Why single parents should put their kids second when dating


single dad with kids

Um, hi? Remember me?

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.

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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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29 thoughts on “Why single parents should put their kids second when dating

  1. The hockey coach thing was ridiculous.

    But think about it…most divorced guys spent a bloody fortune on a divorce that – statistically – was most likely initiated by the wife. Some of those guys were lucky enough to get joint custody, others got stiffed by a judge who gave them every other weekend, and most of them had to split the assets with the ex.

    Most of them had been putting their wives first, drifted away from friends over the years, and look where it got them.

    If I were to divorce while my kids are still minors, any woman will be second to them, and a distant second at that.

    1. Let’s be real. If a man were putting his wife first, the chances of divorce are dramatically decreased. Even so, men and women need to get over their pasts and give respect to the person they select instead of punishing them for the ex’s behavior.

    2. Well, good luck keeping an intimate, mature, equal, adult relationship going. Guess you’ll be single for a long time. Why can’t parents realise that these two loves are different? Just don’t treat your children like a partner and your partner like a (disowned) child and you’ll be fine. It isn’t a competition but so many thoughtless partners make it one. Your spouse is your spouse, your children are your children. You are capable of loving both and then everyone wins. Why does everyone think that these loves are mutually exclusive – they are not!! Just treat your spouse with respect, affection and a little thoughtfulness when you are with your kids and try not to lick your kids boots – its nauseating! Kids need a loving parent, not a pushover sycophant.
      My husband asks his 15 year old daughter if she is ok every 5-10 minutes, then checks in on me as an afterthought because he realises how uneven he is being. As I’m newly pregnant, tired and nauseous, you think he might show a little consideration. I get he loves his daughter and dotes on her and he’s a great Dad. Just don’t expect a reasonably self-respecting woman to like walking behind you two cuddling like lovers, or eating her lunch while you both get up and walk away, or the two of you walking off repeatedly whilst in Paris when you promised not to, or you singing her name repeatedly, or paying too much child support, etc etc etc. If we hadn’t moved overseas I would have left him as I hate being spoken down to when she’s around. His coolness towards me and his over the top affection for her cannot help but leave me feeling rejected, alone and replaced. How does this help me feel love towards them? How does it create a family unit? My mistake for thinking he could love us both in a balanced way. I just do my own thing now and leave them to it. Not a good way to maintain your marriage though so I wouldn’t recommend it. Balance people, its all about balance!!

    3. you can’t blame other women for what the first one did to you. A woman deserves all of you or you shouldn’t be seeking a relationship until that thinking is gone.

  2. Harry – really interesting points I had not considered. This really got me thinking:

    >Most of them had been putting their wives first, drifted away from friends over the years, and look where it got them.

  3. I’d forgotten about my post for this article, so I’m back a few weeks later…

    An elaboration on the sentence you referenced…I don’t want to go so far as to say, “look out for #1.” But I will say that nobody cares about your life as much as you do. So I guess the moral of the story is be a giving person, but don’t be played for a sucker.

  4. Agreed that the hockey coach thing is ridiculous, and that if you are dating someone, you need to make time alone as a couple to get to know each other and to be adults and not just mommies and daddies.

    However, knowing too many single parents, moms and dads, who have placed too much of a priority on their significant other of the week rather than their kids’ stability, I think I would rather go the other way. I would be much more comfortable with the match.com dad who says his kids come first than the one who is willing to drop them at a moment’s notice for a good date. Which I suppose is why I’ve always been most comfortable dating (good) single dads, because they seem to get where I’m coming from in terms of the time, energy, and responsibility devoted to our kids.

    Ultimately, I would like to have a great relationship with the right man, but I certainly couldn’t say that someone I’d been dating for a few months would become a priority over my son. It’s hard to find that balance and admittedly I err on the side of “my kid comes first”. I’m ok with that for now. If the right man comes along, hopefully we will both gradually be able to make room for each other. But he may have to accept one night a week with a sitter for my son at first.

  5. Thinking of the single dad I dated who never once visited me while I was in the hospital for a week with an infection. He used his kids as an excuse, then having no money for gas.
    Yeah, well it really spelled out what his priorities were.

  6. I think this article drastically over-simplifies matters. My mother and her ‘new’ (4 years, not that new…) husband put each other first, followed by his children, followed by my brother and I. This has led to us both feeling extremely isolated and alienated. Although I acknowledge that my mum and her husband need time to themselves, I think that there still needs to be a definite element of love from a parent in a child’s life for them to be happy. My step-father has manipulated my mother and she now has no friends of her own and has completely lost touch with all members of her family except for me (including her own mother, sister, and son, who now lives with our father,) and the way my step siblings are treated is vastly superior to the way I live. Although they live separately from us, when they visit we buy food from Waitrose, as opposed to our usual Sainsburys. If I try to watch the television with them or eat with them, I am shunned or constantly mocked under the pretence of ‘sarcastic wit’, which, if returned by myself, is treated as abject rudeness. I know do not feel like I can engage in the family at all; I am an outsider, banished to my bedroom and scared to leave for fear of encountering the dreaded husband. I feel more relaxed at school than at home. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. So, although this article seems to be very pro ‘single-independant-women-living-life-to-the-full etc. etc,’ which I am completely up for, I feel the need to point out the dangers of continuing this sort of attitude into a long term relationship.

    Sorry for the rant. :)

    1. Hi A – thanks for sharing and I’m so sorry you are in such a horrible situation. It sounds like your mom is in an abusive relationship and that affects the entire family. I hope she gets the help she needs.

    2. Hi. Thanks for your comment as I am a single Mum with a 2 and 5 yr old.
      I am now living with my partner who has 3 kids of his own but they visit every fortnight on a weekend.
      I am scared as all hell to not lose who I am or the Mother I was before I met my partner.
      I have read lots about putting your kids second but it has never sat well with me and I always wondered how grown kids feel that have witnessed it.
      Thanks for the insight and I Wil be careful not to fall into the same trap as your Mother.

      1. I really believe that if you are genuinely taking care of yourself, being true to yourself, you are going to be a happy, healthy woman and great role model for your kids, and a thriving mom. For example, if you commit to regular exercise, that may mean you spend, say, 5 fewer hours per week with your children. But you a) will be happier, more energetic and less stressed (take this from me — two days without exercise and my kids pay the price!), setting a great example of healthy living for your family, and more likely to live a longer, healthier life and not be a burden on your kids down the road.

        Apply this to dating … if you are happily dating or searching for love or enjoying a great relationship or getting regular, fantastic sex, then a) you will feel fantastic and your kids will benefit from that, b) you will model an adult woman who recognizes her needs as a person and acts on them, responsibly, c), you will set an example of happy, healthy dating and maybe a relationship, d) you will teach your kids that the sun does not rise and set on their asses.

  7. I think most people who read this article misunderstood it. Being a child of a blended family that went sour I can tell you what went wrong. My step dad always put his kids before my mother so much so that it felt like his eldest daughter was little wife number 1. I don’t mean that in an incest way but there would be times where she would pick out his clothes or make him lunch or try to act like the woman of the house. It was nauseating. My mom always went above and beyond for him and his children but she was always disrespected and put on the back burner. He failed to make it clear to his kids that my mother was his partner in everything and that her word was just as good as his…no negotiations. He needed to demonstrate to all of us that marriage is a partnership between spouses not between children. Now that my mother is single I feel that her happiness is the most important thing. If the children are in a loving, stable environment and are getting enough attention why shouldn’t parents put their emotional needs first? Let me tell you having a lonely and sad mother/father does not make for happy children. I don’t think the author was encouraging single people to drop their kids like a bag of bricks the minute someone calls for a date but to encourage single people to make uninterrupted time for themselves to date or do whatever else that is fulfilling to them without kids. Now that I’m in an adult relationship we tell each other that we as a loving partnership come first before the children. Children will grow up and leave you and then it’s just you and your partner all over again so it’s important to nurture that relationship while raising children.

  8. I agree completely with the author.
    It may sound harsh but like the previous writer said, marriage is a partnership between two adults. it is important for kids to see that as this in turn will teach them what a healthy relationship is about.
    Kids will move out, marry, have their own lives. All we have to do is be good teaches, good examples of healthy adult relationships. This will help them be happier and dare I say more fulfilled.

  9. Elyssa – I just wanted to say thank you for your comments. I recently very sadly came out of a relationship that was ended by a man who’s daughter acted the same way as you mentioned & who’s son just threw tantrums everytime he was at our house (he would refuse to eat the food that we cooked & would demand take aways etc which my x-fiance would alway give in to as he didn’t want his son to ‘go hungry’). He’s now decided he has to be on his own & focus on his 15 & 18 year old, while I’ve been left absolutely devasted. I too was in a blended family after my father died when I was 10 & my mum remarried & the only thing I wanted was my mum to be happy.

  10. Male partners are always complaining about lack of love from their wives or that their wives love their children more. However if a grown man feels this way when he is aware that he is second to the children, just think how the little children would feel knowing that their moms loved a grown man more than them. There have been reported cases of depression in kids stemming from this, and I myself have grown up with my mom loving strange men and even other people’s children more than me.

  11. This article is absulte crap the child should always come first and I’m speaking from experience what if your mother met some guy and treated you like crap afterwards and you was 12 years of age with no father how would you feel and then at the age of 16 your getting kicked out of the house for the husband is that really good parenting??

  12. I divorced when my children were in middle school. And my children DID come first. So, I did not date. I devoted myself exclusively to my children. It’s not that complicated.

    When men say, “My children come first!” that is honorable. Go on and raise them with gusto during this season. No regrets.

    But don’t try to get what you want from a woman without understanding her need to feel truly prioritized in your life as any soul mate would desire. Wait until you have more time. Successful relationships require a lot of WORK. It’s hard trying to figure all that out WHILE pouring all your energy into kids grades and extra curricular activities, their feelings and drama with their friends and teachers/coaches, all while trying to keep your career viable to be able to pay the mortgage and car notes so you can taxi them all over the place. That’s too much.

    I didn’t want any man of mine to NOT feel cherished and prioritized. So, I didn’t get on my soapbox and declare on a bullhorn, “My children COME FIRST!” I just put my children first. Period. And now I date WITH ABANDON! I love men. My college-aged kids better NOT say nothing but, “Thank you for paying this tuition.” This is MY season now. No regrets. And we have all have great relationships.

  13. u didn’t chose your children but decided to have children. but think about children who neither chose their parents nor decided to be born. Now the problem with the family today is for your infidelity, mistrust, mental illness, abusive behaviour children have to pay the price. and at the time of your divorce u will tell your kids that ” we will always love u no matter what” and at the time of your date you tell your kids”he did not decide who I dated and when — that was my decision and my choice” at the time of your remarriage u will tell this broken kids ” it is ok not to be ok” and the time of your honeymoon u will keep yore children with someone because you are ashamed to include your children in your special moment . it is you who shown how to disrespect the marriage , not allowing them every moment of your life.After all this things you are expecting to get respected, to be loved so u are asking them to be mature, thats nice!!!!!!!!!!!!! i really don’t understand who need to be mature.
    your children are broken they are dying inside. look into their marriage life how they are doing. i hope they will not do the same mistake what u have done.But most of the cases this children became abusive towards their spouses the cycle will do on and on.
    U remarried because of your own physical and financial reason and so on. U divorced his/her bio parents for your own problem. if you feel u can provide and beautiful life to a child then bring child into this world other wise don’t . Nobody forced you or nobody can to have children if you don’t want to. if child life destroyed because of your stupidity and selfishness then u are only to be blamed. ” If the kids come first then why get remarried in the first place?” i can ask u another way– if marriage/remarriage is so important to u then why to bring a child into this world.

    1) child is not your marriage cement,not your marriage symbol,not your pets. it is your flesh and blood. don’t destroy your grand children life by destroying their patents life because u are the adult and mature you are the one who have to sacrifice don’t ask your child to sacrifice.
    2) Get remarried when your children are adult/independent and in this time only put your marriage first.
    3)I think u are good as a girlfriend/boyfriend but u don’t deserved to mother/dad. I am truly sorry for your child.

  14. I agree with putting your spouse first however, im looking for some advice/guidance for my situation which is….i divorced my husband exactly one year ago. Him & I have 2 children together a boy who is 4 years old & a girl who is 2 years old. I also have a 2 month old daughter with my current boyfriend. My current boyfriend has been around since my 2 YEAR old daughter was 5 months old however, we didnt start dating until i was divorced…my problem is that my boyfriend & my son (4 yrs old) do NOT get along or have any kind of bond at all but they use to up until my son realized that its no longer “mommy & daddy” & its now “mommy & rick” and my 2 year old daughter & my b/f get along so well and have an amazing bond! I have always put my son first & took up for him, “babied” him due to the fact that he makes me feel terrible & guilty. Is there any possibility of starting to put my relationship/spouse first NOW or is it too late? We’ve tried but we’re lost and not sure how to go about it!!! Please, any help and/or advice would be greatly appreciated.

  15. I feel I have to share my experience of the last 4 years with you. I have been living with a man who has 4 daughters. A 24 year old, a 21 year old, a 9 year old and a 8 year old. He is 52 I am 41. When I first met my partner when he saw his older girls either together or separately he used to ask me to go home as the girls wanted to see him on their own. I stayed every other night. He used to share a bed with them. I found this totally wrong we had many rows over this. I felt he should of given up his bed for them and slept on sofa or they should not stay the night. He also has the younger girls every other weekend and the same thing happened, but I didn’t used to go home I used to stay on the settee and he slept with them in our bed. Every other night we made love in this bed. I felt very unhappy about this. I even spoke to social services For advice. They were very concerned and said this was not appropriate and if I gave his name they would contact the mum and my partner to say if he didn’t have appropriate beds for his children they shouldn’t stay. For the last 2 years this hasn’t happened and they sleep on the settee and I share his bed.
    I know my partner misses his kids all the time and can’t wai to see them. He really over compensates for this and they get away with blue murder. He gives them rules which they disobey and there is no consequence. Empty threats. I get so frustrated as I haven’t been brought up like this. On the few occasions he does tell them off they both cover their faces and burst in tears. He then forgets why he told them off in the first place and goes over the top making up for making them cry. They have no boundaries. We don’t smoke we hate it, but he lets his older girls smoke in the lounge. The curtains really smell when they go and it effects his asthma. They make such a fuss going outside so he gives in to them. No respect. They treat our home like a do what u want home. The oldest moved things round in the kitchen like tea coffee and sugar etc so I moved them back.
    The latest row we had was a few weeks ago, it was bank holiday and it wasn’t his weekend. My parents invited us over for a bbq. I thought excellent nice relaxing day we haven’t got the kids so we can relax. His ex asked if he wanted the kids sat day Sunday night and Monday of her weekend so he didn’t come to the bbq with me even though he and the girls were invited. So I had to go alone. I felt so upset he said if he gets any extra time with the girls he wants it as much as possible. He sees me everyday. I pointed out day to day is not the same as us having QUALITY time together. He reply was that his children will always come first over any woman he struggles with only seeing them 4 days a month. Whilst I can see this I truly can is it right to make me feel so worthless?
    His ex plays him like a violin, he just can’t see it. He gives her too much maintance for the money he gets and recently resulted in us being evicted from our home. She never turns up on time either dropping them off or picking them up. She says 6pm then we get a text saying she is still in London! The kids don’t leave till 8.30 sometimes, they have school next day I think this is unacceptable.
    Then it all goes back to normal till they come again.
    I think that there is a happy balance. I also think that some parents should also think how their actions are affecting their partners who every two weeks play and entertain children that are not theirs. Need to also remember there are two people in a relionship and not everything is about their children and their family, the other persons family is just as important.

  16. I would like to think that marriage demands that you love, and are devoted to your spouse. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a marriage. Certainly, children are to be loved and cherished, but to place the children above all other interests, makes the marriage meaningless. How could you go into a marriage wondering how much of their mother’s time you would be allowed to have? A major part of parenting is to model good behavior, which includes loving and respecting your spouse. What do you think children learn if they are calling the shots? They will learn that “me first” is their birth right. They will not learn to be considerate of others, and they will treat everyone, including their parents, as if they were servants.

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