Dating when you have kids requires adding a few things to your list of reasons to walk away.
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Dating as a single parent isn?t that much different from dating when you were just single. You go on (most) dates alone with the person you?re seeing. You get to know each other over time. You decide to date exclusively or part ways. You go to movies, dinner, or parties.
But now that you have kids, you also keep your cell phone in hand, checking now and then to see if the sitter has called. You cancel the occasional date because the sitter cancels or a kid gets sick. You might go home a little earlier or drink a little less.
There is one big difference, though. That big difference is you no longer evaluate a potential partner based solely on how you feel about them. You consider your kids and how they feel too. And while that might not seem like a huge difference at first, once you start actively dating, you become aware of just how big it truly is.
You?ve always had your own list of deal breakers. No smokers, no addicts, no former convicts? whatever your deal breakers were before you had kids still apply. But now it?s time to add a few more.
When kids are in the picture, there are more things to watch out for when you?re contemplating a second date ? or more.
Ignoring or expecting you to ignore your kids
Whether they?ve met your kids or not, it?s possible for a date to ignore your kids. What does this look like? It could be:
Calling you at 5 p.m. on Friday to see if you want to go out that night
Changing the subject if you mention your kids or anything kid-related
Constantly forgetting you have kids
While you want someone to get to know you and be invested in you before you bring the kids into it, if they completely ignore that you have kids, that?s not a good sign. They should at least ask you how your kids are doing, and maybe even remember their names if you?ve told them.
Another red flag here is if they expect you to ignore your kids. For example, they call you on Friday for a Friday date. Instead of saying, ?Oh, I?m sorry. I forgot you needed more notice,? when you remind them you have kids and no sitter, they act put out. They might suggest you could just leave the kids home alone, or otherwise let you know that they think you should stop worrying about the kids.
Either way, someone who can so easily put your kids out of sight, out of mind, is probably not going to be the best partner for a single parent.
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Demanding to be put ahead of your kids
Parents always prioritize their kids over everything else, and a good potential partner understands that, even if they don?t have kids themselves. While they might be disappointed if you cancel because of a sick kid or canceled sitter, they won?t be angry about it. They won?t insist you figure something out to see them. They won?t demand you take time away from your kids to spend with them.
Any date who insists that you put them ahead of your kids is one you should walk away from.
As kids get older and need you less, your priorities may shift and eventually your romantic partner may become the highest priority (after the kids are grown, most likely). But when the kids are still at home and need you, they?re always going to come first and you want a partner who can not only understand that, but also support it.
Pushing too hard to meet the kids too soon
As I wrote about before, there are several factors that single parents should take into consideration when deciding when and how to introduce a new partner to their kids. You know what?s best for you and your kids. No one should pressure you to change your mind about it.
The person you?re seeing might have the best of intentions, but if they are pushing too hard to meet the kids sooner than you?re comfortable with, it?s a deal breaker. You know your children and your situation. You know when your kids will be ready, and how best to handle the introductions.
It?s also important to remember that there are some people who don?t have the best of intentions. Unfortunately, there are pedophiles and human traffickers who will target single parents because they see them as an easy target. It might not be common, and you may never meet one, but pushing to meet your kids when you?ve said ?not yet? should be a red flag. In fact, it should be an entire field of red flags, fluttering wildly in a tornado.
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Abusing or mistreating your kids
This is one you need to watch out for as you get deeper into a relationship with someone. This one can be a bit tricky, because we can see someone setting firm boundaries or being authoritative as being abusive or mistreating the kids just because it?s not something we would do ourselves or said in a way we wouldn?t say it.
But there are clear signs of abuse and mistreatment, whether it?s physical, verbal, or emotional. And if you see even one hint of that, you should grab your kids and walk away without a backward glance. Depending on the exact circumstances, you may also want to call the police.
If you?re in doubt, the first step is to make sure you don?t leave them alone with your kids again. The next step is to talk to someone you trust. Explain what you saw or heard and ask for their honest opinion about whether it was abuse/mistreatment or if you might be overreacting. If you?re told you?re overreacting, the third step is to keep a close watch on the interactions between your partner and your children to see if you notice anything else. If you?re told it was abuse/mistreatment, walk away immediately.
Most importantly, when it comes to abuse or mistreatment, trust your gut. While there are some situations where you might be overreacting or you?re really not sure, most of the time, your parental intuition knows when something is wrong. Trust it.
Telling you how to parent
This is another somewhat tricky one. Sometimes we ask for parenting advice, and then we don?t like what we hear. When that happens, it?s easy to get offended and think we should cut this person off.
But what if you didn?t ask for parenting advice? What if you merely mentioned something that happened and suddenly your date is telling you what to do? Of what if they?ve just met your kid and are telling you what they would do? Or trying to parent your kid for you when you haven?t asked them to?
Whether your date is a parent themselves or not, unsolicited parenting advice is a no-no. Unsolicited parenting of your children is also a no-no.
Remember that asking once is not a free pass for them to do it again, either. If you ask them to watch the kids while you run to the ladies? room, it doesn?t mean they get to parent your kids from that point on. The same applies if you ask for advice on one situation ? they don?t get to offer advice on every situation after that.
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Unwillingness to be a part of your kids? lives
You might be looking for someone who will take on a parenting role with your kids, or you might be looking for someone who is merely willing to be a friend to your kids. The person you?re dating may have a different view of their role in your kids? lives.
A different view isn?t necessarily a deal breaker. The two of you should discuss your different ideas and see if there?s a compromise to be found. It?s also important to remember that regardless of how you or your partner envision things, the relationship between them and each of your children should unfold organically and become whatever it becomes on its own.
However, if your date doesn?t see any relationship with your kids at all, that?s a red flag. Even once your kids are grown and on their own, you?ll still see them for holidays, weddings, and births of grandchildren ? and that?s at a bare minimum. You?ll likely see them a lot more than that. Keeping a separate life with your partner from your kids is going to be very difficult, whether the kids are at home or grown.
The role they play in your kids? lives may be big or small, but there should be a willingness to play some sort of role.
Your kids aren?t comfortable around them
Naturally, it will take your kids a little time to warm up to meeting someone new. And of course, you shouldn?t be leaving your kids alone with your new partner right away. But you should also be seeing some signs of feeling more comfortable with this new person in their lives as time passes.
If your kids are more uncomfortable around your partner than they usually are around new people, that should be a red flag. If their discomfort lasts longer than it usually does around new people, that?s also a red flag.
Kids might be tempted to lie and say they like your partner because they think it?s what you want to hear. That?s why it?s important to not just ask them how they feel, but to watch carefully for little signs of how they feel around your partner.
Keep in mind that kids, like animals, can be great judges of character. If your kids don?t like someone, there?s probably a good reason.
Photo by AndriyKo Podilnyk on Unsplash
Having kids of their own they don?t see or take care of
I saved this for last, but in my opinion, it should be a first date (or even a pre-first date) question. Does your date have kids that he/she sees regularly and takes care of? If they have kids and they don?t see them or take care of them, that?s a deal breaker.
Of course, some will say that it?s because their ex took the kids and so they can?t see them or can?t find them to pay child support, etc. While this may be true in some cases, if it is, they should be able to prove that. There should be court motions and orders they can show you. If they can?t, ask yourself why.
If they admit to having kids and having no desire to see or care for them, I personally find that to be a deal breaker worth ending the date then and there. How you choose to handle that is up to you, but it should definitely be a deal breaker. If they can?t or won?t take care of their own kids, they certainly won?t help you with yours. And even if they did, would you really be okay with someone taking care of your kids but not their own?
Getting back into the dating scene once you?ve had kids can feel a bit intimidating. There?s so much to think about and watch for. These deal breakers, plus any you used pre-kids, are a good starting point. The last piece of advice I?ll give you is something my grandmother said to me once: As long as you put your kids first, and you find someone who does the same, you?ll be a good parent and have a good relationship.
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