Advice About Dating A Single Dad
Proceed With Caution: Get Advice, Tips, and the Rules for Dating Dads
Dear April Masini,
I started dating him, but he's divorced with two kids and it's not just me and this guy in the relationship - it's me, this guy, and the two kids! Do you have any tips for how I can proceed so I don't blow it?"
Proceeding with Caution
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Proceeding with Caution:
Your concern that you're dating someone with children means that you're probably a great candidate to be a second wife and step-mom, as well as a first time mom. What I mean is, if you thought this was going to be a piece of cake, you'd be unrealistic, and in for a rude awakening. So, the fact that you're already sensitive to the possible family dynamics, and certainly the dating dynamics, bodes well for your future with this guy -- and his kids.
Dating divorced people with kids opens up the dating world exponentially and gives you lots more people to choose from. Of course, you do have to be careful when there are kids involved because if things don't work out it's not just you and the guy who get hurt -- it's the kids, too, and since they've already gone through a divorce, it's not their first time to be burned. However, it's not an insurmountable obstacle, and it even has benefits. So, read on, and know that you can do it! Here are some starters for dating dads -- and they apply both ways, to guys dating single moms, too.
The Dos and Don'ts of Dating Dads:
- Don’t get involved with his kids unless you are very serious -- that means that you want to marry him, and it’s been discussed as a mutual goal. It is not fair or easy for a child to accommodate all of Dad’s dates. Only the special ones. If Dad doesn't have this one under his belt, then you need to remind him. Don't worry about putting up an obstacle to your relationship by telling him you'd rather wait to meet his kids until you two are truly serious. He'll be thankful that you're such a good potential mother and wife, and if he's not -- next!
- Don’t ignore the child’s other parent. If you have negative feelings about the other parent -- whether they're well founded or fantasy fears of not living up to the kids mom or your boyfriend's ex, you had better work them out on your own time, because they will poison your relationship with your future step-child. Acknowledge and be kind to the other parent in front of the child. No bad-mouthing the other parent. In fact, take the other parent’s side sometimes.
- Don’t sleep at your boyfriend’s house when the children are there unless you are engaged to be married within six months and have a ring on your finger and a wedding venue booked. The same goes for him at your house. Yes, this is different than the carefree sex-filled swinging from the chandeliers sex that is possible with dates that don't have children. But honestly, how many times a year did you actually swing from a chandelier?
- Do be honest about his divorce, mixed feelings, and new situations. The more honest and at ease you are, the easier it will be for him to be, and the easier it will be for the children to be, too. Being honest isn't always graceful or easy -- in the short run -- but in the long run, it sure is! And if you're in it for the long run, you'd better practice putting honesty first, if you haven't already.
- Do talk to your boyfriend, the dad, privately if he isn’t putting you first. It's really easy for dad's who had to fight for custody or who are afraid of losing custody of their children to over-indulge them and over-protect or baby them. It is also really easy for them to put the kids first -- which won't make a second marriage last long if that continues! The wife has to come first if the marriage is going to work, and if you are the wife, then you come first, but talk to him about it privately or with a therapist, but NEVER in front of the children. If it slips out, apologize to them later, and ask them to remind you not to do that again.
- Do be kind to the kids. That said, you as step-mother-to-be have to put the kids first! If you want to keep order in the relationship, you’ll have an easier time of it by embracing the role of mom -- even if it's step-mom. Enjoy it.
Next Step: Operation Co-Parenting with Different Styles:
So, now you've got the dating a dad thing down, and you're actually enjoying having future step-kids and maybe you're even engaged. But you see a flashing yellow light because you and your boyfriend parent differently. You want to back off because, after all, they're not your biological kids, right? Wrong! Gather up all your confidence and remember that you probably have a good point -- whatever it is, and at the very least, it should be discussed. And hey, tell your married friends to quit smirking. This problem is NOT limited to dating divorced dads... most intact families have parenting conflicts within their own families units, they just don't happen to be brought to the surface because many marriages have developed ways of hiding problems, rather than dealing with them.
Dating a single parent, whether you're a single parent or just single, is actually a nice opportunity to re-examine the way you both parent, and to make any adjustments that may benefit a blended family in the future.
Here are some general rules for doing this:
- Don’t criticize your boyfriend or girlfriend’s parenting skills in front of any of the children. You have to act as a team in order to parent effectively, and unless there is abuse going on, the best way to handle differences in parenting is to discuss them in an adults only meeting and air your feelings and make any behavioral adjustments as a plan that you implement together. If kids smell a division between adults, they will play you like a hand of cards. Remember, divide and conquer wasn't just a warrior's cry. It's what most kids do when they want something that they know they can get from one parent, and not the other. Stay united.
- Safety is paramount. If one adult -- whether it's you or the dad -- is too rough with the kids, it is important to address this privately and with emphasis. The same goes for bad driving. The trick is not to judge the person based on their being rougher than your child or you are used to in horseplay, or for driving badly. You can love someone and want to be with that person but not want to drive with him. Separate out the issues you dislike from the person and then deal with the issues.
- Alcoholism in a family. If the kid's biological mother, your boyfriend's ex, is an alcoholic, their biological children may be predisposed to alcoholism, and when to allow drinking -- if at all -- can become a loaded issue when teenage children are involved. You may be offering them what seems like a harmless sip of wine at a holiday, but to your boyfriend, you're doing damage. Seek pediatric medical and psychological counseling to make a family plan on how to address these issues.
- Manners, food choices, and TV watching are all creative fields that you can work on trying things differently, or telling your kids that you’ll try things a new way and re-group after two weeks to see how you feel about changing the house rules. Children should have manners, limits and should not run the kitchen, so if a parent appears to be rigid with limitations in these areas, consider your own reasons for tolerance, and bend a little. Give it a try.
Remember: If you're honest and open and deal with all the problems that come up, as well as making sure to also celebrate and enjoy all the good times that also come your way -- not just you as an individual and you as a couple, but you as a family -- you'll do just fine!
Check out my book Ideas for a Fun Date... it's got tons of ideas for a fun date with or without kids.