If you're on the dating scene, chances are you've been on a date with or come across the profile of someone who has a child or two from a previous relationship. And if you're someone who doesn't have children, that particular detail can bring up a whole lot of questions. Where would I fit into all of this? Would they want me to meet their kids? What do I absolutely have to know before I make any commitments?
"The situation is so different depending on your partner, their children, and the relationship they have with their ex," says Dawn Michael, PhD, a sexologist and relationship expert based in California. "But there are a few things that are pretty much standard across the board." The most important thing for you to realize is that your partner's priority will most likely always be their children, especially if their custody agreement means that they have the children for the majority of the time, or they have sole custody. "If you're planning a weekend getaway, and an emergency comes up regarding their child, your plans are most likely going to be the ones to get canceled," Dr. Michael says.
It's also important to figure out what kind of relationship your partner has with their ex, because that could cause a little stress down the line. "If they're still in the process of working out custody, or if each parent is constantly attempting to undermine the other, that's a situation that can cause a lot of grief in a growing relationship," Dr. Michael says. "It's a big red flag." That said, not every co-parenting situation is going to be a negative one. Your partner might be extremely close with their ex, which can inadvertently lead to a little jealousy down the line — whether that jealousy is coming from you or the ex. "You've got to be able to keep your feelings in check," Dr. Michael says. And if you're struggling, usually the best thing to do is to talk to your partner about your feelings.
You never want to assume you're taking on the role of a biological parent.
Yamonte Cooper, EdD
Communication is also important for another reason: At some point, you'll need to make sure that your role in the children's lives is clear. "You never want to assume you're taking on the role of a biological parent," says Yamonte Cooper, EdD, a licensed professional clinical counselor based in California. "Instead, you should consider filling in as an additional person in the child's life, so that they think of you as someone extra, not someone who is replacing." This is generally true whether your partner is divorced or widowed.
Dr. Cooper says that these conversations should be brought up early on, and that you should never assume what your role in a child's life would be. "You should have a conversation about how you are to navigate the situation, and what your role means to [your partner]," he says. "Be clear on what the roles are so that no one feels threatened." Dr. Michael says that assumptions lead to miscommunication, which can be doubly disastrous when there are young kids involved.
All that said, dating someone with children can be an incredibly rewarding prospect, especially with the right partner. "If you're interested in children of your own, you're getting a glimpse into what they'll be like," Dr. Michael says. And information like that can bring you and your partner even closer.