Single parents make up their own demographic in the dating world. They come to relationships with a different set of circumstances and expectations. They usually have less free time, varying levels of support, and an ongoing relationship with an ex-spouse / co-parent. But, when single parents come together they already understand the mechanics of custody and also appreciate that the kids come first.
In other words, coming from a similar situation can help smooth the way in the beginning of a relationship. However, conflicts can arise from differences in parenting style, relationships with exes, and other issues that all new couples face.
Here are 13 tips for couples where both partners just happen to be single parents:
Set boundaries for yourself upfront.
These should be based on your values so that you don’t get caught up in the emotion or excitement of a new relationship. Paige Harley, a relationship coach and single mom herself, suggests thinking about how much time per week you’ll date, requirements for introducing a significant other to your kids, sleep overs etc. “The more you think about these things up front the less likely you are to cross boundaries you wouldn’t have when you get into the heat of a new love.”
Don’t include your children in the relationship until you are seriously considering a committed, long-term relationship.
“It’s difficult enough for the couple when a relationship ends; it’s even worse when children are involved,” says Kim Olver, a life coach and author of Secrets of Happy Couples. “Your children may feel disloyal to their other parent if they like who you’re dating and it may put them in the middle of a war with your ex. Your children may love the person you’re dating and could be emotionally devastated if you break up. And that doesn’t even begin to address how you might feel after getting close to your partner’s children only to end up going your separate ways.”
Be supportive of each other’s parenting style.
Don’t give your opinion about someone’s parenting unless it’s asked for, says co-founder of A Good First Date and online dating consultant, Grace Lee.
“Talking about the ex is also a bad idea in any case,” she explains. “Try to stay out of it and don’t judge their situation. Maybe one parent believes in spanking and the other doesn’t. If this is a deal breaker for you, then make your exit. You aren’t there to convert the other parent to your way of doing things. Compatibility in this department is pretty important.”
Make sure you two are on the same page.
“Some people come to dating right after separating from their ex-partner and this leads to differences in relationship expectations,” says Lee. “When people first get separated there can be a general haze around what it means to be in a new relationship. If you’ve long been divorced and are ready for something meaningful, then dating somebody fresh from a divorce may not be for you.”
Depending on the age of the kids, explain that you’re going to be dating.
This goes for both partners. It’s going to be hard to tell your kids you want them to meet your significant other when they may not have even known you were dating. “Let them know some of your boundaries for dating and ask for their input on your boundaries or your decision to date,” says Harley. “Don’t be thrown if they don’t agree and reassure them this can be an ongoing conversation. Let them know that their feelings matter.”
Realize the challenge of blending a family.
“If your dating progresses, realize that if you get married or become more serious you will need to blend the family. This will be a challenge on all accounts, but is doable. No matter how much you like your partner, if you really don’t like their kids or vice versa, it could make for a difficult relationship,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical counselor and relationship therapist.
Meet one set of children at a time and build a relationship with them (building trust and respect) before introducing them to each other. “This is an overwhelming process and lengthy process and to ensure success, it’s best to take your time,” says Margaux Cassuto, a relationship expert.
Arrange things so that you don’t have to rush straight home after the date.
“This might mean hiring a babysitter or letting the other parent watch your kids for the night. Rushed dates never lead to anything anyway and are mostly a waste of time,” says owner and founder of Singledad.club, Mitchell Stern. “If you’re going to take the time to meet someone, make sure you actually have the opportunity to form a connection.”
Date each other and not your families.
Even though your kids are a huge part of your lives, it’s important that your relationship is about the two of you and your dynamic. “Get to know your partner—not their past and not their children,” says Stern. “Ensure that you truly like each other and that you’re compatible in your values and life goals.”
Make time for each other, especially if the custody schedules are challenging.
“If one of you has to cancel last minute due to a child-related situation, be patient and empathetic,” says Lee. “If the relationship becomes too strained by the lack of free time, then communicate. What are your expectations? How many times a week / month of spending time together would make you happy?”