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