How to Date a Single Dad
By Michele Bender
Great news: You just met a wonderful guy! He has an impressive-sounding job, a summer house by the lake, a nice car in the garage ... and three kids on the weekend. Oh. And did we mention an ex-wife who doesn't love the idea of another woman making her children pancakes? Yes, you're dating a divorced dad, and he's a tricky species indeed. Whatever rules you've applied to dating in the past, just throw them out the window. Because when it comes to having a relationship with a man who has kids, you'll need to follow a whole new set of guidelines. To help you maneuver your way through this scenario, we asked experts and people who've been there for tips on the best way to date a dad.
Rule 1: His kids come first.
And you should be happy about that. "If he doesn't make his kids a priority, that's a major red flag for me," says single-dad dater Susan Avery, 35, of New York City. "For example, if he says he would be willing to change his plans with them to be with me -- that's a bad sign. You want someone who makes his children the most important aspect of his life."
Rule 2: The ex is here to stay.
She's the mother of his children and if they're both involved in their kids' lives, she's not going anywhere. "You've got to be prepared to deal with and interact with her regularly," says Rhonda Findling, author of The Dating Cure. This could be as infrequent as answering her occasional phone call to regularly making plans for pick-ups or drop-offs and filling her in about anything that happened when her kids were at your place. You don't have to be bosom buddies, but you should be able to get along and be willing to communicate when it relates to the little ones.
Rule 3: You'll probably date in secret.
At least for a little while. "Children shouldn't be involved in parental dating until you're really serious and it's a committed relationship," says Gilda Carle, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of Don't Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on Yourself. "Children become easily attached, and you don't want to disappoint or hurt them if things don't work out." A single dad who adheres to this really cares about his kids and isn't just casually bringing women in and out of his children's lives.
Rule 4: His diaper days may be over.
Since he's already got a child (or two or three) that he's busy with and responsible for, he may not want any more. This is a big deal if you're longing for offspring of your own either now or someday. "Finding this out is easy, and you should do so sooner than later," says Carle, who suggests asking him, "Would you consider having children again?" Just make sure not to add "with me." Here's why: "If it's too early on, that may scare him, or you may not get the real answer," says Carle.
Rule 5: Kids come with the package.
Sounds obvious, but if your guy's close to his kids (which is a good thing), then his little ones will be part of your life, too. That means some dates may be more Chuck E. Cheese than wine and cheese and that sleeping at his place may turn into a slumber party. It also means his kids play a role in how he feels about you. "Though I'm not looking for a replacement mother, I do want someone who'll be involved in my daughters' lives and will help me as I raise them," says divorced dad Marty Tate, 33 of Salt Lake City, UT. "I don't want to get too far down the relationship road without seeing how a woman interacts with my children and how they feel about her."
Rule 6: Money may be tight.
Parenthood and divorce don't come cheap, especially if your man's paying alimony or child support. "You have to expect (and accept) that some of his resources are going to be geared toward the children which can mean less money to take you out and treat you," says Findling. While not exactly a cause for celebration, the fact that he pays child support tells you that he's responsible and committed -- and that's priceless.
Rule 7: Flexibility is a must.
The only predictable thing about life with kids is that it's unpredictable. Although your mate may have set times to be with his children, those plans can change at any minute if the kids are sick or his ex has an emergency or it's a school vacation. "That means he may not always be available to you or as spontaneous as a kid-free guy," says Findling.
Rule 8: You've gotta have a life.
Though hopefully you'll get along well enough with his children to be part of their life, most dads and their kids will still want some one-on-one time. "You've got to be independent enough that this doesn't bother you and that you have other things to do," says Carle. Sitting around waiting for your turn with your guy will only breed resentment.
Rule 9: You may be cast in the role of wicked step-mother.
At least in the beginning -- especially if you're the first relationship this single dad has had post-divorce. "The guy I dated had a five-year-old daughter who wouldn't talk to me and just scowled whenever I was around," says Melissa Lane, 36, of New York City. "It was hard, but I kept reminding myself of the pain she'd just been through -- and gave things a good amount of time to settle down." And patience is indeed a very valuable asset for anyone juggling love and kids.