Dating a single dad isn’t like dating someone who’s never been married or had kids. Single dads are their own demographic. They’ve been there done that, but they’re also starting all over again. And like all singles (and couples for that matter) they’re still figuring it all out too. But there are a couple things about dating a single dad that it helps to know before you start a new relationship.
“Depending on the children’s ages and on how much of the time your date has them at home, their presence can change your experience a lot,” explains Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”) a psychotherapist. “A single parent is not as free to do whatever he or she wants, and must consider the children first. If you don’t have children of your own, you may not understand some of your date’s concerns and issues.”
Here are seven tips for dating single dads that will help you navigate the differences in the relationship:
Depending on his situation, a single dad may have a ton of extra time to spend with you when his kids are with their other parent, or he may be juggling a busy schedule. That means, being flexible and understanding about plans changing or him not being available certain nights is really going to help your relationship.
“He is showing that he’s a responsible man,” says Elliott Katz, relationship expert. “If his commitment to his children is an issue to you, this may not be the right relationship for you.”
Don’t try to be the new mom.
When there are kids in the equation, approach with caution. Or rather, sensitivity, advises registered clinical psychologist, Daniel Sher.
“You need to meet the children where they are, rather than rushing-into trying to be the new mom. Try to simply be yourself,” says Sher. “Take an interest in the children, and engage with them. But allow them to guide you in terms of the level of intimacy that they want to share.”
Know that the ex is likely still involved.
“Keep in mind that there’s a lot of history there; and it may be necessary for contact to continue for logistical and practical reasons,” says Sher. “If you’re uncomfortable about contact between them, try to discuss this with your partner; and perhaps request that he’s transparent about the sorts of interactions that he’s having, if this feels necessary or appropriate.”
Realize that he’s more than a dad.
Just because being a single dad is a big part of his life, doesn’t mean it’s the only part. Depending on what your relationship is like, it might feel natural and comfortable to start playing house, but don’t forget to get to know him as an individual as well.
Don’t pressure a single dad to commit.
You should never pressure any man to commit, but with a single dad your relationship needs to move at a pace that works for him and his family.
“It will be harder for him to make dates, get serious, commit, or introduce you to his kids. He will do so on his own terms, at his own pace,” says Scharf.
Give him the space that he needs.
Remember that you’re entering a system that existed before you; and you’re going to be disturbing the equilibrium. He may have specific times set aside to be with his kids, or might not be available during the weekends.
“This sort of change may well be for the best; but change is always difficult,” explains Sher. “If your partner needs space for himself or to be with his children, work on becoming comfortable about this.”
If he can’t always be there when you’d like him to, it’s not because he’s not interested, it just means he has responsibilities to his family.
Don’t give your heart to a single dad too soon.
“Especially if he’s recently divorced,” says Scharf. “He could be filled with angst, guilt, anger, etc., and you could end up getting hurt.”
He may still be dealing with the divorce and the things that come with ending such a serious relationship. It doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t be a wonderful partner to you, but he may be in the middle of sorting out some serious issues. Communicate openly about how you’re both feeling, but be aware that he may be in a different place than you.
Dating a single dad can be a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding. You’re with someone who takes family and responsibilities seriously and is capable of great love. But single dads also have more people in their lives and that can take some adjusting to if you’re not used to it. Be open minded, enjoy getting to know him, and see where the relationship takes you.