Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Women Should Know When Dating Single and Divorced Dads

I recently received an email from a female reader seeking my input on a situation that she's dealing with. She's a single woman without kids who's dating a divorced dad with a daughter. She has some real concerns about how the relationship is going and wanted to hear from my perspective the true dynamics of what she's experiencing. 

Let me first say that I'm not a relationship expert. I'm not a psychologist or therapist. I’m nothing more than a dad who has walked an interesting path on my way to raising two wonderful kids. I’ve had some real life experiences regarding this topic and I've learned somehow to navigate my way through the circumstances. Now I have the privilege of sharing a bit of what I’ve learned on this blog.

As you may know, I'm a happily married father. You might also know that my first marriage didn't quite work out as I'd hoped. That relationship produced a daughter who was 3 at the time that the divorce took place. I got remarried 2 1/2 years ago and we now have a son who just turned 11 months old this week. You can read The Story of My Blended Family by The Upbeat Dad to learn how it all came together. 

Today we have a blended family of four. Not long ago, I had a household of 2 - just my daughter and me. I was a single, self-employed, full-time dad with a growing, impressionable daughter. I desired to be in a relationship that could lead to marriage but I was in no rush to do so because I knew the devastation that can occur when marriages don't quite work out. I'd rather be single for the rest of my life than to get married and end up going through another divorce. It was that painful of an experience. 

My divorce ended 9 years ago and as I mentioned, I got married just over 2 years ago. So for 7 years I was a single dad. Throughout that time I dated a bit and I learned a thing or two about the unique issues that one encounters dating as a single dad. I wrote Dating 101 For The Divorced Dad to share my thoughts on the "do's and don'ts" of this process. 

Now that I've given that background on the journey I've taken, let me share with you a bit of what I conveyed in my response to the woman who emailed me. This applies more to those who date loving, responsible fathers. By this I mean that it does not apply to those who date men who have children and essentially disregard them as they enter new relationships. These are not the type of dads I'm talking about here. I'm referring to dads who make their kids a priority and try their best to balance being dads while building new relationships.

Here are some thoughts and tips that can help women build successful relationships with these men:

     1.     Avoid the rebound: Men who are just coming out of a relationship – whether by divorce or other means – are generally not emotionally ready to begin healthy, new relationships. It may be simpler to befriend one going through such a transition, giving him time to heal, and later on developing a relationship. More often than not, the more intense a relationship is with a newly divorced man, the less likely it is to succeed.

      When you add the father factor to this scenario it gets more complicated because, in a sense, he could be trying to replace his ex and having a pseudo-family. All this can be harmful in the long run because until he’s healed and whole, the comparison to his former relationship will remain for quite a while. When he’s moved on from that relationship, he can better assess the quality of a new one.

      2.     Take time to know him: Men are typically not the type to open up and share their wounds and scars. So it’s important to take things slow and get to know the man behind the mask. Don’t be in too much of a rush to meet his kids – get to know him first. Even if he wants to get the kids involved in your life, try to delay this process.

      Remember that the man isn’t the only one affected by the divorce – the kids are too. When someone new comes into the picture, they can easily resent that person because they view her as a replacement for their mom in their dad’s life. Get to know him for who he is. The other stuff comes in time.

     3.     Give him time to balance being a dad and a date: For many men, the experience of dating while being dads is very new. They’ve gone from simply focusing on their household and careers to now also focusing on a new relationship. I know that for me, it wasn’t easy. Being a full-time dad was my responsibility.


      When I dated, that was the exception – not the rule. I had to learn to make someone feel special while having my primary focus on my daughter. I couldn’t allow her to feel as if a new love in my life means she’s now on the backburner, as the expression goes.

      4.     Avoid the extremes when meeting the kids: When a dad has been convinced that a new love is a “keeper”, inevitably he will introduce her to his kids. There are two extremes that one should avoid. These are: trying too much to impress them; and becoming their competitors.

      Most women who date a dad would like to know that their kids like them. Some go to great lengths to sway the kids towards them. So they buy them gifts, take them shopping and really stretch the limits trying to impress them. In their view, by doing this, they’ll win the kids over and consequently, make it easier for a family to be formed.

This approach can be harmful in the long run. First, kids are smarter than we think. They’re not easily swayed. Their affection is not easily won – and it certainly cannot be bought. They might readily accept the gifts but might not so readily accept the new person.

The other extreme is becoming the kids’ competitors. Some women feel as if the man has a choice – either the kids or them. So instead of being open and warm, they become withdrawn and cold as they meet the kids. Some might feel that they’ve already won his heart so there’s no need to impress the kids.

This can be more harmful than I could describe here. His kids are his own. His blood literally runs through their veins. They are not to be competed with; instead, they should be embraced and honored for who they are. Any other approach generally leads to an unfavorable outcome.
A colleague of mine, Christina McGhee introduced me to the term, bonus kids, instead of step kids. How cool is that? You’ve got the man of your dreams and his kids are a bonus. This approach in more likely to make a favorable impression than the divisive competitor approach.

5.     Be true to yourself: This final point, in my view, is the most important of them all. Be true to who you are. You are not and could not ever be like his ex – no matter what her qualities may have been. Particularly when a man isn’t fully healed from his former relationship, he often seeks the good qualities in his ex in a new person.

      Just be who you are and if the relationship works, that’s great. If it doesn’t, at least you didn’t lose yourself in the process. When it comes to meeting the kids, again, be who you are. You’re not their biological mother – you can never be. But you can win their love, respect and admiration by genuinely caring for them and making them feel special. I believe it was Shakespeare who wrote, “To thine own self be true.” That statement is the strongest point I could make in this post.

      I hope that these tips have been helpful. Dating a divorced or a single dad isn’t such a simple process. But with tips such as those I’ve shared here, as well as many more, you can navigate your way to building a successful relationship. My wife was simply remarkable in the way she handled our dating experience. I could have even asked her to write this post from her perspective because she did a masterful job at just being true to herself, while becoming a part of my life. She and my daughter have developed such a close bond that, unless you knew otherwise, you’d think that they were biological mother and child. That’s been a joy to behold.

      In my view, kids are a joy and a treasure. Marriages come and go but kids are for keeps. When we as adults get into new relationships, if we take the proper approach to consider them first, then things generally work out fine. If you’re a woman who is dating or is considering dating a single or divorced dad, I wish you the very best. Just be yourself and if the relationship works out, that’s great. If it doesn’t, life goes on. In time, good things come to those who wait. It took 5 years after my divorce for me to meet my wife and 2 years later we got married. It’s come together just fine and it’s really as a result of the tips I shared here.

      As always, I welcome your feedback in the Comments section here on the blog. Do share this post with those who you feel would benefit. Life is much better when we share positive messages with each other. That’s what it’s all about.

      Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad



  1. This has hit home for me. My boyfriend and I have a 10 year age difference with me being the younger of the 2. He has 1 biological child from a previous marriage and one adopted son. It took me awhile to adjust to this life since I have never been married or have any children of my own. We have been together for a year and have had many family gatherings in which I was able to spend time with the children. This kind of relationship does work, although I thought it wouldn't. Honesty and communication has been the 2 key factors.

  2. Women who believe marriage is for keeps should RUN away from men like this. A divorced dad will never value and honor their wife unless she bends over backwards adjusting to his life. Some women don't mind doing this - others take the view that a relationship should be reciprocal. She gives more to the relationship than he ever can! You heard it from the man himself - "You’re not their biological mother – you can never be"... "I had to learn to make someone feel special while having my primary focus on my daughter."...the fact is, if these men valued their second wives the wives would naturally feel special (it wouldn't be work.) These kind of men have too much baggage and take the fun out of dating. No woman wants to grow up, dream of her future husband, and - oh wait - that person has another wife hanging around in the picture. The romance screeches to a halt. Sorry boys, but blogs like this are frustrating because you are the guys who ruined your marriages, put your kids in hurtful environments by your irresponsibility...don't expect the new woman to pick up the slack. You should be asking what she might expect of *you* (she may know a thing or two more than you about how to make a relationship actually work.)

    1. WOW! your reply totally smacks of stupidity. 1st off.. who says the wife not the one who broke the relationship in the 1st place?

      Your very last line indicates that you cannot be rationed with. Going around blaming all single dads as the cause for the marriage breaking down in the 1st place means that you as the poster, should consider there are other reasons why couples split. Unless all your partners cheated on you? FYI - women cheat too...

    2. Men who believe marriage is for keeps should RUN away from women like Anonymous on 10/10. She's so selfish that she believes she should come before someone's child. She doesn't understand that children always come first. She refers to a responsible man's duties as "baggage" and seems to think life should always be "fun". She needs someone else to make her "feel special" and has such low self esteem that she can't bear ever being compared to another woman. Evidently she spends a lot of time comparing herself to other women and comes up short. And (if you can believe anyone could be so ignorant) she believes divorce is always the man's fault even though 70% of divorces are initiated by women. She doesn't think much of men, because she believes they all need a woman to "pick up the slack", although she apparently doesn't believe in doing anything for her spouse, since she focuses on "what she might expect" of her potential husband.

    3. Heh, strange to say, I think these two extreme views of the situation are actually both valid.

      ABSOLUTELY, the woman will be burdened by a divorced dad's baggage. I don't think you'd find too many people who aspire to marrying a man who already made a vow to spend their life with someone else and have a human being to represent that love to boot (and yes, it matters that the man prioritizes that representation of that love). A good test would be to look at your daughters and ask yourself if that's what you'd want for her.

      No, women are not selfish for wanting to build a life with a man who is first and foremost their partner and not someone else's (believe me, the co-parent's decisions WILL partly define your own). A case could be made for the idea that women who are in a relationship with a divorced dad doesn't have the self-esteem to find someone better.

      That said, there is also something to be said about being embraced as part of a family, a far more difficult feat than building your own. Love comes in lots of ways (I know, cheesy...but still true!) sometimes that way involves a difficult path. Divorced dads can be a better partner in that they may have learned from their previous relationship and the fact that they are responsible enough to want to be part of their child's life is a sign of good character. For women who can't have children, the kid is a blessing. For the more independent women, these families can be ideal as they would have more freedom to do their own thing when he's off being a dad. Finally, if everything one hoped for in a marriage/family comes ready-out-of-the-package so to speak, it would be a mark of stubborness and inflexibility to be unable to accept it simply because it doesn't arrive in the way one wanted it to.

      I think what ultimately matters is that all parties involved know what they're going in for and that people are only people. Women need to understand what going into such a relationship entails and not throw fits when they're not prioritized. Men need to respect both the women who decide it's not for them and those who decide it is a good lifestyle for them.

    4. I don't know - my parents, who are still together, love each other so much, and my siblings and I are a product of that love, but we kids definitely did not come first growing up or now. I think divorced parents use the kids as excuses to stay in touch way too often. I think any women coming into this situation needs to be wary of the excuses divorced dads make in regards to the child. "But I'm being a good dad!" A good dad models a healthy relationship with his significant other by prioritizing it. I think the first poster directed her comments to women who have never been through a divorce and would never want that in their lives nor would they understand the dynamics surrounding that, understandably so. I don't think that is selfish at all.

    5. Original poster here...thank you for the comments that showed some understanding of my perspective. I just want to point out that my comments also hold true for my opinions of single moms...I don't believe in divorce. Usually there is a fundamental break-down of a marriage before the divorce, and while blame cannot always be attributed 50/50, I am sure 70% of women did not necessarily cause the break-down of their marriages. Regardless, at a certain point both partners agree to throw in the towel, and in my opinion, this shows a weakness in character that can be attributed to at least one of the partners. Good luck out there.

  3. "Marriages come and go but kids are for keeps." (Really? Don't the kids grow up and leave and make families of their own? Isn't the wife supposed to still be around? Wouldn't your kid want their mommy to still be in the picture??)

    1. Well said! Isn't marriage meaning planning to spend your life with your partner---- your partner is your No. 1 priority????? ( not the kids from a previous marriage!)

  4. Yeah marriages come and go...says it all really.

  5. Do you believe in love at first sight. The best and most beautiful things in the world can't be seen, nor touched, but are felt in the heart.
    dating advice

  6. Love at first sight quickly diminishes when an ex-wife is hanging around.

  7. I think the relationship may work if the woman is understanding and is willing to compromise with the issues that will eventually develop. She should be very much in love with the man as well.
    Overall, it would be ideal for a single father to date a single mother.

  8. Divorced dads need to get in touch with each other, find a way to communicate with each other and help each other through some difficult days that you might be up against. Such as the ignorance and prejudice of people who don't want fathers to have help. Sometimes they act like gatekeepers, censoring information inappropriately.

  9. Thank you for the post - I will be mindful of these things while i'm hitting the town! :)

  10. Hi Rodrick,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written! :)

    Wilson Peter
    matchmaker Chicago Illinois
    matchmaker Chicago

  11. Thank you for this. I think sometimes you meet someone wonderful and they have kids. An ex in the picture doesn't mean the new gf or wife is less important also doesn't mean a woman dating a single dad has low self esteem. I would love to hear your wife's account of dating a single dad and her advice and perspective.

  12. I have beeing seeing my partner for 6 months now. He is divorced, with 2 children. I have no children and have never been married. His marriage was well and truly over before we met but it has been a very acrimonious divorce. I have not met the children yet. We thought it best to wait and make sure we are on solid ground together before adding them to the mix. We agreed that after 6 months the introduction between me and the kids would happen.

    He is a devoted Dad and I know how difficult it has been for the kids during the divorce. They are 9(girl) and 6(boy).
    Does anyone have any suggestions of activites or environment for the first meeting? I dont want them to feel as if I am there to replace anyone, or that the day is all about me. I want them to feel like the day is all about them, and I am just someone they can have fun with while getting to know.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  13. Hi there.

    I would like to get some opinions on my situation.

    I am dating a newly divorced guy with a 3 year old son. We are seeing each other for almost 2 years now, he divorced just recently (and left her wife more than 1/2 year ago). Yes, I am the main reason he got divorced. I will not go deeply in this situation, still it is not favorable to me, so.. :)

    1. He is still attached to his wife. She got a job only 3 week ago, so he was (still is) paying for everything for her (and his son, naturally). They agreed in the divorce papers that he will pay a loan for the house for one year (he gave the house to her), after that only alimony (and, of course, split other expences for the kid). But he gives her money, and a lot of money, that she spends not on the kid (even her hair, manicure, pedicure, etc.). He offered to give her money on her new sitting room decor. This is too much I think, no?
    He texts her, calls her. She also. But when I am nor around. He says it's only about the kid, but I doubt it.. I do know, that she is in course of what he is doing, what is happening with him..
    2. Naturally, he tries to be the best dad for his kid. He spends as much time as possible with him. But I am not included (he says, it is because he is not ready, and they agreed with his former wife, not to get son introduced to me). So, I am left out (with thoughts, that I am not important enough to him, that he is not planning future with me). I "get" some time leftovers only.
    3. He says, that he wants to be with me, and he has feelings for me. It is obvious for me too. But he doesn't want to live with me, and is not introducing me to his life (family, kid also). And we are spending not enough time together. It would improve if we spend time with kid together, he wouldn't have to split his time.
    4. We fight about those things a lot. That's bad, but I am a normal woman, I want normal relationship - I want to know a kid, to start living together, to know that I am the only woman, he take care of, that he contacts his former wife only when something very important is to talk, and rarely, etc.). I did say that to him a lot of times.
    5. I have to mention that he visits his phychotherapist once a week. And he is getting better in his opinion (he is not that concerned that he takes something from his son, when he is with me; he stopped looking over his shoulder, when walking with me; etc.).

    What should I do? He says I should wait, and everything will fall to it's places. I am not a woman-rag... Should I clench my teeth and wait for this to happen? But I have waited so long, passed so many s*it.

  14. Run from a man who will cheat on his wife. He will cheat on you too. Don't waste your best years on this kind of man.

  15. I have a question - Just read your post. Have been dating over a year now and the bond between us have been excellent, open, honest and mature.... Met his daughter (10) about 6 months ago, our bond too had become so unbelievably strong. Recently he started resenting me and saying he feels as if she enjoys me more and started excluding me from activities. It is her birthday this week, and I was crushed when i heard that he and his ex wife discussed getting her a bike. I do not feel part of this unit anymore and feel totally as an outsider. It would have been nice if we got her a gift together and build our unit instead, not? I am confused as to what is normal and what is not here.

  16. As long as their needs are met, kid’s moodiness and ridiculous spoiled behaviors should NEVER come first. Parents like that are the reason why the American society is so messed up and people so entitled. If you find a great woman who you know has enough common sense to care about your kid and is WILLING to TAKE ON YOUR BAGGAGE and is a great person who you want to marry, you need to put her first or else don’t be surprised when she’s gone…there are PLENTY OF guys without kids out there who would die to date her, ya know???? Plus, if you were honest enough to include the fact that you have kids in your dating profile, nobody will be hurt. Funny how you all put your kids first but are too embarrassed to admit their existence on your dating profiles right off the bat. OK, the venting was helpful and this is not about all single parents but just the ones who deceive potential partners and lie about not having kids in their profiles. Us, as you call us selfish bitches, are hurting when it is time to go too. You trap us without saying how bad the situation will be and then we have to leave heartbroken when he face the undeniable truth that we deserve better!!! Be honest from the beginning or stay away.

  17. I seem to be grieving for too long. I've been divorced for over a year and I had been the one who filed for it. The main reasons for the divorce were that I and my husband had been very loving, caring and sharing a lot of common things for almost 15 years. Whoever we met would comment how much we complement each other. My husband got a job outside of the country, where I also joined him with the children, but I was not working. He changed drastically and became intolerant and undermining me. I tried to hold on to the marriage until I realized I was beginning to believe what he was saying about me. Although I was not happy to leave him behind, he insisted that I leave and go look for a job in our country where he would join us later. Once I was in our original country I began to be very angry with the way he treated me when I was not working. We squabbled all the time over the telephone. By the time he rejoined us in our country, he had totally lost interest in me. All in all, I felt betrayed, abused and then discarded. While I have rebuilt my life and continue to do so, I realize that I miss our life and that the divorce has affected our children a lot. He stays with someone now, whereas I am unable to form a relationship. It is as if I do not want to be in a relationship anymore. But I feel lonely, depressed. Sometimes I wish I was already 60 yrs old so that I am closer to death. But after contacting Lord Afar at ( or his web site: at once my husband came back home and never leave again.

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