How to Date a Man Who Has a Child when You Don't
You're dating a man and he has children. These days it's becoming more and more common for someone to enter a relationship with children from a previous marriage. But how do you deal with this situation when you don't have any children of your own?
Knowing What You’re Getting Into
Be honest with yourself.Assess your own needs. Know from the start what you truly expect from this relationship. Ask yourself whether you intend to pursue and commit to a lifelong relationship with the father or whether you’re only interested in a casual relationship.
Expect grief.Whether the father is a widower, a divorcee, or a parent out of wedlock, know that he’s most likely in a period of mourning for his previous relationship.Also be aware that men are more likely than women to hide their feelings,so don’t assume everything’s fine just because he says it is. If you’re interested in pursuing a longterm relationship, invite him to openly discuss his loss. Use your conversations to evaluate how well he’s coping with it.
Accept second place in the beginning.Embrace early on that his child should be his #1 priority. Be flexible when scheduling your own quality time with him.Appreciate the fact that his money should be earmarked first and foremost for his child’s needs.
- This may sound like a bummer, but think of it as an excellent way to judge the father’s character. Whether he’s a widower, divorced, or otherwise estranged from the mother, imagine that you’re the mother in this situation. Ask yourself if he’s acting as responsibly toward his child as you would expect him to act toward your own. If he’s showering you with time, money, and attention while neglecting his kid, consider that a red flag.
- Remember this is only temporary. Look forward to becoming an equal member of the family as you gradually integrate over time.
Know that you’re beginning more than one relationship.If you’re expecting your relationship with the father to become permanent, be prepared to have one with the child and mother as well.Even if the mother has passed on or is largely absent from your own life, they will still maintain a large presence in both the father and child’s mind.
- Ask the father early on about the family’s history. Learn about both the child and the mother before you meet them: their character, their interests, their strengths and weaknesses, etc.
- Use the father’s answers to better understand the man you’re dating. For instance, while he may have criticisms about the mother that are perfectly valid, be wary if he places 100% of the blame for everything that’s ever gone wrong entirely on her. Judge for yourself how well he’s able to assess a situation objectively and accept responsibility for his part in it.
Expect the unexpected.Know that you’ll be facing many more variables than you would be in a relationship with a single man without children. Understand that the father’s relationship with the mother may change over time, for better or for worse. Appreciate the fact that the child’s thoughts and feelings may alter as well, both as they age and as your own status in their lives changes. Expect to face far more stress and challenges than you’ve grown accustomed to in childless relationships.
- Think positively! While it’s important to be realistic about the situation that you’re entering, don’t let challenges and stress dissuade you from pursuing a future with the father if you think it’s worth it. Remember that challenges met and overcome can be rewarding experiences in their own right.
Realize that you won’t be sharing “firsts.” Whether you’re hoping to marry the father and/or have children of your own, accept the fact that the father has already achieved one or both of these milestones. Ask yourself how much importance you really place on reaching these steps together as mutual “firsts” in your life journey.
- At the same time, consider the fact that you’ll have a partner who has prior concrete experience with things that, for now, are only hypothetical for you personally. Whether it’s committing to a long-term relationship or having another child, you’ll have a partner with more intimate knowledge about the situation as a whole and what to expect, as well as more self-knowledge about his own capabilities in that situation.
Reassess your needs.Once you’ve considered the reality of dating a single father, reevaluate what you honestly need from a relationship. Based on that, ask yourself if you can really expect those needs to be fulfilled in these circumstances. Decide then whether to walk away or continue dating.
- If you’re only seeking a casual relationship, let the father know. If he’s fine with that, continue to date without involving yourself at all in the child’s life.
- If you want to keep things casual but he wants more, or if you’d like to pursue a deeper relationship as well but feel way too daunted by the circumstances, let him know that there’s a conflict of interest here. Tell him that, while you like him just fine, the situation is simply too much for you. Don’t allow yourself to be backed into a situation that you can’t handle.
- If you’re willing to commit to a long-term relationship and become part of the child’s life, find out as much as you can about what you’re walking into. Ask other people in similar circumstances about their own experiences. Seek professional help about what to expect. Find out more about the child and their mother, both from the father and from any other mutual acquaintances you may have for a more rounded view. Every situation is different, so learn as much as you can about your own before taking the bigger plunge.
Method 1 Quiz
What do you need to consider when entering a relationship with a father?
Communicating with the Father from the Start of Your Relationship
Ask what he expects of you.Talk about his own needs. Know from the start what he expects from your relationship together as well as your future relationship with his child.
Define your own limits.Resist the urge to please. Avoid taking on more responsibility than you’re comfortable with or obligated to accept. Clearly define yourself as a source of support for him, the parent, and not a parent yourself.
- Due to learned gender roles, widowers and male divorcees may often finding themselves lacking in certain parental skills possessed by the mother.To compensate, the father may hope for you to step in and fill the mother’s role, whether or not he’s even conscious of it. Make it clear to him that his duty is to learn these skills himself and not merely replace the mother with you.
Take it slowly.Whether you’re dating casually or already madly in love, avoid rushing into the relationship at any step. Appreciate the fact that your status as a couple will almost certainly be an upheaval in his child’s life. Avoid upsetting the child’s world by stepping into it too quickly.
Communicate constantly.Emphasize honesty for the child’s sake. Accept the fact that your situation will produce a large amount of stress and potentially negative feelings. Express any doubts or misgivings that either you or the father may have. Know where each of you stand at any given point in time, especially before making the larger step of involving yourself in his child’s life.
Method 2 Quiz
True or False: Do not take more responsibility than you're comfortable with.
Dealing with the Mother
Ask the father about their relationship.Know where they stand with each other. Find out whether their split was amicable, bitter, or somewhere in between.
- If their current relationship is openly vicious, brace yourself for the extra drama and stress that this will undoubtedly add to your own relationships with the father and his child.
- If their current relationship is quite friendly, politely but firmly establish yourself as the father’s new partner. Appreciate the fact that the two have a prior intimacy that may inform their interactions, but don’t be afraid to speak up when you believe either one has crossed a line.
Respect her role.Remember that she’s the child’s parent. Understand that she will always occupy a space in the child’s life, and vice versa. Accept the fact that, to some degree, you will have to hold yourself accountable to her as a presence in her child’s life.
- Even if she’s a negligent or otherwise poor parent, remember that her status as mother will never change. Don’t feel obligated to respect the woman, but do respect the fact that she will always play some sort of role in both the father and child’s life.
Be polite.Even if you can’t stand each other, make a point of being civil. Earn respect and/or the moral high ground by showing respect in order to better ensure a positive atmosphere for all concerned, especially the child.
- Also be aware that the child will feel more loyalty toward their mother than they will toward you.Earn their respect by always treating their mother with courtesy.
Honor the deceased.If the father is a widower, accept the mother’s continued presence in both his life and the child’s. Allow them to speak freely of her so they can honor her memory and so you can evaluate how each is coping with their loss. Although a jealous twinge here and there may be a perfectly natural knee-jerk reaction, avoid poisoning your relationships by making the father and/or child feel like they must suppress her memory in your presence.
Method 3 Quiz
How should you handle the child's mother?
Easing Yourself into the Child's Life
Talk it over with the father first.Be sure of your own relationship before beginning one with his child. If either one of you still feels more casual than committed toward the other, forego any involvement with the kid. Avoid disrupting the child’s life prematurely or unnecessarily.
Wait a little longer.If you and the father both feel ready for you to meet his child, give yourself some extra time before actually doing it.Allow yourself more time to get cold feet. If you do have second thoughts, ask yourself whether it’s just jitters or a sign that you’re really not quite ready for this.
Keep it simple.Take a baby-step approach to entering their life. For your first introduction, plan no more than an opportunity to say hi to the child and then introduce yourself as a friend of their dad’s.
- Choose a low-key setting to meet.Keep it casual as opposed to a formal setting where you would be clearly identified as the father’s “date.”
- Pick a time and place that are both clearly part of the father and child’s time together, rather than a date between yourselves with the child in tow.
- Plan to make a brief appearance and then exit by yourself, leaving them alone together, so that your presence comes across as incidental. Avoid leaving the child with the impression that you’re “taking Daddy away.”
Take it slowly.Increase the time you spend together very gradually. Pop up here and there to say hi and establish that you’re a presence in Dad’s life, but limit your exposure in the beginning so that the majority of the kid’s time with Dad is spent one-on-one with him.
Imagine the child’s perspective.As you spend more time with them, remain conscious of what impressions the child might take away from your encounters. Prioritize the father-child relationship. Be careful not to come across as competition for Dad’s attention.
Establish your role.Once you and the father have made the child aware of your relationship, assume your role as the father’s new partner. Make it clear to the child that you’re not here to be the new “Mom” or another “Dad.” Equate yourself with the role of aunt, uncle, or a similarly respected adult figure with an invested interest in their well-being, like a teacher.
Keep taking it slowly.Allow the child time to accept your new role in their life. Understand that even once they do accept it, their acceptance may not develop into an emotional bond. Accept this as a reality. Avoid trying to force a bond between you.In the meantime, be present and consistent in their lives, offering yourself as an added resource for them should they ever choose to make use of it.
Maintain your role when challenged.No matter how well-adjusted or behaved the child is, expect them to act out at times as all children do.Be prepared for a delicate balancing act. When confronting the child, expect to hear that you are not their mom or dad. Accept the truth of that statement.At the same time, assert yourself as an adult figure to whom they must show some respect.
- Demand support from the father. Remind him that while your role is to support him as a parent, his role is to be the parent. Don’t allow yourself to be backed into the position of being the disciplinarian by default.
Respect the mother in their child’s presence.Remember that they will most likely continue to feel more loyalty toward their mother than toward you.Regardless of your personal feelings toward her, be careful what you utter within earshot of their child. Don’t lose the child’s respect by disrespecting their mother in front of them.
Be patient.Accept the fact that your new role in the child’s life will test them continually. Expect them to take a while to accept your presence. Also expect their progress to be upset by each milestone that you and their father achieve; for instance, while they may have grown to accept your role as Dad’s new partner, they may be knocked back a couple steps once you and Dad announce that you’ll be moving in together or getting married.
Method 4 Quiz
How should you interact with your partner's child at first?
QuestionMy boyfriend gets upset with me about his daughter and not the baby mother. The child doesn't speak or acknowledge me whatsoever and she doesn't say Ms. before she says my name either. I don't have any kids so why is it my responsibility to pick up her slack when she gets her every weekend?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt isn't your responsibility. The father and mother are her parents, not you.Thanks!
QuestionIs it too much to be invited once in a while to a birthday party of his child, or do I stay in the dark once we do things like Father's Day, fairs, and movies?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDepending on how long you've been dating, you should be patient in the beginning about being invited to events like the child's birthday and Father's Day. Fairs and movies are more neutral settings and should be less of an issue.Thanks!
QuestionIs there any possibility for the father and mother to be together again?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe father and mother should have a continued relationship with each other no matter what, as long as the child is their primary focus. It is possible that their prior relationship with each other might rekindle. Speak with the father about this if you feel either one is acting inappropriately.Thanks!
QuestionIs it right for him to go to the kid's functions with baby Mama while he's dating?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, it is. As long as the child is their primary focus, the father and mother should be allowed to attend the same events.Thanks!
- Be realistic. The quicker you come to terms with the reality and challenges of dating a single parent, the more likely your relationship will succeed.
- The majority of marriages to previously wed parents fail due to the added stress and challenges involved.
- Stepmothers report higher instances of depression than natural mothers.
Sources and Citations
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