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Dating someone with kids? 5 things to know

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Is it hard dating someone with a child?

Dating a parent with kids still at home can come with enormous challenges — as well as upsides.

If you are a parenting venturing out into dating, or someone thinking about getting involved with someone who has kids, this post is for you. One bit of cautionary advice: On dating apps, be sure to be 100% honest about whether you have kids, and whether you are open to dating someone with children (even if you already have your own).

Of course, you may be unsure about how you feel about that right now, and that is OK. But sites like eharmony are great at matching people on a deep level for long-term partnership thanks to their 150-point compatibility assessment. Try eharmony for free up to 3 months >>

Here are 5 things to know when dating a man or woman with kids:

1. Expect that his or her kids are a priority

Kids are overwhelming, demand a lot of time and energy, and most parents enjoy their company (most of the time). Assume that the dad or mom you’re involved with is a good parent — most are. 

That said, for long-term relationships, couples must put each other first, before kids.

However, if you just started dating after divorce, you're not there yet! And a parent who prioritizes his or her kids is not a red flag — at least not yet.

2. Respect that dads are assumed to be deadbeats — and mothers martyrs.

By every metric, our society marginalizes men as parents — shoehorning them into breadwinner roles both inside and outside of marriage. A full 80% of single dads are non-custodial, and that is not always by choice — law, family courts and our culture all assume that when parents live separately, kids live primarily with mothers, and dads are visitors. Many dads have to fight in torturous, expensive legal battles to see their kids half-time — if at all. If the dad in your life seems like he is overdoing it in terms of time, effort and attention to his kids, keep in mind that he is working against a system and society that expects him to fail as a father. 

Moms, on the other hand, are pressured by nearly everyone around them to be a self-sacrificing parent — and that mothers who take time away from their children to date or — Lord help her, have sex — are selfish whores.

Thankfully, I hear from more and more moms who are abandoning this, focusing on equal parenting time, careers and self-care.

3. They're trying to figure this out, too!

Dating as a parent is hard. Single-parenting romance is complicated. It is also fun, heady, exciting, heartbreaking, terrifying. You feel like that, and he does, too. Communicate, give each other the benefit of doubt, have fun and be kind.

This is what experts on The Steve Harvey Show have to say about finding love when kids are in the mix:

4. Recognize boundaries: You aren’t their parent

Parenting battles — whether between married parents, divorced c0-parents, step-parents, parents and grandparents, or dating partners are all about a dynamic push and pull of two things: rights and responsibilities.

As the romantic interest or partner of someone with kids, you don't have rights to decide how these kids are raised or diciplined or behave, just like you don't have responsibility for getting their teeth brushed or funding their 529 plans.

In that vein, it is not your automatic responsibility to pick them up from school when your boyfriend or girlfriend is working, or buy their meals when you go out to a restaurant — until it is. Should the relationship progress to partnership, co-habitation or marriage (whatever you explicity decide), then you can make agreements about what your role as a step- or bonus parent is in the home. If you choose to help your lover out with their kids, that is a favor — not a duty.

You can make kind or helpful suggestions about the kids' behavior, but you don't get to make the rules.

You do get to make the rules about what you will tolerate, such as how people behave in your home, or how they speak to you, including children.

But do not kid yourself: Establishing boundaries with your partner's children can create conflict in the relationship, and may become a deal breaker.

Blending families is hard. Make no bones about that.

5. Remember to care for yourself

Boundaries are about self-care, and they are good for everyone. Establishing in a kind but firm way with your partner about what you are willing to put up with is part of any healthy relationship — and required for your own self-care.

Individual, couples and family therapy can help, which is why we researched the best online therapy sites for 2022.

Remember to be kind to all involved — this is messy, complicated business. Approach parenting with kids as a work-in-progress, one that requires communication, humility and humor.

Dating with kids … How do you know when you’re ready to start?

If you are getting over a big breakup or divorce, and you are a single mom or dad, you may have a lot of questions and confusion around dating. After all, you likely have never dated as a parent. That is totally normal.

My general rule of thumb is this: Date when you want to date, but be careful — especially if you are going through divorce now.

That said, society tells you that mothers are virgins and dating steals precious time from child-rearing.

In fact, a happy mom who is fulfilled romantically, sexually and with a great companion — whether a serious partner, friend with benefits, lots of fun dates — can be a better mom, not to mention attractive to others. Whatever your dating journey looks like, is the right journey.

Some quick rules, though:

You may need to do some work to get over your divorce and sit with your loneliness before you can find that great guy. Here is more about my journey.

Deeper information can be found to this question in these posts:

15 tips for men who want to date a single mom

Benefits of dating a single dad — and how to date a man with kids

Reasons not to date a man (or woman) with a kid

If you're considering being involved with a single parent, have a crush on one, or currently in a relationship with a single mom or single dad — but it's not working out, here is my message to you:

It's perfectly fine not to want to date someone with kids.

Some people prefer to date within their religion or people with certain physical attributes, or only people who own lime-green Lamborghinis. I'm not your therapist, and I'm not here to tell you how you are limiting your soul by adhering to a shortlist of dating must-haves.

If you are clear you don't want to date moms, then don't date them — and don't feel guilty about it.

If you thought you were open to that hot mom in your office, and genuinely tried to spend time with her and her baby, but learned that dynamic is not for you, then be kind and call it off sooner than later. As long as there was no malice, this is just the cost of the search for love — for both of you.

There are many reasons not to date someone with kids, and they don't really matter, though they can include:

  • You want someone who focuses on you first — always
  • You don't like kids
  • You don't like to spend a lot of time with other people's kids
  • Blended families are too hard
  • Your kids are grown and you're over the young-family phase of life
  • You don't want to deal with co-parent drama, or an ex who demands to meet the new partner
  • You're not sure why, but you just are not interested in dating someone with children from a previous relationship
  • The mom or dad is struggling with raising a teenager— who may hate your guts — and you're not emotionally invested enough to wait it out

What matters is that you seek and find what you want and need in romance, sex and love.

However, you may be totally open to dating a man or woman with children, but your boyfriend's (or girlfriend's) specific family situation prevents you from committing to your current relationship. These scenarios include:

“My kids come first”

If you want a serious, committed relationship, that relationship has to come first. If your partner makes clear that their children will always come before you, do not argue with them. Take that edict at face-value.

Do not tell yourself that being patient will change their mind, or that you can ingratiate yourself into their family in a way that will make you a priority. You will never be.

If you are the parent, and wear on your dating profiles, and proclaim to the world and potential dates that your children always come first, accept that that deep, meaningful, committed partnership that you crave will remain elusive.

No one suggests you should abandon your children for a partner.

But for a romantic relationship to thrive, that must be the nucleus around which your children orbit — and thrive.

Over-empowering children

It's no surprise that so many blended families 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 single 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.

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 earmony.

Women are certainly guilty of making children the center of their whole lives — maybe even more so than men, especially since we are far more likely to be primary caregivers, and face cultural pressure to sacrifice for family.

But in this moment when men are struggling to claim their place as equal parents while society expects single dads to be the lackadaisical weekend father, I get why you are compelled to go overboard with your expressed devotion.

Dating with kids in the mix can be complicated. Messy.

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“My child is ruining our relationship” — Having to choose between child and partner

Sometimes parents feel like the stress of balancing their kids and their boyfriend or girlfriend is too much, and they have to choose one or the other.

Often, these issues can be worked out with time, patience, and perhaps some professional help. If it is truly unresolvable, of course a minor child comes first, though be very careful that that son or daughter is not over-empowered to make manipulate or otherwise make adult decisions for his or her mom or dad. That is not appropriate, and actually harmful to the kid.

“Breaking up because of his child”

However, if your kid is actually an adult, you have to choose your own path, happiness and relationship. Adult children do not get to dictate their parents' romantic lives (though of course if there is some form of abuse, intervention is appropriate, but again: all parties are adults).

Therapy can help — including couples therapy. Online counseling is increasingly popular since it is so affordable, convenient and anonymous. BetterHelp is our No. 1 pick.

Is it worth it to date a man or woman with kids?

It can be. It can also cause trouble in the relationship and lead to a breakup.

But that is up to you.

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If you are indeed ready for love, what can you do?

  • Create a space for her or him. If it is a serious, committed, long-term relationship, the couple needs to be each other's No. 1 priority.
  • Stop putting kids first. 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.

Looking for a serious relationship? Our No. 1 recommendation is eharmony, which is consistently rated the most trusted dating site, and is designed specifically for those looking for meaningful, long-term connections. A- Better Business Bureau rating, and claims “Every day, an average of 438 singles marry a match they found on eharmony.”

Is it hard dating someone with a child?

Dating a parent with kids still at home can come with enormous challenges, as well as upsides.

Is it worth it to date a man or woman with kids?

It can be. It can also cause trouble in the relationship and lead to a breakup. But that is up to you.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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