Dating a single parent isn’t right for everyone and it isn’t something to enter into lightly. No matter how much chemistry you share or how much you both value your relationship, there will be times when the kids interrupt, take precedence over your relationship, and require the devoted attention of their parent. You’ll plan a special outing and—boom—someone gets sick. Or you’ll have a long day and just want to unwind, only to find the kids ramped up and rowdy. Dating someone with kids has its perks, but it also has its challenges, all of which require careful consideration, especially for first-timers. If this reality gives you pause, it’ll be important for you to consider whether you’re ready, willing, and able to embrace all that comes with dating into a family.
It can be hard to know upfront whether dating a single parent is right for you, but you’ll save a lot of heartbreak if you are honest with yourself and potential partners from the beginning. Here are several indicators that dating a single parent might not be a good fit for you right now.
You’re Jealous of the Kids
Let’s face it: No one really likes sharing their mate. For most of us, jealousy is in our nature. But when you’re dating a single parent, being jealous of the kids will get you nowhere. (Well, that’s not quite true; it may get you sent out the door—quickly!) While there aren’t many dating issues that are black-and-white, this is one of them. If you’re competitive with the kids, you’re setting your relationship up for failure. Being jealous puts the parent in the middle and isn’t healthy for the kids, which leads to more tension than most relationships can handle.
How to Handle It
When you experience jealousy, stop and acknowledge the emotion. If, after giving it some thought, you think the issue is worth bringing up, find some time when the two of you can talk about it alone. Come clean about how you’re feeling and talk about what you both value in your relationship. Then, explore how you might be able to let go of the jealousy. For example, it might help to make it a point to share little reminders of how much you each value your relationship in the hectic mix of your everyday lives.
You’re Looking for Spontaneity
If you’ve never dated a single parent before, you may be used to some degree of spontaneity in your romantic relationships—especially in the beginning. There’s no denying that being able to drop everything and go off by yourselves can help to cement your bond. But this is trickier to accomplish with a single parent.
Grabbing a last-minute romantic lunch or jet-setting to your dream destination on a moment’s notice may not be possible for a single parent, particularly if they are parenting primarily on their own, have no family nearby, or don’t have reliable childcare. The reality is that spontaneity looks different when children are a part of the mix. Childcare, including the schedule and needs of the kids, will always be a top priority.
How to Handle It
If spontaneity is an absolute must, then you may not do well dating a single parent.
You Resent Biting Your Tongue About Parenting Issues
Especially early on, you should anticipate biting your tongue a lot. It’s important to respect that there are many ways to parent—and that your partner is the parent of the child. It’s easy to come in from the outside and judge another person’s parenting choices but it’s unlikely to be welcomed, particularly if it isn’t communicated from a place of helpfulness, compassion, restraint, curiosity, and humor.
Your partner is the experienced parent, and they’re probably not interested in having you step in and critique their parenting style or discipline tactics, particularly early on in a relationship. That said, it is worth considering if you see compatibility with your partner’s parenting approach. If you have significant concerns in this area, say about their approach to discipline, autonomy, or family dynamics, the partnership might not be the best fit for either of you—especially if you hope to have children of your own in the future.
How to Handle It
Generally, it’s important to wait to be asked before sharing your opinion on parenting issues. (Unless, of course, you’re telling your partner that they’re doing a great job!) Remember, too, that even newly married couples who live with their stepchildren often hold off on disciplining one another’s kids until they’ve had sufficient time to earn the right to be a co-disciplinarian.
You Want to Control Timing
When you’re dating a single parent, it’s ideal to respect their timing when it comes to introducing you to the kids and taking your relationship to the next level of merging your families. You might be ready to get to know the kids but the single parent has much more at stake when they invite you into their family. The emotional well-being of the children, as well as facilitating an optimal relationship between you and the kids, are pressing concerns that the parent needs to weigh.
One issue many new couples argue about is how much physical affection to show in front of the kids. It can be downright hard to hold off on taking your partner’s hand or kissing them when and how you want. But it’s important to consider how this might make your partner (and the kids) feel. If you can’t respect their judgment and comfort level on how much time to spend with the kids and what kinds of intimacy are OK in their presence, this relationship may not be right for you.
How to Handle It
Respect and be patient with your partner’s timing. Pushing can make them feel caught in the middle between doing what’s right for your relationship and what’s right for the kids. That’s a position neither of you will want to be in for long.
You Don’t Like Kids—or These Specific Kids
This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people (men and women alike) think they’ll get over it in time, only to rediscover later that they never wanted to live with or help raise someone else’s children. A similar issue is wanting children of your own when your partner has expressed that they don’t want more children.
These are big issues that come up fast when dating a single parent. If you love the parent but are only so-so on the kids, this relationship may be one to walk away from. Be compassionate and honest with yourself—and your partner. Your feelings aren’t right or wrong. The key is to acknowledge how you feel about having kids (and these specific kids) in your life (in the present and future) and make decisions about your relationship with those feelings in mind.
How to Handle It
If you’re uncertain about the child component, own up to it from the start and avoid investing your time and your heart in a relationship that will fail. While either of you could change your mind down the road, there’s no guarantee that you will. At the very least, be honest about any misgivings you have about your partner’s children as well as about your desire (or lack of desire) for children in the future.
A Word From Verywell
Only you can truly know if you’re up for dating a single parent and all that comes with the relationship. While there are a million bonuses that come with dating into a family, there are some challenges that can be hard to overcome—especially if this is your first experience with a single parent or you’re personally not ready for kids.
Above all else, be respectful of your partner and the children involved. Be honest about how you feel and what works for you at this stage of your life. If it’s time to say goodbye, do so lovingly, without dragging it out or assuming things will change. The kids are here to stay. The question is, are you?