How to tackle the dating scene when you or your partner have kids
A psychotherapist on how to tell your ex about a new partner, plus her most important rule to date by.
Dating can be challenging as it is, but when you add children into the mix it often gets a lot more complicated. Ex-partners, growing kids, diaper changes and feeding schedules can all get in the way of a typical romantic relationship. Every situation is unique, but no matter what, the kids come first. And typically, if you're dating someone with children there is another parent involved, which adds another potential obstacle. So family psychiatrist Janna Comrie stopped by The Goods to help navigate those tricky waters. Whether you're the parent or you're connecting with someone who is, here are her top tips for taking on the dating scene.
Take your time
After people have been in long relationships like marriages they often jump head-first into their next relationship because it feels so fresh and new. But Comrie warns to take your time. If the relationship feels great three months in, it should still feel great at 6 months. Allow it to bloom and grow into what it will, and it's best not to immerse your children in that relationship unless you're sure it's going to last.
If you're wondering when to introduce the new person in your like to your kids, Comrie says that there's a big difference between introducing your child to your partner and having your children bond with that person. Comrie says it's one thing to tell your child that you're going out on a date with the person knocking at the door, but it's another thing to bring them into the house for movie night or on your next family vacation. Being wary of how a breakup can affect kids is understandable, but Comrie believes that children can learn from real life situations like this. If the relationship doesn't work out, children can learn that relationships don't have to be forever to be valid: you can date, break up and still be fine. The key is to be prepared to model this behaviour if things end with your partner.
Be mindful of the relationship with the ex
Exes can be a complicated variable in a new relationship, whether they're your ex or your new partner's. It's important to always be respectful of the relationship between ex-spouses and the relationship between the spouses and their children. In any case, be accepting of the fact that the child is always going to come first. Comrie explained that this is something that most people expect, but they might not fully realize the impact this sacrifice can have on day-to-day life. Ideally, your partner should aim for an amicable relationship with the parent of their child, and that means you'll have to expect that they will sometimes go over to their ex's house or do something nice for them — without you being jealous.
She also knows that it's incredibly common for people to want their partner's children to like them — but you can't force this relationship by trying to buy their attention or love. Be your charming self, and the child will like you or they won't. If they don't like you, you'll have to reevaluate. Just know that the relationship will take time to build no matter what.
The kids come first
Simply put, if you're seeing someone with young kids, they will have a lot less free time. It all comes down to the fact that different age groups have different needs when it comes to parenting. Younger children need more day-to-day support, such as help with dressing and feeding. Comrie says that it's logical that you might step in and help sometimes, but you shouldn't be doing much of that at the beginning of a relationship. Instead, leave those tasks up to your partner until the relationship develops.
Let the parent do the disciplining
It can be awkward to navigate disciplining your partner's children. Whenever it's possible, let the parent discipline the child. But if the child is doing something disrespectful toward you, you have every right to stand up for yourself and say, "this isn't an appropriate way to speak to people. I don't let people speak to me this way," and then put your foot down. Comrie suggests that if you're having an issue with the way a child is behaving, the best approach is to explain that you need to be treated with a certain amount of respect, and that respect goes both ways.
Etiquette is key
Ideally, it would be wonderful if exes could speak to each other openly, but many do not. Comrie suggests that if you do have a good relationship with your ex, it's always best to give them a heads up that you have a new partner you are going to introduce to the kids. It's not ideal for them to hear about it through the children. Of course, she does realize that some people have virtually no communication with their exes, but even in instances like this, it's a good idea to send an email or a text as a courtesy to the other parent. You're not really asking for permission, but you're letting them in on what's going on in your life so that you can be, at least somewhat, on the same page.