What To Expect When You’re Dating A Parent

Falling for a single parent when you’re child-free often means you’ll be navigating uncharted relationship territory together. Here, experts and stepparents weigh in with their own experiences.

By Amy Keyishian

s you browse the prospects in your inbox, you’re bound to see some proud parents — and you might even be considering dating someone who already has kids. After all, once you pass a certain age, your two options are usually “date someone with kids” or “shrink your dating pool to miniscule
There will be fights. There will be disagreements.
proportions.” For me, it was a no-brainer: I love kids, I come from a blended family, and when I found myself single at 38, it felt natural to fall for a guy with two amazing children of his own.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

How to juggle your relationship priorities when kids and exes are involved
I went into my marriage with the viewpoint that I should never expect to be anyone’s first priority — because popular wisdom says that if you marry a guy with kids, you must also expect to be treated like a doormat occasionally. That insane belief nearly sank our ship before it could get out of the port. “There are only a handful of people who encourage people in remarriage to really be a couple, and to prioritize that bond,” says Wednesday Martin, author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel and Act the Way We Do (Houghton Mifflin, 2009). “We shouldn’t feel guilty for making our marriage a priority.”

On the other hand, she says, “There will be fights. There will be disagreements. There will be stressors that wouldn’t be there if he didn’t have kids and an ex.” Love doesn’t conquer all; tons of patience, hard work and a huge dash of luck are more likely to serve as your relationship’s collective knights in shining armor.

The bottom line is that, if you’re considering becoming a stepparent, know that you’re going to be walking a delicate line between high-strung emotional states best defined as: “the kids are hurting” and “hey! I’m not a doormat!” Beyond that, well, there’s no blueprint to success for you to follow. But here are some words of wisdom from those who have taken the plunge to date — and eventually marry — someone with kids from a previous relationship.

For women involved with a single dad:
“Since the ex will be around forever — and I do mean forever — I found it helpful to think of her as a sister-in-law: someone who will be at all the family gatherings, but isn’t necessarily a friend.”
– Sheri E., Reading, PA

“Of course you prioritize your relationship, but if the kids really aren’t on board, proceed with extreme caution.”
– Ellen P., Riverside, CA

“There is guilt and competition among the exes, so be prepared for (and patient with) some unsound decision-making. Can you support your loved ones (I mean the kids and your spouse) even when you disagree? Then you’ll be a good stepparent.”
– Barbara Goldberg, founder of The Evil Stepmother Speaks blog, Scottsdale, AZ

“If he wants you to meet his kid on the first date, run. If he still hasn’t brought up your
If he wants you to meet his kid on the first date, run.
meeting the kids after six months… run!”
– Amy K., San Francisco, CA

“What makes a good stepparent? The same stuff that makes you a good parent — only more of it: more sensitivity, more friendliness and a nice, thick skin.”
– Melissa B., creator of the Rock & Drool blog, Farmington Hills, MI

“Got time and patience? Successful family ‘blending’ takes time — from 7 to 12 years, experts say. So if you’re good at enjoying the journey rather than impatiently expecting a finished product, you’ll be a good stepparent.”
– Paula Bisacre, founder of

For men dating a single mom:
“You’re not the ‘new father,’ so don’t act like one. Instead, look for ways to connect. Before I met my wife’s son, I asked her what kind of music he liked and then made a playlist of MP3s to give him when we first met. It helped start us off on the right foot.”
– Laurier T., Tokyo, Japan

“If you like the idea of having a positive influence in the lives of kids who need it most, you’ll be a good stepparent.”
– Bill Corbett, founder of Cooperative Kids, Enfield, CT

If you’re thinking of dating someone with kids, the two most-cited requirements you’ll need to have are a sense of humor and the ability to bite your tongue. In the end, if you write off dating anyone with kids, ultimately, you’re the one who’s missing out. Because even with all the excitement and aggravation, life with your partner’s kids is like life with any kids: fun, unpredictable, and — just when you least expect it — sweet as can be.

Amy Keyishian has written for Cosmopolitan and other national magazines.
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