By Jenny Tiegs
You think you have found him, the man of your dreams. He's smart, he's sexy, he makes you feel special... and he just told you he has kids.
Whoa. Hang on; there is no need to panic. While men with children can present you with a challenge, it can also present you with a dating dynamic you didn't even know you'd appreciate.
Throw away all the horror stories you have heard of your mother's friend's daughter who married a guy with kids. Erase all those movies you may have seen with the kids ganging up on the "new woman in dad's life," and just take it one step at a time. Below are some tips to help you navigate this new dating territory.
"Be aware that the children are a part of the man (extension of self)," suggests Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Orange County California. "Start by creating a relationship with him and then when he brings the topic up of his children, be open to hearing about his issues, feelings, etc." You may not be able to relate if you do not have children of your own, but having someone to talk to is just as supportive.
Just because your new love interest has children does not mean that he is eager to marry the next gal he dates. Edwin Lyngar, a former single dad of 2 young children (now happily remarried), explains that when he told a woman he was dating that he wanted it to be casual, she automatically thought it was because he had kids and that he would eventually come around and marry her. "I never once led her on, but she lied to herself." Guys with kids step up and care for their children, but that doesn't always mean they will give the same effort to the woman they are dating. Lyngar is honest in saying, "I gave 110 percent of myself to my children, but I didn't give that kind of fidelity and effort to every woman I met."
Lori Freson, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Relationship Expert, recommends not meeting the children until the three month mark. "A woman shouldn't meet a man's children until they have established a stable, meaningful relationship." This may seem like a long time, especially if you really like the guy and want to get to know him and his children better, but "for the sake of the children, they can't be meeting a new woman every month. Take the time to get to know each other first, and if after three months, it seems like there might be a future with this person, that's when you should meet his children."
When it comes to the first meeting, keeping this casual is the best strategy according to Freson. "Be friendly, but do not attempt to engage with the children right away. Take your cues from the children, and as they warm up to you, you can engage more with them." Respect is also very important and you have to earn it from your new man and especially his children. "Many women want to jump right into a parenting role, and that is a giant mistake," Freson points out. She encourages women to be friendly, but also patient and don't help unless you are asked.
If your relationship gets serious and you both start thinking marriage, take time to think about what being a stepmom will mean. Being a stepparent can be challenging and thankless at times, but it can also be very rewarding. "Many women are happy to embrace someone else's children, and it can be the start of a beautiful, loving relationship," encourages Freson. Ask yourself if you are ready to take on this role. You also have to remember that you will have to share your man not only with his children, but also with his ex-wife.
Don't buy into stereotypes about single dads. Just because a man has kids doesn't mean he's in a rush for find a new partner... and not all single dads are scared of commitment. Every guy is different, whether they have children or not.
Many single dads are willing and ready to find and marry the woman that is right for them. Lyngar, whose first wife walked out on him and left behind 2 kids, ages 3 and 9, dated for four years before finding the perfect woman. "The woman I fell in love with was sexy and exciting. She looked at me like I was a man, not just a father. We had all the passion and excitement of first timers, but it was far better, because we both knew who we were."
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