Dating someone with kids is commitment with a capital C. Have we learned nothing from The Parent Trap? Sure, Nick Parker was handsome and owned a fancy vineyard in Napa. But Meredith Blake was not the only girl in Nick Parker’s life. He also had two scheming twin daughters and an ex-wife that he was still in love with.
I’m not suggesting that your prospective partner is hiding a twin daughter or has feelings for their ex, but if you’re considering building a life with this person, you’re going to want to ask and answer a few questions first.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist Rebecca Hendrix, a conversation about compatibility is a must. “Life is hard enough,” Hendrix says. “So being with somebody who also has the baggage of children who aren’t yours — in addition to an ex relationship with some sort of conflict — you’re already going to have some potential challenges.” You want to mitigate those as much as possible, by making sure your needs and desires align, Hendrix says.
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WH advisor and licensed psychologist “Dr. Chloe” Carmichael completely agrees. She recommends sitting down with your guy (or woman) and literally going through a series of questions about each of your personalities, lifestyles, responsibilities and past relationships, all of which can be major factors in the success of your new relationship.
So before you start coordinating school drop-offs and band rehearsals — pump the brakes and have a conversation with your budding S.O. Here’s exactly what to ask before dating someone with kids — or at least getting serious with them:
1. Do they have room for a primary partner?
Or is his plate already full? Most men with kids will see themselves as parents first — which is completely understandable, Dr. Chloe says. But what’s important is that you can ensure that your partner will be able to put you first, when necessary. “As a woman dating a man with kids, you don’t always have to assume you’re going to come second fiddle to the kids,” says Dr. Chloe. (Because real talk: You shouldn’t.)
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While the kids have to come first on many occasions — for example, if they have an accident at school — your partner shouldn’t use their obligation to their child(ren) as an excuse to put less effort into your relationship.
“It’s considered healthy to have boundaries around couple time and to be able to prioritise each other as primary partners,” Dr. Chloe says. If the person you’re dating can only make room for and prioritise their children, you might want to reconsider the relationship.
2. What are your responsibilities in this relationship?
This is an important one. What does your partner have in mind when it comes to your relationship with their children? Tension can arise when each of you has a different idea of what role you’ll play in the kids’ live.
Dr. Chloe says it’s important to make sure that your partner doesn’t expect you “to take responsibility for raising the kids, making rules, or holding boundaries” unless it’s something you’ve both decided on. On the flip side, you also don’t want to overstep and get more involve in their kiddos’ lives than they want you to be (especially early on), so chat it out.
3. What kind of boundaries will they set?
Your partner should really be taking charge on this one. “One of the pitfalls in dating a man with kids is when his children are disrespectful of you,” Dr. Chloe says. If the kids are younger, this may not be such an issue (at least not yet). But if they’re a little older — and especially if they’re girls — they may feel a bit threatened by the appearance of another woman.
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They’re used to having dad all by themselves, Dr. Chloe says. (I mean, just look at Hallie Parker.) So it’s important that your man know how to set boundaries with his children, too. “You have to make sure that he is capable of setting a good and respectful tone, not just for you toward the kids, but the kids toward you,” she explains.
4. What type of divorce or break-up did they go through?
Too often, people skip this conversation, because talking about exes tends to be on the no-no list when it comes to dating someone new. But as Hendrix says, “these aren’t first-date questions.”
Please don’t ask your recent Tinder match about his last break-up. Asking about former partners should come after you’ve decided this person is someone you want to invest in (or at least, think you do). Because before you make that investment, you have to know what you’re getting into.
“If they had an amicable divorce, similar to conscious uncoupling, then it’s probably not going to affect your relationship all that much,” Hendrix says. You may even find yourself becoming friends with your partner’s ex some day, especially if they’ve been separated for a long time.
However, Hendrix warns that if your partner has had a high-conflict divorce, it’s possible that their ex is going to somehow interfere in your dating. “It could be that they change childcare plans at the last minute just to get back at your partner for moving on. It could be that they turn the kids against you, or make the children scared of the new person that their parent is dating,” Hendrix says. It’s important to know if there’s a bad actor in the mix. (If there is, my condolences.)
5. What are your worries and fears?
This question requires some soul-searching. You’re going to have to get vulnerable and open up about the irrational fears you have concerning this relationship. “You may have a fear that’s not valid at all but if you don’t discuss it, it can build up and turn into anxiety,” Hendrix says.
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The worst thing you could do is to create scenarios in your head that have zero validity. You could be worried that he’s going to bring the kids out on your movie dates, while he may have a personal rule that the kids can’t even meet you until six months of dating, Hendrix points out. Don’t invent problems that aren’t there. (This goes for everything in life, btw.)
6. What are their worries and fears?
Similarly, your partner could have some concerns of their own that they’re keeping to themselves in order to keep the relationship smooth sailing.
But that really doesn’t help anyone in the long run, so let them know that you prefer open communication style, where they won’t be chewed out for being upfront about their feelings. The more you can be honest with each other from the get-go, the better your chances of LTR success.
7. What are your — and their — expectations about how much time you’ll spend together?
“When somebody has children, most likely they’re either single parenting or sharing custody with someone else, which means that a lot of their free time could be spent travelling to have weekend visits or Wednesday night dinners,” Hendrix says. So you need to have a conversation about the kind of relationship you want when it comes to quality time spent together.
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If you’re someone who envisions spending every night cuddled up with your boo, chances are, that’s not going to happen when there are kids in the picture. You’ll likely have to work around visitation schedules and their one-on-one time with their little ones.
In other words, if you’re dating someone with kids, know that you won’t have a “normal” relationship. And you have to be honest, with yourself and partner, about whether that’s something you truly want.
8. How do you both communicate?
Communicating and staying connected is key in every relationship, but especially when you’re dating a young dad or mom. Why? Seeing them in person is not always an option.
“When you’re with someone with kids, you might have to settle for texting or a phone call.” And this is totally fine, as long as both of you are on the same page. “If you’re somebody who can connect quite nicely over text — say, by sharing your day or something that you saw that reminds you of them — but they are not a texter or phone person, then it can be quite hard to stay connected,” Hendrix says.
Since communication is so, SO important in a relationship, this is something to ask about and tackle early on, if you want things to work for the long haul.
9. Are you both being realistic?
If you’re picturing yourself pushing a happy child on a swing on a lovely spring day, snap out of it. Too often, Hendrix interacts with couples who set unrealistic expectations about their relationship.
“It can be really easy to fantasise, especially if you like kids. You can start to project your fantasies of playing with the kids, getting ice cream and going to the park,” Hendrix says. “When in reality, that could happen and could be something to look forward to.” Could means it’s a gamble, not a guarantee.
Oftentimes being involved in a relationship with someone who has kids means making sacrifices. A lot of what it looks like is asking yourself if you’re kind of okay to not always be a priority in this person’s life, Hendrix says.
10. How often will you interact with their kids?
There’s no need to get yourself all worked up about the future of your relationship if you’re dating a man with a 20-something-year-old son. “You have to consider how far along these kids are in the ‘kid process’,” Hendrix says.
“If they’re 17 and going to college, kids might not matter. But if the kids are 5, 9 and/or 12, that’s a whole different story. It’s about knowing what you want and being able to say no to what you don’t want, to make room for what you do want.”
Stick that piece of advice on your Pinterest board.
11. Do you like to be spontaneous?
If “I’ll play it by ear” and “let’s wing it” are common phrases of yours, you might want to reconsider committing to a person with kids. Because if your partner has children, they won’t always be able to drop what they’re doing to do something with you.
“You have to ask yourself if you’re alright that this partner might not be able to be spontaneous,” Hendrix says. “You may get offers to go away for the weekend and sometimes they might not be able to go with you because of prior commitments with their children.”
12. Are you okay with your partner’s income being somewhat limited?
This goes hand-in-hand with being spontaneous. Not only might your partner be unable to be impulsive with their plans, but also their finances.
“You want to be honest with yourself about whether you’re okay with someone not having as much disposable income,” Hendrix says. Your partner could have expenses you’ve never even considered. “They could be paying a good chunk of their salary in child support to an ex, leaving them with little to no spending money, even if they are making a really good salary.”
So if you’re the type of partner that wants to be wined and dined like a Kardashian, ask yourself if you’re willing to give up some of those dinners for mac-and-cheese night with the kiddos.
13. How do you handle jealousy?
Scene: It’s Tuesday night and your man texts you that he will be late to dinner because he and his ex promised to take their daughter out for ice cream together. Just the three of them. How do you feel? A) Fine, I trust him. I get it. B) A sudden urge to flip a table and turn into one of the Real Housewives has come over you. If your answer is B, then you might want to rethink dating someone with kids.
“Likely, this person will have to maintain connections with their ex,” Hendrix says. So the time they’re not spending with you might often be “spent with somebody who was very important in their life at one point in time, who they obviously they loved in some way because they created children with this person.”
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Jealousy can easily creep in. While that doesn’t mean you’re “crazy” (a little jealousy is normal and can even be healthy), it’s important to know if you’re “the jealous type.”
If you are, you’ll need to figure out whether you can really process those feelings and work through them on your own, because chances are — especially if you’re with a good guy or girl — that insecurity is really just about you, Hendrix says.
14. Do you even like kids?
Meredith Blake definitely skipped this question. Why? Likely because it’s the one that requires the most honesty (hence why I left it for the end).
Honestly, you may think your partner is near-perfect, but if you can’t see yourself going to a soccer match or being around as that toddler grows into a real person, dating a man with kids might not be for you.
“Those kids are going to be there for the foreseeable future,” Hendrix says. “You want to make sure that you like kids and that you can imagine spending time with them.”
If at the end of your conversation, you realise that you don’t want someone else’s kids in your future, that’s totally fine — consider it helpful, no crucial, intel. Because you definitely don’t want two Lindsay Lohans scheming to pull you two apart. Trust.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthsa.co.za