Dating Someone with Kids? Here’s How to Do It Gracefully

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Your new partner is kind and attentive, loves eating at your favorite Venezuelan restaurant and cracks you up with his Owen Wilson impression. But on date number two, he revealed a very important part of his life to you: He has kids.

Meeting a man who already has a family can be a huge pro because it may mean he’s not a commitment-phobe. But what if his kids don't like you? And what does it mean if you want a family of your own?

Dating someone with kids is a whole new ballgame, and if you’re feeling a bit intimidated, take a deep breath and read the following six pieces of advice from a professional and others who’ve been in your shoes.

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1. Value Their Time

If you thought you were busy, wait until you get a peek at the life of a single parent. On top of the usual household chores and daily tasks—cleaning the bathroom, making dinner, holding on to your job and sanity—add shuffling the kids to and from school, playdates and activities, making their meals, getting them ready for school and winding them down for bed. The list is never ending. So if you find yourself dating a single parent, be prepared for a limited schedule.

“Be flexible,” says Kala Gower, a dating coach for Relationship Hero. “Find a schedule that works for both of you to set time aside specifically for your relationship, but also be understanding when things come up—as long as your partner still makes time for you. Know that for someone with kids, who’s that busy, their time means a lot.”

2. Don’t Expect to Come First

A person with kids has a lot going on, so you might not always feel like priority number one. News flash: Sorry, but you’re not. But this isn’t a bad thing—it means the person you chose is a good parent.

We chatted with Allison, a 34-year-old woman from Pittsburgh, whose fiancé has a 13-year-old son from a previous marriage. “The first thing you have to realize when dating a parent is that their child will and should come first in their life, especially when the child is younger,” she told us. “To me, if I had a partner who didn’t prioritize his child, that would be a red flag and we probably wouldn’t be together because I’d know that our values wouldn’t align. That being said, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t challenge me sometimes to know that all weekends are tied up with whatever he and his son have planned. Thankfully, I’m comfortable going without my partner to social events, but it also means that the spontaneous weekend trips that I loved for bonding with my previous partner are a lot fewer and far between.”

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3. Earn Their Trust

A single parent has obviously been in a serious relationship before—they brought a life into the world together, right? So it might be hard, especially with kids in the picture, to get them to trust and open up again. But it’s probably worth the wait.

“Be kind and empathetic,” Gower says. “Be a willing listener to hear both what your partner says and doesn’t say so that you can understand their needs—and be willing to meet them. Hopefully, they processed their last relationship before moving on and are in a receptive place and ready to explore the relationship with an open mind and open heart.”

4. Let Them Set the Meet and Greet

It’s great that you’ve reached a point in this relationship where you feel comfortable enough to ask for an introduction, but don’t be crushed if your partner is not quite there yet. Remember that his number one priority is to protect his kids and their feelings—which isn’t a personal attack on you.

“Allowing someone into your kids’ lives is a big deal, and your partner could have a ton of reasons for not being ready,” Gower says. “The best way to help him feel more ready is by being respectful of his decision. If you ask to meet them and he tells you he isn’t ready yet, smile and say something like, ‘I understand. I know they are important to you, and you want to make sure you protect them. Just know that I’m ready when you are, and it’s important to me too that they don’t get hurt by this.’”

5. Don’t Forget About Yourself

It might be easy to get caught up in this ready-made family, but it’s important to take a moment and consider what you want for yourself. Is loving your partner’s child enough for you? Do you want kids of your own? Is he open to the idea of having more kids? All these questions should be considered. 

“We’ve talked about having more kids," Allison explains, "but because my partner pays pretty high child support now, we’re financially limited in a way that makes me feel less secure in that decision. We haven’t always agreed on if we do or don’t want to have kids, but it was never such a big priority for me that it was a game changer. Before you move in as a stable part of your partner’s life, you should have that discussion, and if you don’t agree, I’d move on and find someone who does share a vision for the future with you. It’s not good for a child to watch their parents go through a breakup, and on top of that, to lose someone they saw as a support, too. You need to feel strongly that this is the life you want when entering into a relationship with a parent for that reason. My partner’s ex had a lot of boyfriends in and out of her life while their child was young, and I know it’s impacted the way the child trusts and connects with people.”

6. Show Up Prepared

When you do eventually get invited into their private little world, try not to feel too overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation. Oh, and bring a gift.

“Take a deep breath,” says Gower. “They’re just as nervous [as you are]. Get on their level and be empathetic about how this all must feel to them. Depending on the age, bringing a small gift can help break the ice, and you can sit and play with them before having to really get into any in-depth conversations. Ask your partner about the child’s likes and dislikes so you can really connect with them about those things.” So get ready to talk about Fortnite for, like, four hours. You’ve got this. 

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From 2019-2020 Ariel Scotti held the role of Editor at PureWow covering trends, wellness and more.