The Childless Dating Those With Children
January 17, 2012 12:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently seeing a man who has children, and this is my first experience with such a situation. It's new, so I've only just started asking the important questions, i.e., why did you divorce in the first place, how long have you been divorced, how is your relationship with your ex, are you both at peace with how it ended? etc. Everything seems to check out so far, but I know it would be foolish to think I won't encounter some unique problems if things get serious.

I know single fathers can potentially come with an incredible amount of baggage, and others might be far less problematic.. it's all relative to their situations. The main concerns I had in the beginning were: What if she's still in love with him and freaks out in a jealous rage over me? What if he didn't learn from his mistakes? What if his children treat me horribly? Is he emotionally intelligent? Will he make me feel like a priority? The list goes on. I have never been married nor do I have children of my own.

I'm looking for some advice from single fathers who date, as well as advice from women who have dated single fathers. I am not interested in hearing from those who have a snide remark and nothing valuable to offer. I like this guy, and he seems to be put together.

My questions:

What sort of probelms have you encountered when dating someone with children? How did you deal with those issues?

What problems, as a single parent, have you encountered while dating a childless person? How did you handle them?

Some details about Beau:
-He married young
-The marriage lasted for ten years
-He's been divorced for three years
-He has two children under the age of ten
-He is financially stable
posted by CXXVII to Human Relations (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Will he make me feel like a priority?

This is not meant to sound snide. If he is a good dad, you will always be second fiddle to his kids. Especially since they are young.
posted by schroedinger at 12:52 PM on January 17, 2012 [17 favorites]

Yes I wouldn't want to be with a man who wasn't a good father; good fathers always put their children before their girlfriends. If I were to marry him someday however, I would expect to be treated as an equal. But as the old saying goes, blood is thicker than water. I get it. I have no qualms with his role as a good father and would never get bent out of shape if the children interrupted our plans, required special attention, etc. I expect all of that and I'm prepared for it. I would do my best to be a solid presence in their lives (the children's) and help out. I'm a patient person by nature, not selfish. However, I do want to know what I'm signing up for here. I'm excited to hear from people who have experience with this type of thing.
posted by CXXVII at 1:05 PM on January 17, 2012

I know single fathers can potentially come with an incredible amount of baggage.

They're called children, and it doesn't matter if he's a single father or a single mother.

There's a number of ways this can go, and single parents are various enough that any advice will either be obvious or meaningless. If he's a decent guy, his kids will be his first priority. It's likely that his kids will treat you horribly. This is primarily because they're kids and that's what they do to parental figures.

The ex is more likely to be jealous over her kids. Not the Dad.

Without knowing what the "mistakes" you're alluding to there's no way of us to work out if he'll make them again.

Sounds like you need to start thinking about him more than you are doing. It's difficult work being a single parent, and your attitude makes me think that you're going to add to his difficulties rather than reducing them. Take it one day at a time, and try and filter any difficult behaviour from him through a "he's got kids" filter.

Grumpy. May be the kids.
Not paying you enough attention. May be the kids.
Cancelling dates with little notice. May be the kids.
Rushing off after just meeting up with you for that coffee. May be the kids.

Also - You need to get used to the fact that you'll be doing some stuff with all of them. They're not your family, but there's going to be a lot more family trips for you from now on.

By the way - It's rare that these relationships work. Much rarer than relationships with single mothers.
posted by seanyboy at 1:08 PM on January 17, 2012

This is a recent and related might find good answers there.
posted by murrey at 1:08 PM on January 17, 2012

How long have you been dating? Have you met his kids yet? Have you met the ex?

Being with a guy with kids is complicated because he'll always have a tie to the ex. It's not about her behaviour with you, it's about how he manages that behaviour if it's negative. For all you know, she may have completely moved on and not care at all about you, until things are serious. If you've not met her yet, you don't know how she'll be. Or how he'll be. She and the kids will probably swing back and forth for a bit before things settle. Your fella is going to be a big help in making that happen.

My fella's ex is crazy, but she's sociable. A bit too sociable for my taste, actually, as I don't like or trust her and yet she acts like we're besties when I'm mentioned by my partner. It's her way of feeling in control of the situation. I'm sociable back, but within limits. She doesn't have my email address or phone number, but I'll be nice as pie to her on the phone or in person, just to make life easy for everyone. My fella's kid is fantastic, getting used to me gradually, alternately standoffish and friendly. Whatever, he's 12 and I'm an adult, and it's for me to let him decide what to make of me. It might be easy for me to say that because he also doesn't visit us often (dad usually goes to Ireland to see him).

It's a relationship, like any other. You have to let people be as they are and take things as they come. Keep an open mind.
posted by Grrlscout at 1:09 PM on January 17, 2012

@ seanyboy

I'm not sure what "attitude" you're referring to, as I'm incredibly accepting and optimistic here. Most of my girlfriends wouldn't date a man with children, but I think I'm patient enough to do so happily.

My focus has been entirely on him thus far. Which is why I'm interested in examining the possibility of a long term relationship with this man. The logical next step is to examine the 'he has kids' dynamic. As for how he treats me, he's incredibly caring and attentive. The priority part is a big deal to me as I haven't been formally integrated yet.. hence my interest in hearing from people with experience in this department.
posted by CXXVII at 1:17 PM on January 17, 2012

I couldn't handle this. I think it was the particular set of circumstances in my relationship though, not a blanket "I can't handle dating guys with kids." As Grrlscout mentions, you will always have a tie to the guy's ex if you have a long term relationship with him and you have to decide if you're OK with that. In my particular case, the guy I was with was very jealous of his ex wife's life. She was happily remarried with a couple more kids with her new spouse. He on the other hand, had had a series of failed relationships and his self esteem was low. He would talk about his ex CONSTANTLY, even if the current conversation had nothing remotely to do with her. He wanted to get married for being married's sake, kind of like "Hey look at me, I found someone to marry ME. I have worth too." We actually did get engaged briefly. I realized I was being used and we split up. He got someone pregnant a couple months after our breakup and hastily married her. His teenage son was awesome, super intelligent, but kind of neglected by his dad. He was starting to run away from home around the time my ex and I were splitting up.

So yeah, a situation like mine is one you don't want to find yourself in. Someone who has moved on in a healthy way and who is attentive to his kids, though...this would be someone worth getting to know better.
posted by medeine at 1:26 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it is great that you are asking intelligent background questions of the man in question - why did he divorce etc.

I know it would be foolish to think I won't encounter some unique problems...
Every relationship has some unique problems.

I know single fathers can potentially come with an incredible amount of baggage
Yes, but so can you, so can the single guy in the coffee shop, so can everyone ... or not.

Will he make me feel like a priority?
There will be problems if he does make you the priority at the expense of his children. As schroedinger says, the kids should be priority.

I married a man with four children from two ex-wives. When asked why the marriages broke down he admitted it was his fault. One of the reasons why we broke up was because he made me a much bigger priority than his children and I lost respect for him over that. His kids were delightful and to see them ignored hurt me a lot. It was me who brought the children back into our lives, worked out financial support plan etc. Despite his faults my ex was a good man and had married good women so there was no angsty jealous drama (none of us were 'the other woman').

I do want to know what I'm signing up for here
I don't think anyone can tell you that in detail as each relationship is different.

My mother married a man with children from a previous marriage. One of those children (he turns 70 next year so calling him a child seems funny) has become one of my mother's closest friends even though they are not related by blood.

Some red flags I watch out for...
Badmouthing the ex wives. That's a dealbreaker for me.
Badmouthing the kids. Ditto

When I was the step-parent I decided not to be a 'parent' to the kids but an older caring friend. So I didn't try to control them only look out for them. One day when the middle son was about 8yrs old he turned to me and said: "You know what I like about you, Kerasia? You say 'yes!'" What he meant was that, after explaining the pitfalls and potential consequences, I let the kids do things their mother may not such as eating candy with red food dye etc. They knew it would make them hyper, I knew it would make them hyper, so lots of activity was planned along side.

One downfall of marrying a man with kids is that if you break up, you may not see the kids again. I still miss them.
posted by Kerasia at 1:27 PM on January 17, 2012

Do you hope to have children some day? If so, be sure to find out whether he wants more.
posted by mareli at 1:30 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've established that he's a wonderful person and that we're compatible.

"It's called children."

No. Again, seanyboy, you're misguided. I do not consider his children to be a collective negative entity and 'baggage.'

Baggage is a crazy ex-wife, alimony.. baggage comes in the form of emotional issues and not knowing how to properly balance yourself. He might not know how to integrate me successfully. I've also heard horror stories about ex-wives. I'm primarily concerned with how his ex wife 'is.' Has she moved forward, is she content, how do I avoid stepping on her toes without allowing myself to be mistreated. Will she stick the kids against me? Will she tell them to ignore me and treat me poorly? As for his children treating me horribly, I guess that's beau's responsibility to cure. If they do, I'll be patient. Not looking forward to that though, but it may not turn out to be that way.

I'm suddenly concerned with his children because he's started asking me to be a part of his life and meet his children, spend time with all of them, etc. and I need to be prepared for anything at this point. Right now I'm used to being with him, not his family. I've done my homework when it comes to studying him, his behaviors, etc. and I'm falling madly in love with him. But I don't know how he'll be when it's me + the children.

@ Grrlscout

We've been dating for a little over six months, and I respect him for checking me out thoroughly before integrating me.
posted by CXXVII at 1:39 PM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't meet his children after 6 months. I wouldn't meet his children until we had decided we were ready to talk about marriage. It's not fair to kids to involve them in adult relationships and ask them to form attachments to adults who may only be around a short time. Many people disagree with me on this, but that's my opinion.
posted by decathecting at 1:53 PM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

He's serious about me and does want to remarry eventually, he's made that very clear. As for having more children, he's open to it and would embrace it. I am undecided at this point. As for not meeting his children until he proposes, I think it would be foolish not to see how I would be in his 'reality' before talking marriage. I get the feeling he's going there emotionally, he's starting to form that obvious bond and attachment to me.

I love him to pieces. I just want to go about this intelligently and avoid hurting anyone/getting hurt.

Please folks, personal experience with dating single parents/single parents only
posted by CXXVII at 2:00 PM on January 17, 2012

My sister is married to a man with two sons from a previous relationship. These are some things I know of that worked for her:

* She has next to no dealings with the boys' mother -- the mother had tried to come between them in the past so she doesn't interact with their mother and they are rarely in the same social setting. My sister and her husband have been together for about 13 years since the boys were 2 and 1 and they have had maybe a handful of conversations in that time. It works for them because my sister leaves anything to do with the boys between the parents. When they were little she changed nappies, gave them bottles, tucked them into bed, but (I think as much for herself) refused to be a mother to them. Next point:

* She has never tried to be their mother -- they already have one. She is their friend and all rules and most of the discipline are done by their parents. She will tell them off for something that happens in her house, but disciplinary action for big issues is decided by the parents. She probably has a role more like an aunty or similar, a step back from a parent.

* As her family, we see the kids socially at Christmas and such and they view us as family, but distantly. My sister has insisted that our parents are not the boys' grandparents, because they already have bio grandparents.

* The boys have always had priority. She has never been bitter or unhappy about it because she knew that's what she was going into. She has, however, really struggled with the ex-partner's various crazinesses and that led to a lot of tension between her and her partner. At some points the boys were used as pawns/go-betweens for the mother, and there were silly manipulations she tried -- for example she would send the boys to stay with my sister and their dad for the weekend in their pyjamas or school uniforms, knowing and expecting they would buy the boys new clothes and save her having to do it (she was, at the same time, receiving child support). So sister and her husband said the clothes they bought would stay at their house and they could go back to their mothers in the clothes she had sent them in (after washing them, obviously). For a few years the boys had separate clothes for each parent's house. To this day their laptops, Playstation, etc all stay there too.

* At a couple of points in time the boys have chosen to live with their dad and my sister. They always have their own bedrooms and stuff at my sister's place so it's no extra hassle, but she was always ready for the times they would elect to live there instead. She enjoyed having them, but it can lead to some uncertainty, changed plans, adjusting of finances.

* My sister and her husband are in a position financially where they can afford to get the boys lots of cool stuff -- I know she enjoys being able to give them things like iPods, laptops, even trail bikes. She loves them to bits and has walked quite a delicate line between stepmother and mother along the way, and the boys clearly respect and love her too.
posted by tracicle at 2:01 PM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thank you, tracicle
posted by CXXVII at 2:09 PM on January 17, 2012

Childless dude in a longterm relationship with a divorcee with two children here.

*The children are a source of joy for me. I love them and hopefully they love me back.

*My relationship with the ex is fine. He didn't approve of me in the beginning (I'm not religious, he is extrememly so) and probably still doesn't, but he realizes that I'm in it for the longhaul and he has no role in his ex-wife's dating decisions.

If I were to marry him someday however, I would expect to be treated as an equal.

Do you mean equal with the children? I know others have covered this already but it bears repeating. I grew up with a mother and stepdad. Some time after my stepdad died, my mom related a story to me about how, early in their marriage, he complained that my mom was always putting the kids needs in front of her own. Her reply was, "They're children. They need me. You're an adult. You don't." And that opened his eyes and solved the problem.

Millions of kids are happily cared for by stepparents, and millions of stepparents love their stepkids. You're looking for anecdata and we can give it to you, but each relationship is so very unique with so many variables that apply only to that relationship that I don't know if you're going to find some sort of definitive plan of action.

You've had to defend yourself already several times in this thread, and it's because your post does indeed come off as...well, certainly not OPTIMISTIC as you claim to be. Each relationship is different, as I said, and it is NOT necessarily fraught with peril. Communicate a lot, and if you decide that all in all, you would just rather not date someone with children (that's the vibe I get from your OP), THAT'S PERFECTLY OKAY. It doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by mreleganza at 2:16 PM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah having legitimate concerns is apparently b*tchy.

I'm just going to have to dive straight in I guess and be careful about it. Every situation is unique, every set of people will be unique.

I should have asked the general question "What sort of troubles have you encountered while dating single parents." Or "what have you struggled with while dating childless people."

I was really just looking for stories here, some generalizations from people with experience. I shouldn't have made it personal.
posted by CXXVII at 2:51 PM on January 17, 2012

What if she's still in love with him and freaks out in a jealous rage over me? What if he didn't learn from his mistakes? What if his children treat me horribly? Is he emotionally intelligent? Will he make me feel like a priority? The list goes on. [...] Baggage is a crazy ex-wife, alimony.. baggage comes in the form of emotional issues and not knowing how to properly balance yourself. He might not know how to integrate me successfully. I've also heard horror stories about ex-wives. I'm primarily concerned with how his ex wife 'is.' Has she moved forward, is she content, how do I avoid stepping on her toes without allowing myself to be mistreated. Will she stick the kids against me? Will she tell them to ignore me and treat me poorly? As for his children treating me horribly, I guess that's beau's responsibility to cure. If they do, I'll be patient. Not looking forward to that though, but it may not turn out to be that way.

Also not a snide comment: this is a habit that's known as catastrophizing, in which you ("you" in the generic sense, not you in particular) spend time and emotional energy thinking up worst-case scenarios, and then spending more time and emotional energy trying to pre-emptively figure out a plan of how to deal with the worst-case scenarios even though they haven't yet come to pass. This can be done in any relationship, whether or not there are ex-spouses or children in the picture ("he's recently immigrated from Asia/been laid-off/is taking care of a mentally ill parent/has dropped out of grad school to become a baker/is in a wheelchair/is estranged from his family -- what if Challenge 1/Challenge 2/Challenge 3 arises?").

I say this not to be flip, but to gently suggest that the phrasing of much of your question and follow-up comments suggest that you may be looking for some definitive answers in terms of What To Expect and How To Deal with your relationship, which no one here can really give you -- though of course there are some great general guidelines for being involved with someone with kids, as tracicle illustrates. That said, there's a certain amount of not crossing bridges until you get to them that you're going to have to endure, just as you would in any relationship. For example: his ex may be awesome; she may be a terror; she may be somewhere in between. If -- if -- he is carrying that baggage, you'll know soon enough.

Furthermore, there's nothing unique about being married/divorced and having kids that creates some of the fears that you have. There are plenty of men who have never been married and never had kids who may still have a crazy ex, may have never learned from his past mistakes, and may or may not be emotionally intelligent. The possibility that these things may arise in your relationship with this man exist not because he is a divorced father, but because he's a human being with a past.

Try to give yourself a break from the anxiety (at least it would be anxiety-provoking for me) of trying to come up with a plan for every bad thing that can go wrong. Dating a divorced father is different from dating someone who's never been married or had kids, but it's not overwhelmingly likely to be the recipe for disaster that the phrasing of your question/comments suggests.
posted by scody at 2:58 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

This or this may also have some insights?
posted by xm at 3:01 PM on January 17, 2012

sorry, missed this on preview:

Yeah having legitimate concerns is apparently b*tchy.

If this is the takeaway that you are getting from the honest but respectful comments in this thread (unless there have been some aggressive/nasty comments that have been deleted that I didn't see), I would also gently suggest that you take a deep breath and consider that people are answering here in good faith to try to help you, not -- as far as I can see -- calling you any names. If the answers are not exactly what you wanted to hear, that's not necessarily a problem; it can be an opportunity for you to consider that maybe there's a different way for you to look at the situation.
posted by scody at 3:02 PM on January 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

I have experience in this area, and the best thing I can add is: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

You have no control over whether or not his wife is at DEFCON whatever. You can only be a good person to him, his kids, and nice to his wife if she is in the picture.

Everything else, like in all relationships, is outside of your control. Know what your dealbreakers are -- I don't know how others could tell you what or what should not be such.

Also, sorry, you're coming off defensive here -- which is not necessarily the best way to elicit helpful responses. I don't know what world of women don't want to date guys with kids -- maybe that's a below-my-age-bracket thing.
posted by angrycat at 3:03 PM on January 17, 2012

I'm a childless woman and I dated a single man who had custody of two kids (11 and 13). We were in our 40s.

I was mostly enthusiastic about my guy until I saw him with his kids. Then it became clear to me that I wouldn't be able to live with him and the kids or even spend much time at their house. I disagreed fundamentally with how he was raising them. He treated them as if they were far younger than they were, doing everything for them, including basic tasks that they should have been able to do themselves, with the result that they could act needy and spoiled.

He complained about their behavior, and when I super-carefully suggested that at their ages I was a lot more independent because I was expected to do some things on my own, he said that he was aware that he was spoiling them, and it was to make up for their mother leaving them.

If I date a man with kids again, I'll want to meet the kids early on, to see how he interacts with them. It could save time and heartache. Meeting the kids doesn't have to be a big, dramatic, this-is-daddy's-girlfriend scene. It could happen at a bigger gathering where you're just one of several friends. My dad was single and my only parent when I was young, and meeting his dates wasn't confusing or traumatic to me.

Of course, this was just my experience; I'm not saying it would apply to you at all. I am suggesting, however, that you hang out with dad and the kids, calmly observe how they interact, and imagine seeing this interaction for hours every day.
posted by ceiba at 3:31 PM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Like Kerasia, I learned that you can become more and more involved in the kids lives, reading them bedtime stories and planning birthday parties and worrying about their grades and you really love them and they love you back... and the relationship with their father doesn't work out. You'll never have "visitation" or anything like that, and it will hurt. A lot.

Don't let that deter you, but be aware that it's a possibility.
posted by Houstonian at 4:36 PM on January 17, 2012

I was the kid whose dad was dating. :) He married my stepmom when I was 10; the divorce happened right around my 3rd birthday. She was my Sunday School teacher at the church they went to at the time. I actually liked her until my dad came and told me he had proposed to her - then I went through a five year period where I couldn't stand her. Part of that was because she didn't know how to (help) raise a 9-year-old, part of it was because I was deeply distressed by the whole thing and actively chose not to cooperate. There wasn't a darned thing she could do about it; it wasn't until I had been living with my mom for a few years, and they had two kids of their own (they deliberately waited till my mom had primary custody of me) that I finally started seeing her as OK.

I feel very bad for her - and also for my mom, who married my stepdad when his only son was 7 (I was 4.) My brother gave her all kinds of heck, too, and ended up going to live with his mom in part because of not liking my mom.

If you're religious, pray a lot. If you're not religious, start meditating. That "things you cannot change" deal is very, very real. I was 15 when I finally really reconciled with my stepmom; my brother and his dad are finally sort of close and he's in his mid-30s (he and my mother have essentially no interaction at all, though his wife and my mom get along decently well.) Both my mom and stepmom went through years of unpleasantness as a consequence of marrying men with children.

(Note: ages 7 to 11 are the worst for parental remarriage; chances are if one of his kids is 4 or 5 years old, they'll be pretty friendly and OK to be around.)
posted by SMPA at 5:59 PM on January 17, 2012

You've had to defend yourself already several times in this thread, and it's because your post does indeed come off as...well, certainly not OPTIMISTIC as you claim to be.

You know, this thread is a pretty damn good example of the maxim "no good deed goes unpunished." The OP comes here earnestly seeking advice on how to navigate the waters of dating a man with children and people with axes to grind show up en masse determined ... just determined! ... to find something wrong with OP's question and approach.

OP, for what it's worth, I think it's admirable that you're being proactive in trying to figure this out.
posted by jayder at 6:29 PM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am in this boat right now---I was the OP in the question cited above :) I am also a child of divorce myself with two step-parents, and I feel like I went into this knowing the rules (e.g. you are not their mother, etc.) It's a bit different for me because his child is still a baby and so has no 'attitude' about me. As for the ex, the one time I met her (during a drop-off when we were visiting the kid) she was polite to me. I think some of his 'issues' with her will settle down once time passes and the deal settles a little.

I do think finances will continue to be an issue, and I am glad that I have my own job (and my own savings account!) His ex is not eligible for spousal support over and above the child stuff for more than a year (perhaps less) so I feel like she'll try to get whatever other money she can in other ways, and he'll have to stay on his toes. We have agreed though that we are going to put money into a savings account every month, no matter what the budget, so that we'll have an insurance policy. If we do want kids or a vacation or something like that, I don't want *her* finances preventing me from having the life I want. That savings account is my guarantee that he and I can still have a life no matter what the circumstance.

Would it be more convenient if I had fallen for someone who didn't have this situation? Probably yes. But does that mean that, now that it's happened, he and I can't still build a happy life? Absolutely not. I am in my mid-30s and at this point, anyone I go out with has either had a life or he hasn't, and I have dated the ones that haven't and trust me, that's worse! My guy has made some mistakes, but does not deserve to be punished for them forever. And he's learned a lot about how to be a better partner and about the kind of relationship he truly wants. I stand to benefit from that!
posted by JoannaC at 6:30 PM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do think that certain parts of your question (a good portion of it) are actually related more to "dating a person who was previously married" and have little to do with the fact that he's a father, but no one can really answer any of this without being completely anecdotal. My two experiences dating a single father were both pretty negative for reasons that had nothing to do with the children and everything to do with the man and the nature of the dissolution of his previous relationships. Most of those things you won't know, unfortunately, until you see all of these players interacting with each other, and it's difficult and frankly, somewhat unfair to project or anticipate what will be yet.
posted by sm1tten at 7:36 PM on January 17, 2012

Aren't you at all concerned that if he could not maintain the commitment to his wife and children previously that he might run into trouble keeping a commitment to you? As other posters noted the success rate for second marriages is poor and i would think children in the mix would make it harder.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:41 AM on January 18, 2012

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