You just met a wonderful guy! He has an impressive-sounding job, a summer house by the lake, a nice car in the garage… and his three kids every other weekend. Oh, and did we mention an ex-wife who doesn’t love the idea of another woman making her children pancakes? Yes, you’re dating a divorced dad, and he’s a tricky species, indeed. Whatever rules you’ve applied to dating in the past, just throw them out the window. Because when it comes to having a relationship with a man who has kids, you’ll need to follow a whole new set of guidelines.
Here are nine tips for dating a man with children from a previous relationship.
- Don’t meet his kids until after you have established the relationship and feel it is stable enough that you two will be together for the foreseeable future.
If he has joint custody, make sure to meet in neutral locations while his kids are home. Don’t go by his place to start or finish a date if you are going to meet the kids. They should only get to know you when it is a definite that you and their dad are a couple. This protects them from the insecurities of a budding dating life and it protects you from any manipulations they may try. All kids manipulate, all kids try to see if they can control a situation. It is not good or bad; it is just human nature, especially in immature humans. When presented with you as their father’s official girlfriend, the certainty of things makes for a smoother relationship.
- Don’t compete with the kids for his attention
When you get to know his kids, there will be times for everyone to get together, and you should understand that they will want his attention even if it means interrupting you. You must be an adult and politely lead by example.
- You are not their parent – don’t act like it
Maintain an absolute neutral role when it comes to the way these children conduct themselves. You cannot and should not parent them. This includes telling him how he should raise his children – don’t ever do it. If he asks for advice or you are having a casual conversation away from the kids, it is one thing to share ideas, but you must be deferential in the extreme here. One exception is that you are owed respect. Never tolerate disrespect from your boyfriend’s children and insist that he back you up. If he weasels out of a confrontation on this matter, it is a sign that you are being slowly sucked into a dysfunctional dynamic. This is a sign to end the relationship.
- Be friendly, but don’t come on too strong
You are dating their dad, you are not their new best friend. Your focus needs to be on your man and being wrapped up in the lives of his children is no way to be in a relationship with him. A child needs to be his or her own person. Be supportive and encouraging but don’t assume the parental role, or that of a close friend. Show an interest in who his children are as people without trying to take control of their hobbies or life.
- Don’t compete with the other parent
You are not a replacement for their mother, and you are not in a competition with her (and if you think you are, you are in for a big letdown). Never badmouth the other parent. This is like tearing at the DNA of the child. You want to be respected first and hopefully liked. Appreciation will come over time, but it will never come if they see you as a rival of their mother. In private, discourage your boyfriend from badmouthing her around the kids and insist he not do it when you are present.
- Depending on his custody arrangement, you might not need to meet his children at all
Be honest with yourself … are you a high maintenance girlfriend who requires a lot of attention and affection? If your boyfriend has children, you may need to set a schedule for time with him when they are not around. You might have to admit to yourself and to him that you are just too selfish to share, but don’t ever expect it to be all or none.
- Whether or not his children meet you and interact with you or not, never mess with visitation or custody agreements
Your boyfriend is likely under some legal custody agreement. Many states have punishments and fines when a parent in a breakup does not comply with custody orders. Being perpetually late, not having the children organized, etc., if you are playing a part in any of this, you could be putting him in trouble. The feeling of control over getting back at his ex can be all consuming at times. Fight these desires for revenge with the discipline to take his custody agreement seriously.
- Accept that there will be emergencies and some dates will be cancelled with “kid reality”
You must be a little more forgiving if he has to occasionally postpone a date or special event with you because of something involving his children. Kids have things happen that require a parent to drop everything and be there for their child. If a pattern develops and you suspect that the child or he might be manipulating these “emergencies,” voice your concerns immediately.
- Pace any involvement with your extended family for the long-term
If you are involved in regular family get-togethers with your relatives, it is one thing to introduce him to the family. It is another thing to involve his children. Unless you are getting married, it is best to not ask him or them to meet a whole new set of people and develop new relationships. Kids should have the opportunity to be kids and exist in the world of kids, not asked to be in the world of adults because it is convenient or pleasing to their dad’s new girlfriend.