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As women, when we picture the man of our dreams, we think of someone to build a life with. Someone to marry, buy a house and have children with. Rarely, do we picture a man who has already been there and done that.
But what if the man of your dreams comes with “baggage”? What if he already has kids? Navigating these murky waters may still be worth it, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you weren’t prepared for the uncharted course that lies ahead.
Dating a man with kids comes with its challenges, some of which are unpredictable and may leave you feeling like you’ve been put through the ringer if you don’t know what to expect.
Today, we are going to outline the list of things you may want to consider when dating a man with kids… the “what if’s”, if you will.
While only some of these may apply to your situation, it can’t hurt to expect the unexpected and be pleasantly surprised afterwards. There is less chance of everyone getting hurt that way.
1. His free time is very limited.
If he cares about being a hands-on father, despite the circumstances that led up to the separation or divorce, he’s going to do everything in his power to prove that he isn’t going to screw up his kids.
This means that most of his free time will be usurped by them whenever they want or need it. And you will have to be ok with that.
If he’s as good of a guy as you believe he is, he likely has joint custody. This means the kids are with him every other weekend and perhaps even some days during the week. He’s going to watch their soccer games and attend parent/teacher conferences.
He’s going to show up.
He may be a part-time parent, but is a full-time dad. And while you may sometimes be included in these things, you’ll need to temper your expectations of what “free time” means for a man with kids.
2. You are now part of a “threesome”.
No… I’m not talking about the dirty kind with some hot girl-guy-girl action. I’m talking more about the ol’ saying, “three’s a crowd”. Whether he is your boyfriend, fiance or husband… his ex will always have a say in what’s going on with her kids.
Want to take them on a vacation to Disney World? You better make sure she’s cool with it, or didn’t have something already planned.
She can be the ultimate “bubble burster” if she wants to be, and you have very little-to-no say in the matter.
Like it or not, you’ll have to play nice with her for the sake of the kids. Even if it pains you to do so, things will go much more smoothly in the long run if you tread lightly.
3. He will avoid introductions until he knows the relationship can go the distance.
I have a single cousin who essentially raised two boys on her own, starting from when they were toddlers. She never brought a man home, or introduced him to her children, until she was sure the relationship was worth exploring.
Obviously, seeing how a would-be suitor reacts to her kids is kind of a make or break deal… but also something not to be taken lightly. Think about it from the kids’ point of view.
His kids have already been witness to one relationship falling apart. Why should they trust that yours will last? Broken trust and a lack of faith are nearly impossible things to restore.
Their dad needs to make sure that your relationship is worth gambling with their emotions before he rolls the dice and makes you a part of their life.
4. You’ll have to pretend you and their dad are just friends… at least for a while.
If the kids are young (as in not pre-teens or older), you may have to be okay with their dad introducing you as his friend, “so-and-so”.
He may even give some details about where you know each other from or what you do for a living, etc. Perhaps he will mention your hobbies in the hopes of finding some common ground upon which you and his children can stand.
It is likely this is new territory for both him and his kids, and so he’ll want to “sell you” by treading lightly.
If he makes it about romance right away, there will undoubtedly be awkward or tough questions… such as, “are you my new mommy?” or “how come daddy chose you instead?”.
5. You will always play second fiddle.
For most men, the birth of their child goes down in history as one of the greatest days ever… if not the greatest day. It trumps all else because that is the day their legacy was born.
They created a life… a little part of them that walks around every day, serving as a constant reminder that he has an integral role to play in who that child becomes and what they can accomplish in life.
He is a role model and someone they need to know can always be counted on.
In order for that to happen, he needs to make it clear to them that they are his priority above all else… even you. You may be the great love of his life, but his children are the greatest love he’ll ever know.
This means there will be times he may disappoint you, but just know that it’s for good reason. And remember that part of what you love about him is his dedication to his children.
6. Get used to last minute changes to plans.
Sick kid. Trouble in school. The ex is held up at work.
The list goes on of reasons why he will likely change up plans with you on a dime. It’s not because he doesn’t want to see you, but a kid in need trumps your relationship.
It’s a safe bet not to get too comfortable in your plans and it makes sense for you to be prepared for whatever curve balls this situation may throw your way. After all, this is what you signed up for.
7. You should still be in on the lookout for “red flags” in the relationship.
If he is a little too eager to please his ex by being “super dad”… this may be a red flag.
As in, maybe he has some hope the relationship can be salvaged. After all, being married with children is easier than co-parenting.
That or he may still have feelings for his ex.
There is also the possibility that he is more comfortable being the idolized part-time father than a full time partner. There are two sides to every story and perhaps the relationship didn’t work because he didn’t do his part.
Whenever you date a divorcee, there is reason to be skeptical or wonder why the relationship ended. When kids are in the mix, you have even more reason to.
Conversely, if you are dating a widower, he may still be holding a torch for his one true love… which is something you may never be able to extinguish or live up to. Talking about her constantly is a red flag you shouldn’t brush under the rug.
If something feels wrong, talk to each other. You deserve to know where you stand.
8. His family may see you as “the other woman”.
Whether you are replacing a deceased spouse or an ex-wife, most families want to see kids’ parents together… especially if they liked the mother.
And even if they didn’t, you’ll have some big shoes to fill on what they painted in their mind as the perfect match for their son, brother, nephew, etc….
You are the “other woman” in their eyes, the one he’s invited to be a part of the lives of his children moving forward. It may take them some getting used to, so it’s best to be patient and prepared.
9. Always a stepmom, never a mom.
No matter how great you think your relationship with his kids are, you’ll never be their birth mom.
Even if she was or is awful, you have to address the elephant in the room… she is a part of their lives for as long as she lives.
And if you are dating a widower, they likely miss their mom and you can’t replace her. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
You need to accept your role and do your best to fill whatever void is missing in their lives. If you are expecting them to call you mom, you may be disappointed.
Instead, just be there for them and things will sort themselves out. It may not be a mother/child relationship, but it can still be extremely meaningful to you both.
10. You may feel out of place at times.
Being a third wheel stinks. I used to hate going out with my best friend and her husband when I was single.
While I am sure they didn’t mean to, it felt as if they were flaunting their relationship and happiness in my single face… with their inside jokes and thigh grazes.
If you’re dating a man with kids, you’ll likely find yourself walking into situations you’re not completely clued in on. For instance, if his son had a fight with his mother and has come to his dad to complain, you have no say about anything.
You can’t possibly chime in because you weren’t a part of it and you aren’t his mother.
So you sit, feeling out of place and useless, with a concerned smile on your face. It’s a tough spot to be in.
All you can do is let them deal with their issues on their own and let your partner know you’re there to listen if he needs to talk.
11. Boundaries will have to be determined and set early on.
Are you allowed to discipline the kids? How about picking them up from school if their dad is tied up? Can you take his daughter shopping alone?
These are the types of boundaries that need to be set early on so you know your place and aren’t disappointed or let down later. This is also your chance to determine whether or not you are ok staring in the particular role he’s set for you.
12. Respect and encourage their family traditions.
Even when a relationship ends, there is usually some residual good left behind. Things like family traditions that create a sense of normalcy and consistency for the kids, who are likely feeling caught in the middle of the fallout.
If it was a tradition to stay up late on New Year’s Eve playing board games, or go out for Chinese food every Thanksgiving… you’re going to have to respect that. At least until the kids are old enough, and the relationship is secure enough, to create some of your own.
13. You’ll constantly crave their approval… and their dad’s.
Popularity contests aren’t just reserved for kids in school or government elections. As humans, we constantly seek the approval of others and often attribute the act of being liked with our happiness.
And when you’re dating a man with kids, you want them to like you. I mean, really like you.
You’ll bend over backwards to make your significant other feel as if he’s made the right decision in choosing you. And you’ll stop at nothing to make his kids think you’re aces. In fact, you may look at yourself in the mirror at times and ask, “What am I doing?”.
You hate roller coasters, but will ride them because his kids love to. You can’t stand sushi, but will eat it because your boyfriend has it twice a week.
While it’s perfectly normal to want them to accept and love you, just be sure not to change who you are entirely. After all, he picked you for the person you are… not the illusion you’re creating.
14. Learn to develop a thick skin, especially if the kids are older.
If you’re dating a man with teenagers or older, be prepared for some pushback. They are not afraid to say what’s on their mind and, since you’re not actually related, they may feel the consequences of their actions will be less severe.
Dad is in their corner, right?
This may not in fact be the case, but you need to anticipate that their aversion towards you will not be kept secret… not will their father necessarily tell them to reign it in.
Sadly, he doesn’t want them to hide their feelings, even if it means your feelings may get hurt.
15. He may be in financial disarray.
If you’re dating a man with kids, a costly divorce may have left him struggling. It’s possible he’s gone from a big house to a 2 bedroom apartment. Or he’s now driving a used sedan so his ex-wife could buy a new minivan. And let’s not forget about alimony.
Every kid needs to be taken care of, and depending on the situation, he’s fiscally responsible to some degree… which means his needs, and yours, come last.
His credit may be shot or he may find himself overextended, working longer hours to make ends meet and create a new life for himself.
While he may want you to be a part of his future, he may not be able to afford to take care of you and his kids in a fiscal sense. You’ll likely have to pull your own weight and work as a team to get what you want.
16. Give them their space.
There will be times when your guy may pull away. After all, he’s got a lot on his plate, trying to keep his kids happy while not neglecting you.
He wants your relationship to work, but has to find a way to please everyone in his life, without anyone feeling bad. And this is one balancing act he is determined to master.
If you get the feeling he needs to figure things out, let him be. Don’t read too much into it. Giving him time is the best way to ensure he’ll give you his full attention whenever he is able.
Dating in itself poses its challenges, especially as you’re getting to know each other and your routines. Add kids to the mix and you’ve got a whole new set of rules to play by.
You’re not just dating each other, but you’re becoming a family of sorts. It may not be conventional, but it’s the path you’ve chosen.
Being prepared for whatever comes, and taking things one day at a time, is a good place to start as you embark on this journey together. Just remember to always keep the lines of communication open so that you’re on the same page.
And if you're looking for more articles on relationships, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 7 Steps to Overcome Insecurities in a Relationship
- 25 Red Flags in Men You Should Avoid at All Costs
- 15 Warning Signs That Your Partner Has Commitment Issues