They've Got Kids?!?byKarennaC©
So you've met Ms. or Mr. Right, or at least Ms. or Mr. Right-now. Gorgeous, sexy, smart, everything you want in a date or partner. You can hardly wait to get them out on a date, or better yet to get them into your bed.
Just one problem. They've got kids.
This is intended mainly for those who don't have children of their own and are dating single parents. If both partners have kids, it becomes even more complicated and more coordination may be necessary. However, I personally haven't been in that situation, so I'm offering advice from the point of view of a single mom whose partner has no children.
Dating a single parent isn't easy. It can be hard enough for people to coordinate seeing each other around other commitments like work, friends, family, and so on. When dating a single parent, add to those commitments sick children, school concerts or conferences, and the obvious need to find someone to watch the kids before leaving the house, depending on how old the kids are. When dating moves into the bedroom for two people without children, often either partner's home is available. When dating a single parent, their house may be off-limits, especially if kids are there with a sitter. Even when the kids are in bed asleep, your date may not be comfortable with any "activity"; what if the kids wake up?
For some single parents, the beginning stages of dating may be the easiest. I know that was true for me. I'd come out of a messy marriage, through a divorce, and I wasn't about to trust anyone in a relationship, especially if that meant introducing them to my kids. So finding a sitter or persuading my ex or his parents to take the kids overnight so I could go out for dinner or to a bar with a guy was pretty easy. And most of the guys I dated that way gave up after one or two dates, when they figured out that I wasn't going to dump my kids on their father or grandparents every single weekend.
If things move beyond that initial stage, it becomes more complicated. Can your object of desire see you as often as you'd both like? Probably not, unless they have family members who are willing to help out or a good sitter. Speaking of sitters, raising kids costs money, and some sitters earn more an hour than I do. If this person is important enough to you that you want to spend time with them, offer to pay, or at least chip in, for the sitter, if your own income and expenses allow. At least offer to help find a sitter if they don't already have a regular one. They may turn you down, but even if they do they'll likely appreciate the gesture.
When dating moves to relationship, people sometimes want to spend time together other than out on dates. Sitting on the couch watching a movie together, experimenting in the kitchen to make a new dessert... and, oh yeah, sex. If you're dating a single parent, these times may have to be at your place, or they may have to send their kids elsewhere when you go to their place. Some parents aren't comfortable with new partners meeting their kids, so other arrangements have to be made. And if a child gets sick or the sitter or family member bails, plans with you may have to be canceled.
When should you meet her kids? There are plenty of articles and advice on this. Some recommend a set amount of time; some say "when a commitment is made between you". Personally, I say it depends.
When I started dating, I didn't plan on my kids meeting anyone. I wasn't planning on anything necessarily long-term, so to me it made no sense for my kids to meet a man who wasn't going to be an ongoing part of our lives. Then, about six months after my separation, the man I was seeing told me, "Once your divorce is final, I want you to be with me, and I want to help you raise those kids of yours." Intended, and taken, as a proposal. So I gradually introduced my children to him, first letting them speak to each other on speakerphone, then having him come to our home for a brief introduction before their father picked them up for the weekend, and finally going with him to a barbecue at his boss's house.
That's when things went south. He told me the day after the barbecue that he felt I'd spent too much time with my kids. Hello? I'm their mother, and I'd been told that if they went to the barbecue I had to keep an eye on them. Regardless of how I felt about this man, my children were more important. And I didn't like the idea of dating someone who would complain about how much attention I paid to my kids. So I ended it.
If you're dating a single parent, it's important to remember that "parent" is an important part of their description. Their kids have to come first, almost always, and sometimes that means a date or partner comes in a distant second or even third. (Hey, we parents have to fit ourselves in there somewhere!) If you feel like you're being ignored in favor of the kids and it's causing a real problem, talk to your date/partner about it calmly: "I've noticed that lately you've been preferring to take the kids to the park instead of finding a sitter so we can go out to lunch. Is there a problem between us?" as opposed to, "You spend too much time with your kids. Don't you give a crap about me?"
So back to the "when to introduce" question. The guy I mentioned met my kids only after he'd sort-of proposed. And it didn't go well, and my kids were left feeling a bit lost, especially since they'd also met his 20-year-old daughter and had hit it off with her. So I resolved not to introduce my kids to anyone else.
A few months later, I broke that resolution. I was dating a trucker who happened to be in town unexpectedly and wanted to take me out to dinner. When I told him I couldn't go on such short notice because of my kids, he invited them along. That was the one and only time they met him, neither particularly liked him, and I ended up regretting the whole evening.
So although I kept seeing that guy for a few more months, I was careful not to bring the kids into it again. And when he and I decided to stop seeing each other, I again resolved not to let the guys I dated meet my kids, or in a couple of cases even find out that I had kids.
Then I met my current partner. We met at the home of a mutual friend, and there was instant attraction. Two days later, he asked if he could come see me. I told him my kids were home; I wanted to see him, but wanted to stick to my resolution. But ultimately he showed up anyway. I introduced him to my kids, told them he was there to watch a movie and would probably go home afterward (even though he lived two hours away), and sent them to bed. He didn't go home; the next morning when the kids got up, he was sleeping on the couch. They didn't seem to mind. I did.
A few days later, he called and said he'd been talking to his sister, a single mom who was dating a single dad, and she'd recommended that we not bring him around the kids for at least a few months, because otherwise it might confuse them. He and I agreed that we would wait a while before he saw the kids again. But it didn't work out that way. Our relationship moved at warp speed, and because of the distance we live from each other there were times that he was only able to see me during the week, when he had days off. When my kids were home. So they got to know him and he got to know them sooner than I would have liked, but it was clear that with him, it was the right thing to do. Now, nearly eight months after we met, we're planning to move in together, and my kids consider him their "half-dad", as my older one puts it.
So in terms of when you should meet your Mr. or Ms. Right's children, I think there are too many factors to give one answer. But whenever you meet them, the decision should be based in small part on your own comfort with the idea, and in large part on their comfort and their knowledge of their children.
Dating a single parent isn't easy. But if you respect that they have children, honor their boundaries, and allow for the unexpected, it isn't as complicated as it seems.