Dating with Kids: A Litmus Test for Love

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If you’re involved with a single parent, it’s only a matter of time before you butt heads with the kids. How you handle that, and whether or not you want to keep moving forward, says a lot about the viability of your relationship.

Single Parent Dating

As a single mom, I’ve gravitated toward other single parents when it comes to dating. Who other than a single dad would better understand the life I came from, and the life I’m now living with two munchkins in tow? Not once has a single dad had a hard time understanding why I still communicate with my ex husband on a regular basis or why Memorial Day weekend is all of a sudden not kid-free because of an unexpected glitch in the time-sharing schedule.

But there’s a flip side to this innate understanding and acceptance. It’s called dating with kids, a past, and an obstacle-laden road to the future you want.

Here’s the thing: those single dads come with kids too, and you have to really love someone to want to blend families. According to my therapist, it takes an average of six years to successfully blend a family. From what I’ve seen in my nearly three years in the dating world, I’d say she’s right.

Is It Worth Six Years?

When you first dive into the dopamine buzz of a new relationship, your partner’s kids are the best, most cutest humans ever aside from your own kids. But then the first time you spend the night and those blonde-haired, blue-eyed cherubs scrape their fingernails down the outside of the bedroom door and yell “The owl is green!” at 7am, you realize you’re in deep. (FYI, the owl is my kids’ night light that lets them know when they’re allowed to wake up.)

I’m 7 months deep with a single dad, and for the first time ever, I’m not plotting my escape. Instead, I’m doing my research and trying my damnedest not to mess things up. One of my favorite articles I’ve come across is “Why single parents should put their kids second when dating” by Emma Johnson of Because of the competing demands in our lives and how those affect our relationship, that headline really grabbed my attention.

When you begin dating as a single parent, it’s super common to say and hear “my kids will always come first.” But think about that. I don’t know about you, but one of the reasons my marriage ended was because we didn’t put our relationship first. There were next to no date nights or kid-free vacations. Despite numerous declarations of how the baby’s existence would conform to our own, we stopped tending to our marriage in favor of spending time with and raising our kids.

As a single parent, I’ll go ahead and point out the obvious—we’re not married, and it’s not smart to put Joe Blow ahead of your three-year-old son. Actually, I hate the idea of ranking my relationships into first, second, and third place. My relationship with my mom is different than my relationship with my kids, which is different than my relationship with my boyfriend. They’re all important, and I believe it’s possible to fit them all into my life. When I started dating my boyfriend, I didn’t love my mom or my kids any less. If anything, there was more love to go around. And loving another kid who is tied to that equation seems entirely doable.

If all this seems like fuzzy math and you can’t imagine it all working out, you might want to reconsider your partner and/or your lifestyle.

Making Space for Love

Are you really ready for the type of relationship you say you want? And have you made space for that? Even if you’re going through a divorce and not yet dating, it’s important to set yourself up for the type of relationship you want someday. For me, it started with putting my kids to sleep in their own beds at 8pm. In the first week after leaving my husband, I wanted nothing more than to curl up next to my three-year-old son every night for a much-craved sense of security. But something inside me knew I needed space. Initially that bedtime routine afforded me time to rest and heal. Today it gives me time to catch up on my writing or spend quality time with the romantic partner I hoped I’d have again someday.

That someday is here for me now, which means I actually care what my partner’s cute, mischievous, 7-year-old boy thinks of me. Last weekend we had what I perceived as our first run-in. Lots of talking and tears behind closed doors ensued, but we made it through relatively unscathed. I probably overreacted, and I think I’ve been putting more pressure on myself than necessary. I’ve been approaching things as if the entire success or demise of my romantic relationship hangs on on my boyfriend’s son’s day-to-day impression of me.

In reality, I know there will be ups and downs, just like life with my own kids. If the future we imagine comes to fruition, there will be periods of transition and resentment with my boys and his. But the cornerstone anchoring us through all that will be love, because without love there would be no reason to persist.

I know what it’s like to not want to persist, and that leads nowhere fast. So, if you’re dating a single parent and you actually want to keep dating and want to imagine a future that involves a blended family, I’ll tell you right now—you have something worth prioritizing.

What obstacles have you navigated while dating with kids in tow, and how have you forged meaningful connections with your partner’s kids?

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