Dating someone new definitely has its challenges: assessing your compatibility, getting comfortable enough to let your guard down, discovering your differences, and coping with new relationship anxiety. Add a kid or two into the mix, though, and it’s a whole different ball game.
“Dating someone with kids is a package deal,” says NYC-based relationship expert Susan Winter. “Even when your date has limited or partial custody, their children play a significant role in their long-term partner selection process.”
Not only will their kids probably play influence who they allow into their lives, but it’ll probably affect how they function in a relationship, too.
“They have people that physically and emotionally need them in order to survive,” explains Mike Goldstein, founder of EZ Dating Coach. “You will always be priority number two, no matter how hard you fight for the top spot.”
So if you’re in the midst of getting to know someone with children from a previous relationship, here are a few different things to kind in mind before you get too deep.
1. You may not get as much quality time alone as you’d like
If you’re the kind of person who requires a lot of attention from your partner, you’ll need to come to terms with the fact that other people are also vying for their time. Just how much room they have in their calendar for you will depend on how many kids they have, as well as what their ages are.
Chances are you won’t be able to plan date nights as often as you’d like. Keep in mind, however, that this could also be a positive thing.
“If you love your alone time, this will be a huge bonus for you,” says Goldstein. “And if you enjoy planning, this will be a great exercise in coordination to work around each other’s schedules.”
2. Keeping it casual probably isn’t an option
Point blank, a single parent is more likely to be looking for something serious when dating around.
“Dating involves the possibility of integrating a person into the family system,” explains Winter. “This is done with caution, over time, and with much consideration.”
This is why you should be sure to clarify your intentions early on before you meet their kids.
“It’s important that their kids not be exposed to many people coming in and out of their parent’s life,” adds Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples’ therapist in Los Angeles.
On the plus side, as those dating with kids tend not to take the situation lightly, you can rest easy knowing that they’ll be in it for the long haul.
“You get the almost automatic benefit of knowing that the person you are dating is into you because time is precious in their lives, and they will likely not want to spend it with you unless they think there is something meaningful there,” adds Brown.
3. You probably won’t meet the kids right away
Don’t be alarmed if your partner isn’t ready to introduce you to their children right away. After all, they will likely want to make sure the relationship feels stable and you’re both on the same page about the future.
“Parents are naturally protective of their kids and need to screen who they are dating before introducing them to their children,” explains Brown. That’s why he says to make sure you “avoid the tendency to try and push for a premature commitment on their part.”
“You will likely need to take things somewhat slower.” adds Brown.
Rather than pressuring them to let you meet the kids, focus on doing whatever you can to build trust. By doing that, you’ll help them feel ready to take that step.
4. Be prepared for plans to change on a dime
Kids add a certain element of unpredictability to life, so at some point, your partner may need to bail on date night at the last minute.
“Anything can happen that will alter your plans unexpectedly,” explains Winter. “Health issues, school or behavioral problems can eliminate that romantic holiday you booked months ago. That’s why you have to have a flexible disposition to date someone with kids.”
Try not to take it personally when they need to take a rain check. It’s not that they don’t value their plans with you … it’s just that their kids come first.
5. Being spontaneous won’t be easy
And speaking of plans, the best way to handle dating someone with kids is to choose specific dates and times to meet up. As much as you may want to whisk them away for a weekend, that probably isn’t realistic. After all, they may need to make special arrangements in order to spend time with you.
“The two of you may not be able to act as spontaneously as you might like,” says Brown. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a night out or a weekend away. It simply means that you will have to take the logistics of child-care into consideration.”
6. The way to their heart might be through their kids
When you start connecting with your partner’s children, don’t be surprised if you see a smile whenever you’re around the little ones. Basically, that twinkle says they’re falling, as for most parents, seeing someone bond and build trust with their kids only strengthens their decision to be with you.
“Your [partner] may very well appreciate it if you take a genuine interest in their children,” says Brown. “This will likely earn you bonus points as their children are very central to their lives.”
On the contrary, Winter notes that if you don’t get along with your partner’s children, that could create some friction that jeopardizes your relationship. While you don’t need to win them over right away, you’ll eventually need to be able to coexist peacefully.
7. Don’t expect constant contact
With technology at our fingertips, we’re used to getting immediate replies to texts, social media messages and so on. But when you date someone with kids, you’ll need to adjust your expectations for response times a bit.
“When you’re a parent, your time isn’t always your own,” notes Brown.
There may be times when your partner is tied up caring for a kid who isn’t feeling well, or helping them with their homework. That means it’s important to understand that they won’t always be able to get back to you right away.
Clearly, there are distinctive drawbacks that come with dating a parent, but there are also numerous benefits as well. Goldstein notes that parents often have a certain level of patience and selflessness that can definitely play to your advantage in a romantic relationship. Not only that, but Brown points out that you’ll have the opportunity to see a different side of your partner. Their title as a parent will allow you to learn a lot more about their character and values early on just by observing how they interact with their children.
“There is always the possibility that you may fall in love not only with the person you are dating, but their kids as well,” adds Brown.
Dating someone with kids can be an incredibly unique and rewarding experience — as long as you keep these particular considerations in mind. And remember: A parent has already given their heart to their children. Now, they have to decide if there’s room for you, too.
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