dating someone with kids — or at least before getting more serious with them.
Ask yourselves these questions
Before you start imagining yourself shuttling kids to soccer games, there are a few questions you should ask yourself when dating someone with kids. Your answers to them might impact your relationship.
Questions Fagan believes are crucial to consider:
- How involved do you want to be with the children?
- Are you willing to come second to the children?
- Are you willing to share your time with the kids?
- Do you like children?
- Are you willing to have a relationship with your partner’s ex-?
- Are you comfortable with messes, noise, and chaos?
- Are you willing to involve the children in your life?
It’s important be honest with yourself when answering these questions, as they will determine whether or the relationship is worth investing in for both parties. There’s no point in wasting a single parent’s time — or yours — if you think kids are “ok” only on a part-time basis.
Don’t count on spontaneity
Want to invite your date to a a last-minute weekend adventure? Guess again. Spontaneity isn’t as easy when dating a single parent, says Fagan. And suggesting just get a sitter is also a big no no. “This can make the single parent feel like you don’t like their children. Or, that you don’t understand how important the children are,” she says.
Instead make sure to pre-plan dates well in advance, and always ask when your date has to care for their children. In other words, you will have to work around their schedule a lot more than your own.
Don’t expect peace and quiet
If you’re not used to having kids at home, then you’re probably in for a rude awakening when you visit your date’s place. Depending on how old the children are, don’t be surprised to see toys and snacks strewn all over the place. And, then there’s the noise. (FYI, kids like to yell.)
“Expecting the home environment to be orderly and quiet will get you into trouble if you make suggestions on how to eliminate the noise and chaos,” Fagan says. (I wouldn’t advise asking your date if they can make the kids be quiet, either.) Your best strategy? Mind your business and interact as a gracious guest, as you would at anyone’s home.
Don’t complain if they occasionally bring their kids on a date
Sometimes well-meaning single parents will bring their kids on a date, especially if getting a sitter was impossible and/or you’ve been seeing each other for more than a couple of months. While you might be annoyed, being unable to appreciate how much they want to spend time with their children and you could lead to misunderstandings.
What to do? To avoid tension, Fagan says, don’t say anything during the date. Just go with it. In the future, make it habit to discuss the types of dates you want to enjoy with and without the kids.
“When dating a single parent, you will have more success if you suggest two types of dates — ones that involve the children (‘kid dates’) and ones that don’t (‘Adult dates’),” Fagan notes. “This way you avoid misunderstandings about who you are picking up to take out.”
Don’t offer parenting advice
Whether you have experience with kids or not, it’s not a good idea to offer unsolicited parenting advice. “It can be irritating and offensive to a single parent if the love interest tries to offer parenting advice when they don’t have children of their own,” Fagan says. Instead Fagan suggests listening patiently and compassionately when they discuss their parenting struggles, which will make them feel heard and validated.
By the same token, don’t assume a parental role with their child without consulting with your partner about it first. If you want to build a better connection with your partner and their children, “the best way to better understand and connect with a single parent is to ask about their children,” Fagan says. “Ask them about their likes, dislikes, what makes them happy. Ask the parent what you can do for each child to help them feel more at ease with you.”