I meet most men that I date online. It’s very common for guys with kids to write in their OKCupid profiles: “My kids come first,” or “My daughter is the center of my world.”
I get where you’re coming from. You want a potential mate to know that your life includes the giant presence of a kid or four. You also want women to know you’re a devoted dad (it’s no secret chicks get hot for guys who are great with kids!). Got it. Roger!
But I bristle at those lines. When it comes to relationships, I’m fond of saying, You never really knows what goes on between people. But there are a few couples in my life who I look to as models of the kind of marriage I’d like one day. People who really enjoy each other. Respect and support one another. And in these families, the parents put their relationship before the kids. They are the dynamic centriforce around which the family’s life orbits. And everyone thrives as a result.
There is lots of research to suggest that a happy marriage is the cornerstone of well-adjusted kids. Celebrity sex therapist Laura Berman, Ph.D., writes in her relationship guide, The Book of Love: “No matter how sacrilegious it sounds, you need to put your relationship before your children. A strong relationship provides security for your children and demonstrates how a loving, respectful partnership should be. What could be more important?”
That’s a tricky proposition for single parents. If you’re not in a committed relationship, it is very easy to make your kids the prominent one in your life. After all, they can be so demanding — not to mention fulfilling. Plus, if you’ve gone through divorce or another crisis that landed you as a single parent, you are no doubt concerned about giving your kids extra care and sense of security. It’s no surprise that so many blended families I know struggle with adjusting all parties to a home where everyone is suddenly expected to revolve around the new relationship. It can be so hard. Some find it impossible.
But it is even trickier if one or both of the parents put the kids before their partner. One dad I went out with nearly boasted when telling me about a four-month relationship that went sour because his girlfriend did not understand why he’d abruptly leave in the middle of dinner because his tween son would call, upset about some matter with his hockey coach. Another’s girlfriend eventually broke up with him after several years because he rarely made time to spend alone with her, instead expecting constant family time with his son.
Ultimately, failure to put their partner first was a sign these guys were not ready for a serious relationship, or at least not with those particular women, and that is totally normal. But it’s not cool to pay lip service to intentions of growing a serious, long-term relationship and from the onset demote your lover to second-rank — even before you message her on Match.com. Women are certainly guilty of putting their kids ahead of their partner — maybe even more so than men, especially since they are nearly always the primary care giver in the event of divorce. But in this moment when men are struggling to claim their place as equal parents while society expects divorced dads to be the lackadaisical weekend father, I get why you are compelled to go overboard with your expressed devotion.
But guys! If you are indeed ready for a real love, create a space for her. Imagine a relationship that centers on the two of you, and all the stability and care your kids will take from that. Accept that a truly wonderful relationship only multiplies the love available to your kids — not robs them of some of yours. Because in those families, there is all the more love to go around.
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