I receive lots of emails from women, many without children, asking questions about dating single dads. The common problem is meeting his children – specifically, why won’t he let her meet them, why he avoids, or goes hot and cold, about meeting them, and similar. It seems for many of these women, meeting his kids is a really big deal.
I think I know why.
It’s a sign, a sign of interest, a sign of faithfulness, perhaps a sign of his love.
And for single dads who are doing the job of fatherhood right, it should be a sign.
Single fathers – and single mothers – must be careful who they allow into their children’s lives. To royally screw up a kid, just let them see a parent with a rotating door of ‘relationships’ coming through the house. Let a daughter see her dad shack up with one woman after the other and watch how that little girl turns out. When a mother has an endless string of men coming in her life she can’t be shocked at what her son becomes. If you get nothing else from this essay, let it be this:
When you’re a single parent, there are very different rules to love, sex, and, dating.
My advice to these women is often the same – patience and understanding. Single parenting is complicated, especially for single fathers. Most women, especially those without children, don’t understand that lots of single dads live in fear of their child’s mother. Yes, this sounds crazy. But there are countless fathers in a state of perpetual anxiety that one wrong move on his part and the mom will make his life difficult. She might try to turn his kids against him, or attempt take his kid(s) from him; all as a way to punish him for her displeasure, or out of jealousy.
He worries that a new, overly zealous, girlfriend may threaten the mom’s role, and suddenly his kids become ‘too busy’ to see dad. Or the mom may turn unsupportive, critical, or demeaning about daddy and his ‘new friend’ and their relationship. She could become less flexible to unforseen changes in the visitation schedule or choose not to help in the logistics of co-parenting. While this is perhaps less an issue if the mom is in a relationship or married, heaven forbid if she is single and alone. The mom may be overly territorial and that Momma Bear will see any female, and especially one who takes special interest in her kids, as a dangerous intruder that must be closely watched and, if necessary, stopped.
When you’re a single parent, there are very different rules to love, sex, and, dating.
For single dads in such a situation, how to blend the kids and the new girlfriend becomes a matter of risk versus reward. Am I willing to place that very high bet on bringing my girlfriend and my kids together when I likely know where the cards will fall? So, let me say now, a woman with patience and understanding to this predicament, who chooses not to press the issue of meeting the kids too hard, is someone to be treasured and appreciated.
But none of this takes the kids into account. What I mean is not only must a single parent (mom or dad) navigate the emotions and expectations of an ex, they also must consider the kid’s thoughts and feelings. If the father has been single for a long time, the kids are older, or overly attached, a new woman in daddy’s life can easily be considered a separate threat because she is, ‘taking daddy away.’ That brings its own set of issues.
Divorce complicates everything; is it any wonder God, and everybody else, hates it.
While I get these women don’t want to feel like they are wasting time and energy with a man who is choosing not to share an important part of his life. And though they are justified to believe that meeting his kids is a sign of his affection and commitment, there are many times when that very thing, meeting his children, is the very worst idea. I was reminded of this in a recent email from a woman who, like so many others, is dating a single dad who’s acting wishy-washy about introducing her to his kids.
“He had asked me if I wanted to meet them and of course I said yes, but as I got closer he all of a sudden changed his mind. He’s done this twice now, he’s told me the kids do know about me, and that the mother of his children does as well. But I can’t help but wonder what could be holding him back”.
Let me sidebar for a moment to emphasize an earlier point made about the complications of single parenting and how a single dad must balance the expectations of his ex, his kids, and his girlfriend. Note how he assured her that the children and the mother know about her. If women actually understood the emotional hand-wringing fathers endure just getting to the point of even telling the ex and kids, these women might have a greater appreciation and deeper sympathy for what he’s going through.
But what really got my attention from her note, and the motivation for this post, is how she started her email:
“My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for over a year, our relationship is a bit difficult due to it being long distance.”
With that top of mind, I replied:
“I can understand your need to want to meet his children as I think it may signal a level of commitment to you and the relationship, that you are ‘known,’ and he is interested, etc. And while I can appreciate that, I would ask you to look at it from the children’s perspective. Your relationship is relatively new, long distance, and as you said, “a bit difficult.” To meet a partner’s child leaves an impact, on you, but most certainly on them. Kids might play it off as ‘no big deal,’ but I can assure you it is. I recommend introducing/meeting children only when both people believe the relationship has staying power and are in it for the long haul.”
Here’s what I hope this woman, and anyone else reading this, understands. Do not take meeting his kids lightly. It will have a lasting impact on them even if you think otherwise. My kids still remember my first long term relationship after my divorce. It was a decade ago, and they were 3 and 5 years old. They still remember her name, those of her pets, kids, and even things we did together.
Can meeting his kids test his level of commitment and interest? Certainly, for many men, it is the ultimate test. It became that for me when I introduced my kids to the Queen. Yet knowing this also means it can’t be forced. To mandate, or draw an imaginary finish line, for meeting his children, merely to ease some insecurity, only leads to resentment on both of your parts, and worse it could backfire. The kids get turned into a thermometer, and he’ll resent having been painted into a corner. With her lofty expectations, the girlfriend resents him for selfishly keeping her on the sidelines.
While there may be no perfect time to meet the kids, I think there are a few things that should be considered before taking this important step.
Let me start by saying, if he immediately wants to introduce the kids, say at the 3rd date or even the first month, be worried. He’s likely a newly single dad and learning the terrain, he’s way too into you, or he’s looking for an ‘instant family.’ Any reason is not healthy.
On the other hand, if he keeps putting off introducing them it could say something else, that he either isn’t at the same level of commitment in the relationship, or he fears his ex-wife’s or kids’ response to you being in the picture. Again, none are good reasons.
I suggest looking at the bigger picture in all this, hold off on meeting the kids for at minimum three months, but more importantly don’t do anything until you both are ready as evidenced by the health of your relationship, no matter how long that may be or take. I’ve known people to didn’t meet the kids for a year. This extra time allows you both a chance to really know each other and discover if the relationship has a future, all before adding a new layer of complexity, (i.e. kids).
If a relationship is mostly defined by ‘a bit difficult,’ it’s probably no the right time to meet his kids.
Instead, spend time learning about what type of parent he is, how does he describe the relationship with his children, what about the relationship with his ex-wife, how about co-parenting, visitation, what he’s learned from his divorce or breakup? How he’s taken responsibility for the part he played in why the relationship ended and what is different now? Does what he says all make sense with what he does? Be resistant to meeting his kids until you are sure of what you have. Then slowly ease into it, when you both are ready, talk about it beforehand. Set some timelines even. Have a plan.
But if none of that convinces you, then don’t rush in for reason of the kids. Your presence in their lives will leave an impression on them, as it will yourself. It doesn’t do any good for you to meet the kids prematurely and start a relationship with them, only to quickly exit the picture when what you and their dad have doesn’t work out.
Chances are good that if you take a more measured approach, pay attention to what is being said and done, you won’t need a test of his commitment and sincerity, by meeting his kids, you’ll already know and will be saved the discomfort of being just another person through the door parading in front of his children.
There are lots of great reasons to date a single father. One of the best is the children. But there are complexities in dating these dads that are unavoidable. So know the ground rules before you start and have patience and understanding to the difficulties he will likely go through now that you’re on the scene, all so that when you are both ready to meet his children, it will only make things better for everyone.