“When you date someone, you’re dating their entire family, too.”
Dating a single parent can bring a whole new meaning to this commonly-used sentiment.
When children are involved, they understandably have many feelings about their parents dating and bringing a new significant other into their lives. These feelings should be treated with respect and sensitivity, while still moving the family unit forward into a wise and beneficial expanded family unit one day.
If you do not have children yourself and are open to dating people who already have children, you will feel prepared and reassured after reading these tips below.
10 Tips For Dating A Single Parent
1. The Entire Family Will Be a Part of Your Relationship
The most important aspect of dating a single parent is realizing that their family will play a large role in their relationships. Most single parents take dating seriously, as introducing someone to their child(ren) or perhaps even their ex is an important step in knowing if everyone is ready for that kind of commitment.
Your potential partner has to consider the well-being of many different people involved: their own, their children, and the other parent’s feelings in the equation. When the well-being of many different people is involved, it can sometimes feel like a juggling act as each person will process the change differently at any given time.
Don’t take it personally if someone is not immediately receptive to you, and allow yourself to be patient with yourself and them as everyone works through their feelings. If you and your potential partner are right for each other, everything will work out as you each approach the relationship with wisdom, grace, and curiosity.
2. Understand That You Won’t Be Their Top Priority Yet
If you do not have any children yourself, dating a single parent may be a little out of your comfort zone, especially if you’re not used to being around kids. When you become a parent, you commit to a lifetime of taking care of your child, ensuring their needs are met, and becoming fully invested in their development.
For parents, their children’s well-being and happiness are tremendous priorities, more than the priority of your relationship early on when you’re dating, and always a large priority after marriage, in which your union is supportive for the household and the children.
For some, not being the top priority at first will be a difficult reality to face. However, if you’re serious about who you’re dating, embrace this season as a unique opportunity to have a glimpse into how they are as a parent.
3. Be Understanding of Their Busy and Unpredictable Schedule
Ask any parent and they will tell you their schedule revolves around their kids. There are extracurricular sports, music lessons, school pick-up and drop-offs, playdates, appointments, and unpredictable circumstances that can sometimes come up, such as illnesses or injuries.
Bearing all this in mind, be understanding if plans fall through at the last minute or if your partner doesn’t have a free evening for a couple of weeks.
Think creatively together to find ways to connect with your significant other when schedules seem to be a bit hectic. You can:
- Plan a date that involves the children if you’ve already met them. Activities like bowling or mini-golf provide a fun way for all of you to enjoy spending time together.
- Offer to bring dinner over to your partner’s house. Eat dinner together, and then watch a movie alone after the kids go to bed.
- Pay for a sitter so the two of you can enjoy a quiet evening together. Sometimes, the added expense of a sitter can be a financial burden for single parents, especially if they are starting to navigate the waters as a single-income household, so this kind gesture will show your partner that you are empathetic and thoughtful.
4. Communicate About a Comfortable Timeline to Involve Kids
Single parents will want to be very comfortable and secure in their relationship before they decide to involve their children. Parents need to consider their feelings and make sure they’re ready to introduce someone new into their child(ren)’s orbit.
When you start seriously dating a single parent, be very open and communicative with them about your intentions and listen to their expectations. Remember to be patient, as this may take many months of dating, especially if this is the first relationship your partner has had since they have been a single parent.
Going slowly doesn’t mean your significant other has doubts about you. If they take a longer amount of time to introduce you to their kids, they are simply making sure their children are ready for this important step.
5. Don’t Take Things Too Personally
Children of any age and demeanor may feel a bit apprehensive about their parent moving on from their other parent, as this may be a concrete sign that their parents won’t be getting back together or may reinforce the loss the child has experienced if the other parent has passed.
According to FamilyLife,
“…children commonly feel some insecurity by mom or dad’s relationship with another person. Wise singles recognize this important dynamic and don’t assume that becoming a couple necessarily means that they can become a family. They attend to both and take time assessing how the potential stepfamily relationships are developing.”
When you do meet the child(ren), understand that they may not offer the warmest welcome right away. Their parent moving on can understandably be an emotional topic, and seeing their parent with someone else for the first time can feel a bit confusing.
Allow some time and patience for each child to come around. Your ability to let each child process their emotions at their own pace is a gift that is truly beautiful and supportive.
6. Consider the Other Parent in the Situation
Oftentimes, when a parent begins navigating the dating scene after divorce, their timelines don’t always align. One parent may have been on many dates or have a consistent relationship while the other wasn’t quite ready to date.
When you date a single parent, consider the other parent’s feelings. Understand that there may be some adjustments and conversations to be had. The ex may be experiencing a bit of jealousy and be a little standoffish when you meet them, which is understandable.
Approach the situation with compassion and understanding that no matter the circumstances, you’ll be there for your partner as the two of you decide whether this is a true fit.
7. Be Patient in Building the Relationship
Any relationship takes time to grow and patience to nurture to its fullest potential. When you begin dating a single parent, however, you may find that building the relationship takes a bit longer than in prior relationships you’ve been in.
Be patient and know that single parents need to think of their child(ren) first. When you don’t try to rush into a relationship or meet the kids right away, your partner will see that you are considerate about this potentially sensitive area in their life and family relationships
8. Let The Child(ren) Come to You
When you do finally meet the kids for the first time, be sure to tread lightly, as this will be a significant moment for everyone involved.
In an article for the L.A. Times, Lauri Mattenson discusses the best advice she’s ever received from her friend when meeting her boyfriend’s children for the first time after dating for six months:
“I know it’s against your nature,” she said, “but when it comes to his kids, be a cat, not a dog. You’re going to want to hug them and bond with them, but it’ll be better if you relax and hang back. Wait for them to come to you.”
Children navigate relationships and respond to change in different ways. Know that just because they may not come across as warm and welcoming the first few times around does not mean that they never will be.
9. Don’t Try and Be the Parent
After you’ve met the kids and have begun spending more time with them, resist the urge to step into a parental role prematurely. Parenting someone else’s children is a step that should be taken only once a marriage is in the foreseeable future and not while dating.
For now, leave the parenting to the parents, and bring up any concerns you have with your partner so that they can address the situation directly. As the topic of marriage approaches, you can have conversations together about how your role will fit into the already existing family dynamic.
10. Focus Beyond the Relationship With Your Partner
Once you’ve been dating your partner for a while and have met the kids and possibly even the ex, now you can start nurturing relationships with the important people in their lives.
As you begin to spend more time with the kids and others in their lives, you’ll feel more comfortable around them, as they will with you. Be sure to form relationships with your partner’s family as they could become your family one day.
Now that you know these helpful tips for dating a single parent, you can approach all relationships with grace and patience.
Building strong connections takes time, and at every point, you can enjoy the process of developing what could blossom into a very positive relationship tapestry in your life! Consider hiring a dating coach if you need that extra help and support, guidance, or advice to help get you back out on the field.
Featured photo credit: Guillaume de Germai via unsplash.com
|FamilyLife: 11 Best Practices for Dating as a Single Parent
|Los Angeles Times: L.A. Affairs: Best advice I ever got for dating a guy with kids: Be like a cat, not a dog
|Introverted Alpha: “Do I Need A Dating Coach?” 5 Powerful Ways A Dating Coach Can Help YOU