In the world of romance, dating a single parent can be complicated. Dating a single parent when you don’t want kids… also complicated (to say the least).
So, you’ve met someone. A great someone. You have a lot in common with this person, they’re witty and entertaining, they’re sexy AF and you have a sneaking suspicion the sex is gonna be good. Real good. You know they have kids, but even though you aren’t really a kid person, nothing’s going to harsh your buzz when you’re drugged up on their awesomeness.
Let’s bring it down a notch, dreamer.
Once upon a time, I began to date a man with two children. He’s a great guy and such a good fit for me in many ways. We’ve been together over four years now. I don’t want kids of my own, yet here I am, co-parenting at his side like a pro. We make a beautiful family, and we love each other.
But don’t be misled: this is the most challenging thing I have ever done. Read that again. And again. Because while dating someone with kids can be amazing in so many ways, don’t ever think it’ll be easy. You should know a few things before you flail carelessly into infatuation like that basejumper guy in the squirrel suit with that awesome song. Put on your helmets.
You’ll never be first.
A parent’s responsibility is to their kids first, always, and that will never change. Got a hot date planned? It’s your birthday? You wanted to get away for the weekend but you forgot it’s over Mother’s Day because, newsflash, you’re not a mom? Be aware your plans will always need to be flexible. If there’s a crisis with your lover’s ex and the kids need to come over, or little Johnny has a hockey game, your plans will need to take a backseat.
This can work in your favor, however, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys alone time or can easily free-flow with your plans. Perhaps you’ve got a demanding job/yoga schedule/pet and maybe your childfree adventures allow you to keep busy—you’re golden. Your new love can—and should—always make time for you when they’re able to, but don’t take it personally when things with the kiddos come up, because it’s not about you.
Their ex will always be a part of things.
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘Hey, it’s OK; he only has them every other weekend, so basically I can forget his ex exists.’ I want to hug you and pat your head. The ex will always be a part of your new love’s life, and their kids.’ You’ll always hear about them, the kids will talk about them, the kids may even look like the ex you so desperately want to forget ever existed. If you’re the jealous type, you’ll need to learn to manage that.
Be aware of some red flags up front: ask your new sweetie if they ever had counseling after the divorce (because if not, expect resentments to survive years after the divorce and beyond), ask what the relationship is like with their ex (hatred and refusal to talk to their ex is no bueno, and it’s also not great if their ex is treated like their best friend with whom they discuss everything).
Boundaries are the key to success between your playmate and their ex. If your lovey has created healthy boundaries and has good communication with their ex (or at least tried—not everyone’s ex is a picnic to get along with, which may be why they’re no longer together), I say full “steam ahead, cap’n!”
Their kids will never be your kids.
No matter how much you might like your honey’s kids (and hey, let me be the first to say, it’s okay if you don’t really—affection can take time), always remember they already have two parents, and they’re not in the market for another one.
A loving parental relationship may come with time, but whether it does or doesn’t, let a relationship grow on its own into whatever feels right. Maybe you’re Dad’s goofy friend who gives them pony rides. Maybe you’re just that guy Mom’s dating who takes them out for ice cream. Be okay with that, because nothing can be forced—kids can’t be fooled and if you try to apply an agenda, it won’t work out.
Everyone will expect you to have “your own.”
If I had a dime for every time someone asked me, “So…do you ever think about having your own kids?” I’d totally buy that Playboy mansion, keep Heff drunk through his twilight years, and get all the best stories out of him. Especially if you’re the owner of a uterus, people generally expect you’ll start popping out your own little DNA clone the second you can, because who doesn’t want to be a mother, amirite?? It’s annoying.
Eventually, you’ll become deaf to this and learn to calmly say, “Nope, my partner’s kids are more than enough for me.” Caveat: sometimes becoming parental with someone else’s kids on the regular can make you change your mind, and that’s totally okay—just communicate with your partner and be sure they’re on the same page.
Overall, let’s be honest: dating someone with kids, particularly when you don’t want your own, is tricky to navigate. I won’t sugarcoat that. However, if your partner is a skilled parent with good boundaries with their ex, has the ability to help you navigate this world, and you’re willing to be patient and flexible, it can be amazing.
I have two stepkids and I wouldn’t trade them for the world (a bottle of wine on some nights, maybe). My relationship with them, their father and, well, their mother if I’m being real, has given me tremendous and beautiful opportunities to learn and grow. You’ll see your relationship and communication skills blossom (and maybe your gray hairs), and if you can find your place in a new family, who doesn’t benefit from more love?
Resources: If you start dating someone with kids and it starts getting serious, I strongly encourage you to do your homework. Get some books on step-parenting (this one’s my personal fave for ladies) and look online for some support forums—Facebook has lots. You’d be surprised at how much a little knowledge and same-story listening can do when the road gets bumpy (and it will). Remember, when you’re going to get involved in the lives of tiny humans, it’s to be taken seriously and open-heartedly.