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Both Got Kids? Date Like This


Think swapping stories about your little darlings on a night out is harmless? Maybe not. Read on for the full story.

By Lisa Cohn

roud parents beware: If you’re dating someone who also has kids, it’s only natural that you’d share stories about the little tykes and even seek each others’ parenting advice. Still, it can be all too easy for these conversations to veer into dangerous territory, devolving into “my kid is better than yours” spats — which is something Dora Griffin from Craig.

“We did fall into comparing and contrasting,” admits Dora, who, at times, couldn’t help thinking Craig’s ill-mannered son might have something to learn from her own more well-behaved boy. After one particularly trying outing where Craig’s son complained he wasn’t having fun, Dora blurted out, “My son would never behave that way. He grew up
Warning: Offering your date parenting advice can translate into “My kid’s better than yours.”
respecting authority and adults.” Craig’s response — “We’ll see whose kids turn out best, mine or yours” — didn’t help matters any, turning what should have been romantic couple time into (what else would you call it?) a competition. If you want to avoid these types of mood-killers when you’re out with your own amour, heed this advice to keep your urge for one-upmanship in check.

Don’t diss your date’s kids, period
When I first dated my husband Bill, he and I would often make playful jabs about each others’ kids. Bill, for example, liked to point out that his got dressed in the morning “with their eyes open” (meaning they were generally color-coordinated), while my son, Travis, often stumbled into school wearing two different-colored socks. “If Travis wears mismatched socks, it’ll soon become a second-grade craze,” was my reply. “What fads have your kids created lately?” But these conversations, no matter how light and playful they might seem at the time, can get under someone’s skin, even if it’s not immediately apparent. You never know what could be a sore spot for a parent, and the last thing you want is that joke about Junior’s dismal test grade or soccer-playing skills to sour what could be a romantic evening together. That’s why, after a few conversations like this one, Bill and I invented the “Fine Art of Silence.” As the old saying goes, if you have nothing nice to say, it’s better to say nothing at all.

Offering parenting advice is also not OK
So you’re doing a fine job keeping mum about how your date’s kids lack manners, don’t do their homework, or are downright monsters compared to your own. But a little constructive criticism of your sweetie’s parenting skills wouldn’t hurt, though, would it? Sorry, that’s just a more nuanced way of saying “My kid’s better than yours” — so avoid comments like “Have you ever thought about sending Kim to her room when she throws a tantrum?” because trust me, it will ruffle your date’s feathers. Dora, for one, used to question Craig’s strict way of parenting. “One Thanksgiving, his boy did something wrong, so Craig was going to leave the boy home while we went out to dinner,” she recalls. “I told him ‘You can’t
Focus on identifying each child’s individual talents.
leave your son home as a punishment!’” But these discussions were never productive. Since then, she’s learned to accept that they have different parenting styles — and to play by his rules where his kids are concerned. “One Sunday I went over to his place,” Dora says. “We were going to spend the day together skating. But Craig decided his kids should take a nap first. I didn’t agree, but didn’t want to disrespect him. So we all lay in bed for an hour, then went skating and had a fun time.”

But what if your date is clearly struggling with a parenting issues — say, Junior’s refusal to eat anything but Pop Tarts? Is it ever OK to offer a little help? Certainly, if your date actually asks for it with entreaties such as “I’m at a loss! What would you do in this situation?” Or, if you truly feel you could offer some guidance, ask your date’s permission to give it. Nothing is worse than hearing unsolicited advice, so prime your date with something along the lines of “Gee, that sounds rough, but I think I’ve heard about something that could help. Would you like my advice?” The fact that you’ve asked will make your date much more receptive and likely to say, “I’m all ears!”

Don’t insist that all kids are created equal
While parents are wise to avoid engaging in subtle games of “my kid’s better than yours” with dates, they should also avoid the opposite: treating very different children as if they’re exactly the same. Deborah Ruf, a gifted-child education specialist based in Golden Valley, MN, knows this all too well, having raised two very bright kids, one of whom was a successful child actor. This quickly began causing tension on her dates with a man named Cecil. “My children had gone to a private school, and Cecil’s did not,” Deborah explains. “Anytime my kids did better than his at something, it was because they were at a private school, as far as he was concerned. He was unable to look at them as being just plain different or having a talent or not having a talent.” All kids are different — and pretending those disparities don’t exist will only frustrate you both.

Focus on each child’s special strengths
So, to avoid this frustration, focus on identifying each child’s individual talents. Some children shine socially, others academically, still others excel at videogames, Legos, or baking cookies. And if you’re in a relationship with someone, make an effort to take an interest in your date’s kid’s hobbies versus just your boys’ after-school hockey games. “When I was dating my Cecil, I identified crafts his daughter wanted to do,” says Deborah. “My sons weren’t interested, but I spent many hours with one of the girls. It helped make him see I was just as interested in his kids and was focused on their own talents.”

Compliment your date’s kids
Nothing makes parents melt like expressing admiration for their kids. So if you want to quell competitive tension and keep those romantic feelings flowing, consider showering your date (or his or her child) with a few flattering observations. “What a beautiful/handsome child!” is always a winner if your date shows you a wallet photo. And if you meet the child in person, a private aside like “Wow, your child seems so articulate/well-mannered/outgoing” will surely make your date smile. Deborah, for one, found this simple tactic worked wonders during a “family date” with Jim and their kids over bowling. “He was impressed with how my kids were quite the jocks, which was sweet because they’re kind of small,” she recalls. “And I commented about how his son Matt had a great attitude and didn’t give up easily. Making it clear that we admired each others’ children in particular ways was really important because it both made us feel great about our kids—and each other.”


Lisa Cohn is co-host of Stepfamily Talk Radio and coauthor of One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies. Visit her at stepfamilyadvice.com.
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