It wasn’t until years after my divorce that I realized I was never going to have a relationship with anyone like the one I had with my ex-husband. After all, when someone shares a home and children with you, you get to know each other deeply — and a lot of the time, you grow and change together.
At the time, we’d leave the kids with a grandparent, and travel as a couple to work on our relationship. After all, a big part of you is doing it for the kids’ sake too.
But when you start dating someone with kids that aren’t yours, it’s a lot harder to get kid-free time to work on your relationship. It’s hard for me to sacrifice that special time with my kids as I have split custody.
So if you’re thinking about getting back out there again — and the chances are good that you will meet someone with children — here are five things I’ve learned that are important to keep in mind.
Kids come first.
If you ask me, this is the way it should be. Dates will get cancelled because someone’s kid is sick, ex partners need to change custody schedules, and you will come after that. Their child may take a long time to warm up to you. You may even meet someone without a co-parent so they have very little time for a relationship.
I’m not saying you will never feel special or appreciated. Of course there will be times when it’s just the two of you. I am telling you it’s very different from being in a relationship with your child’s other parent.
Believe me when I say that you want to be with someone who puts their child first. Their relationship with their kids speaks volumes about where their priorities lie — and if they don’t seem concerned about that, run quickly in the other direction.
You are going to see them at their worst.
Parenting is hard; single parenting can sometimes be impossible. Co-parenting with someone you aren’t with any longer, regardless of how amicable it is, is trying at best.
You are going to see your new partner stressed, at a loss for what to do, fighting with their kids, and making decisions you wouldn’t make.
Only you know when things get to be too much, or that it’s not a good relationship for you. There is, of course, no perfect parent. Be prepared and know that it’s normal.
You might feel like an outsider.
They have memories, special jokes and stories you will know nothing about. They will have established traditions and it might be really hard for their children to welcome you into those.
My boyfriend and I have been together for two and a half years. His daughter still struggles with our relationship and doesn’t talk to me much. I have to be careful not to come on too strong or overstep, which isn’t easy.
For me, the best thing to do has been to not take it personally and focus on my own children.
You aren’t their parent.
If you decide to move in together and your children will be living with you, I think it’s important to sit down and go over rules and expectations beforehand. You might have different rules for your kids, and visa versa. Make sure you include whether you are comfortable with your partner disciplining your child. Some people are and some people aren’t. This is crucial to know before you have a blended family.
Personally, we don’t discipline each other’s kids. We’ve talked about this and have mutual respect for each other.
That doesn’t mean that things go smoothly all the time. It does help to know, though, if my kids do something that requires a consequence, he isn’t going to overstep.
Support and be there for each other, but remember their child isn’t your child, and you aren’t going to see eye to eye a lot of the time.
You two are going to raise your children differently, and that’s OK.
It’s hard enough to raise a child with your co-parent, much less an outsider walking into your family. Raising your kids differently can be extremely stressful. You can either accept you are going to do things differently, or not. But if you don’t accept it, you are going to struggle.
It’s hard to change, and it’s hard when someone criticizes your parenting. Getting someone else to change is even harder, and they won’t like their parenting being criticized any more than you do.
As always, communication — and letting go of trying to get them to parent your way — is key.