How to date a guy with kids
September 26, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

How to approach dating someone who has primary custody of two almost-grown children?

I've been seeing a great guy for about 5 months (me mid-30's gay male, him mid-40's gay male). He has 2 kids from a previous divorce aged 16 and 19. The kids were living with his ex in another state, but have recently moved in with him to take advantage of better local education/universities/economy. I haven't met his kids yet.

I really, really (REALLY) like this guy, he makes me happier than I've been in years. The kids aren't a deal breaker for me, but I don't know how to approach dating now that we're past the initial getting to know you stage. Normally this would be the time to start spending lots more time together, whole weekends, lazy mornings in bed, etc etc...but that doesn't seem possible since he has his kids at home, and is not comfortable leaving them alone overnight/weekends while he is at my place. He says that he is very interested in me and that I make him as happy as he makes me.

Am I over-thinking this? Should it be any different than dating a single childless guy? How can I move things to the next level? We have sort of stalled with 1-2 lunches during the week, and Friday night dates (rare sleepovers).
posted by worry_wart to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So he is prioritising his children's needs over your wants? Wow, he sounds like a keeper! His children will presumably have sleepovers of their own once they are settled as well as long weekend or weeks spent with their other parent so that would be the ideal time for your two to have sleepovers. Meanwhile, keep up with the mid-week dates and work around his schedule. You being flexible when he does not have the ability to rearrange his schedule or abandon his responsibilities makes this a win-win situation for both of you.
posted by saucysault at 8:38 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I believe it's standard to not have you being a regular fixture in the house until it's more likely that you won't leave. It's not good for kids of any age to live with a revolving door of parents' girlfriends/boyfriends so responsible parents are more cautious. Responsible parents also don't ditch their children for an overnighter without a babysitter until their children are old enough for that, as you've noticed.

So, you're not overthinking it. You've observed that this is different than getting serious with a childless person in that things happen more conservatively. Since children aren't a dealbreaker for you, you're hopefully okay with that.
posted by michaelh at 8:39 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, if you want or need more from him, he's just not able to provide it at this time. He has a minor child at home and doesn't want to leave them home alone. So either you're patient and accept the constriction or cut him loose.

It's okay to want what you want, you just might not be able to get it from him. Talk to him about it. See if you can work something out. Otherwise, if the time contraints he has are a dealbreaker...well, deal is broken, right?
posted by inturnaround at 8:40 AM on September 26, 2011

Kids older than 18 or so should be able to cope with Dad having an intimate relationships. At some point, when it's clear that you have a committed relationship, you should be able to have some lazy weekend mornings in bed. Presumably, they'll be visiting their other parent, and you can have some time away together. However, the operative word is should. The kids may accept you, or may be jealous of your role in Dad's life, or feel disloyal to Mom if they like you. It takes time and effort to make it work.

Step-parenting is a really tough job, and step-parents don't get a lot of credit. As a virtual step-parent, you have to be accepting of their needs, pleasant, interested in them, and you can't criticize or parent. You don't get to set rules - he does. Ideally, he sets good boundaries, and requires them to be respectful of you. It sounds like he's worth the effort.
posted by theora55 at 9:06 AM on September 26, 2011

I'm a little lost here. The kids are 16 and 19? I can maybe understand not wanting to leave the 16 year old overnight, but I don't even think the 19 year old living at home counts as 'custody' unless the kid is disabled (I'm not a lawyer...)

Does he not want YOU staying over because the kids are around? Does he feel awkward about that because it's a newish relationship? I'm just a little startled that you're getting a lot of standard "kids come first, need babysitters" type advice when the kids are 16 and 19. I just feel like there's something missing in your story... why can't the lazy weekends be at his place?
posted by sweetkid at 9:33 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not wanting to leave them overnight? That seems a bit much for me--they're not little kids, unless of course, he's got good reasons not to trust them alone. So, go out on dates, go to bed and be home by 11:30. 12:30 on weekends.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:44 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm dating a guy with a 16 year old kid. Kids are a whole different ballgame. As theora55 says, he should be prioritizing them over you, that's usually a good sign. Dating someone with kids usually means managing the fact that the kid's priorities come first, but as you transition to a more mature relationship, you become a priority as well. So in your case, then yeah the 16 year old is the scheduling concern. Does that kid ever stay with his Mom? Does he sleep over at friends' places? Depending on the terms of whatever his relationship with their mom was, he may have more or less leeway with what he can do with them. I have to say that I've been in a relationship with my guy for years and the lazy weekend mornings thing really only happens when his son is elsewhere, or when he's visiting me. We have a bit more distance between us and so schedule weekends together.

So at this point I think it's worth talking to this guy. Tell him you'd like to see more of him. Ask how that can be managed. Tell him you like him. Ask him what works, what he's done in the past, what he would be willing to do. Be understanding and realize that HE may not even know what works and what doesn't and so it's important to explain what you'd like but also listen to what he'd like and try to find some way to try to balance everyone in this new configuration.
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 AM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I asked him about spending the night at my place, and he said he wasn't comfortable leaving his kids alone. I didn't press the issue, but I agree that a 16 year old and 19 year old should be OK left alone on the occasional Friday night.

Maybe 5 months of dating isn't a committed enough relationship to be introducing me to his kids? In 5 months of dating, I haven't even been to his house...because he didn't want to introduce me to his kids.

I'm not sure what to think about the 19 year old...I mean, obviously still his child, but an adult no? Should be attending college or working or something, right?

I don't have kids. I don't know if I'm being reasonable or not.
posted by worry_wart at 9:54 AM on September 26, 2011

Wanted to add that I'm glad he prioritizes his kids and he is a good Dad. I don't want or expect to come first, but would like things to move beyond casual dating...he says that he wants this too, but hard to figure out how to make it happen.

Thank you for all the answers, I will bow out again.
posted by worry_wart at 9:58 AM on September 26, 2011

Yes, the kids are older and should be fine with an occasional night alone. It just sounds like the father is being overly careful. This is probably because he just recently took over custody and wants to do right by his kids. I think after he adjusts to the responsibility of caring for them, he will relax and loosen up a bit.

But definitely have a talk with him about you moving forward as a couple and how to navigate that with his kids. 5 months is long enough for you to be a solid presence.
posted by Vaike at 10:02 AM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

How long ago was the divorce? Maybe if he hasn't been their custodial parent since they were much younger, he's having trouble adjusting to them being grown up. 19 is an adult, unless he has 'special needs' or is really irresponsible (sounds like he's at university though?), there should be no problem with him being left alone or in charge of his old enough to be a baby-sitter brother.

Just throwing it out there - do his kids know he's gay?

I think you're just going to have to take it slow and take what you can get until whatever is really stopping him from taking it to the next level changes.
posted by missmagenta at 10:43 AM on September 26, 2011

Yeah, you wouldn't think that people would use their kids as an excuse to hide behind, but it definitely happens. They are TOTALLY old enough to be on their own (unless there are special needs, of course). Call him on this.
posted by Melismata at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2011

They are TOTALLY old enough to be on their own

My first thought wasn't that they would get scared of the dark and need daddy, but instead, leaving a 16 & 19 alone on a Friday night = house party.
posted by saucysault at 2:13 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

My thought is that many parents may not be ok leaving a sixteen year old alone overnight, but that five months in, you should be able to have at least an evening over at his house. Maybe ask what his timeline is for you meeting the kids -- it might be that he hasn't put it in concrete terms yet, and he needs to.
posted by freshwater at 4:03 PM on September 26, 2011

I think Saucysault has got it. He can't leave them alone not because their kids but because their teenagers and you can't really leave those at home alone for a whole host of reasons that are nothing like why you couldn't leave a 5 year old alone.

Its not just house parties either its that you want to know where your 16 year old is and what time he comes home and if you're not there he might not come home at all.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:16 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmm. You say he only just RECENTLY got custody, right? I wonder if his feelings about not wanting to leave the kids on their own might be coming from a Burden Of New Responsibility kind of thing ("whoa, the kids are MY responsibility now, I'd better not fuck this up!"), and whether he may end up feeling more comfortable about it later once he's spent more "close quarters" time with them and starts realizing "oh, okay, these kids are way less breakable/irresponsible/etc. than I was thinking, they'll actually be okay alone once in a while". So this may resolve all on its own.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:33 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

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