The reality is, when you’re dating a guy who has kids, you’re not going to get 100% of his attention. But you shouldn’t discount a single dad because good fathers tend to be caring, dependable, and make great partners. It’s natural to feel a little left out, especially if you’re not used to the dynamics associated with dating a single parent. But understand that when you’re in a relationship where someone’s children come first, you may feel somewhat neglected at times.
“If you’ve never dated a man with children, you may be in unfamiliar territory and need some clarity,” says relationship coach and host of Celebrity Love Notes podcast, Stephanie D. McKenzie.
To help you out, here’s some tips about dating a man with kids that may give you that clarity and a little perspective:
Have an intentional, candid discussion about expectations for this relationship.
“Be sure to express sincere support for your significant other’s obligations, and also be clear about what you want and ask for what’s possible,” says McKenzie.
“Communication is the key in any relationship, but especially in one with a few more moving parts than others. The goal of this conversation is to create clarity and there should be some definitive outcomes. If you want to go out on the weekends and he has visitation or other daddy duties, then the two of you should plan when you can have time together.”
Recognize that you chose to be in this relationship.
You knew what you were getting into. Children who have either lost their mother or who are splitting their time between homes and not getting to see their dad every day, adds a whole other dimension to the relationship.
“His children will and should come first,” says parenting coach, Elisabeth Stitt. “It’s not their fault that they’re always getting less than they need. You don’t want to put your man in a position where he has to choose between you and his kids as that will corrode the relationship.”
Being a parent is a 24 hour 365 day a year responsibility. “Parents are typically thinking about their children, and their kids’ needs will come before theirs and yours. Dating a guy with kids requires you to be flexible and understanding when plans have to change at the last minute,” says Marlena Cole, a relationship expert and life coach. “If he’s the right person for you, he’ll notice and appreciate your patience and will be sure to set aside quality time for you two to connect without the children.”
Find activities or rituals you can do together with your husband and his kids.
“Yes, while you’re with them, you might feel for a long time like you are a 3rd wheel. That’s okay. It’s going to take time for his kids to feel comfortable with you… You can expect basic politeness—greetings, complete sentences in answer to your question—but don’t expect warmth or ease,” says Stitt. “That will come with time. Keep reminding yourself you would not admire this man so much if he were less of a father. Remind yourself that should you ever have a child with him, this is the kind of dad your kids will have.”
Be completely present with the children and him in the moment.
Given the limited time your partner has, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the phone or other things on your mind. “Kids like your full attention when they’re spending time with you,” says Cole. “A woman that can give the kids all her attention when she’s with them will win over their little hearts.”
Rejoice in the fact that he’s choosing to put his kids before you.
It means you have chosen a decent human being who values his family and takes his obligations seriously.
“He gets that he created these children (or chose to be their dad through adoption) and that as children they are vulnerable,” says Stitt. “As the mature adult, it’s his job, first and foremost, to be there for them. This doesn’t mean that he loves you less; it does mean he trusts that you’re a grown up and can take care of yourself more than they can.”
Don’t take it personally.
“You internalizing him spending a lot of time with the kids and somehow feeling like it’s rejection will be a red flag for him, and he might think that you’re a selfish person and not a good fit to build a deeper relationship,” says Cole.
Plus, it’s wrong to think that someone wanting to spend time with their kids is somehow about you. You have to try your best to understand the situation and if you feel a constant rejection, maybe this type of relationship just isn’t for you.
Dating a single parent is great once you learn the ins and outs, but different people need different things from their partners and their relationships. If dating a single parent is too much for you, or if the dynamics of your particular relationship aren’t working out, it’s time to walk away.
On the flip side, if you really care about this person and are ready to let them and their children into your life, you could find yourself in a rewarding and wonderful relationship. Like anything worth having or doing, it will just take a little hard work and extra understanding.