Monday, June 9, 2008

Do Children Make It Harder To Date?

I've done some poking around lately on dating websites and noticed that some women are really upset at men for pre-judging them simply because they parent two children about to enter their teenage years. This also goes for women pre-judging guys who say "spending time with their child" is one of their top three passions.

Well, as a guy who dated women with children in their pre-teen (and in their teenage years) I can understand and empathize with the challenges of dating a parent. But why does parenting children make it harder for you to date new suitors? I'll illuminate the challenges and some solutions to those challenges in this article.

7 Reasons Why Your Children Make It Harder To Date You:

1. "My child comes first."

Both men and women, but especially women, make this statement. If you're single, and considering someone else to date, do you really want to hear that you're going to be second to someone else's kid? Probably not. Not only that, but oftentimes the parent has disparaging things to say about their ex-husband or ex-wife. Considering this child might just be the demon seed of that ex, perhaps the thought runs through the mind of this new potential suitor "Could this child come first and cause serious problems? YES!" And, often, that pre-judgment would not be wrong. In my opinion, people who put their children first in any situation run the risk of losing a partner. Why? Because the child is NOT the child of the partner. In a relationship, the partner must come first (after God) and the children after that - except for in matters of care. Read more about my position on this matter here.

2. The child may behave poorly.

Well, I know you think your child is perfect because they've been bringing home finger-painted pictures that show you and them and words like "I love Mom" or "My Dad Rocks" on it. Some kids are really sweet and fun to be around. However, some other children often counterbalance those sweet messages with selfish, demanding, and rude behavior. If you're single and don't have a kid, embracing the idea of bringing a poorly behaved child into your life just to date their hot mother or father sort of tarnishes the idea of the new relationship and makes you more than a bit "less" hot. Does this make sense to you?

3. Watching your kid play soccer may not be their cup-of-tea.

I've seen enough soccer games when my ex-wife took me to her niece and nephew's soccer games to last a lifetime. Add to that a couple of ex-girlfriends whose kid also played soccer, and I'm pretty much played-out on watching a kid roll around a ball for three hours on a Saturday, when I could be out on a walk on the beach, playing my sax at a gig, working on a blog post, writing a book, helping a client, bicycling, swimming, skiing, dancing, or anything else under the sun that sounds much more enjoyable. I don't think I'm selfish. I just don't really want to watch children's soccer games. Yet, I've noticed that single parents expect their new partner to get involved and watch junior play their beloved soccer game every week in the Fall season. I use soccer for an example, but it could be basketball, track, football, gymnastics, or any other event, too. Your potential partner is considering this when you tell them "My child comes first" and then follow it with "Taking little Jimmy to soccer games...". While it is easy to get ticked at the man or woman who doesn't want to do that and label them selfish, consider that every dating activity is a CHOICE and maybe it isn't selfish and non-supportive, at all. It is just personal preference of how we wish to spend our life.

4. Pre-teen children become teenage children.

For anyone who has raised teenagers, with their selfish, outrageous hormone-driven behavior, both parents and non-parents alike often proclaim the challenges of these difficult years. I remember my own father laying awake at night, worrying about my brother or me when we stayed out late doing God-only-knew-what, at least as far as Dad was concerned. Teenagers cause their parents a bit of stress, which might factor into the equation in your partner's head when they're considering dating you. For example, a partner may consider any time they see a problem with authorities in your child's behavior and wonder "Would I get a bill from the fire or police department for damage caused by this kid?" Marriage is a "community property" deal. Most dating partners know this and many may not want to increase their liability in raising a child simply to date you.

5. Your time is not your own.

I've seen this message driven home harshly, when I was on a date with a woman who mothered a 13-year-old daughter who demanded more than I could imagine. It was our third date. Her daughter called her five times during one hour with me while she was at my house for dinner. That was also our last date. Do you really think it mattered to me what her daughter was calling about? It was rude to me, for sure, for the mother to continually answer those phone calls. It wasn't an emergency. It was a problem with respect and setting proper boundaries. What did I read out of it: RED FLAG - trouble ahead. Wind the clock forward three years and guess what? The kid is giving the mother a lot worse trouble now!

Your partner is watching behavior by your child. Yes, they're paying attention to what your kid does. But, guess what? They're also watching what YOU do. When your child demands time from you when you ought to be focused on your date, this is a detriment to dating you - especially when you're not honoring your clear boundaries. Not only that, but many single parents only have about four (that's right, FOUR) nights a month without children. If they have the kids all the time or the common "every-other-weekend" arrangement with the ex, then they don't have much time for their partner on a one-on-one basis. That means only four to six nights a month to be INTIMATE without worrying about if the children will hear you make love or whatever. If your partner enjoys intimacy more than this, dating you (and your children) might be a challenge.

6. More mouths to feed, clothes to buy, college institution fees to pay, cars to buy.

Children are expensive. Your partner might be considering the cost of feeding and paying for you AND your children and deciding that it will just be too costly. Can you really get mad at them for considering the practical reality that raising children isn't cheap?

7. Being a successful step-parent is largely dependent upon you.

Not only that, but there's multiple personalities to balance. Most single parents really have their hands full. Really, I mean it and I have tremendous respect for any parent trying to bring home the bacon, cook the meals, keep an organized and harmonious household, AND be a hot and sexy dating partner. It's hard to pull off being a stellar single parent. I think it is critical that the parent involve the new partner in a step role when it is appropriate (not too early) and yet also they MUST set fair-play ground rules with their children. I've seen this handled well about 10% of the time, and poorly 90% of the time. While I don't say I'm an expert as a step-parent, I can bet that many people who've dated others with kids have seen this, too, and might just consider it a low-odds scenario. When we date others, we're looking for high odds. It is hard enough to date someone successfully when there's just two people involved, let alone three, four, or more.

Now, while there are challenges in being a single parent, there ARE solutions to these concerns. From my experience, and suggestions from experts I've studied over the past couple of years, I can suggest trying the following to minimize the challenges of dating as a single parent:

How to make it easier to date when you have children:

1. Put your partner first and establish clear boundaries for time you dedicate to them.

Many single parents do a poor job with setting and establishing boundaries with their children and their new dating partner. Don't make that mistake. Instead, establish the boundary up front and hold to those boundaries firmly. Be consistent! Make sure there are rewards for successful honoring and reprimands for breaking your boundaries and always follow through consistently with getting what you truly want from your children. Put God first, your partner second, and your kids third, and you'll create a more harmonious household for all of the parties involved.

2. Resolve deep troubles before dating anyone.

Even though your child may be sweet and loving to you, the behavior problems that already exist with you get worse when you introduce someone new. If you see a repeated problem with your child (a) showing defiant behavior and not minding adults, (b) exhibiting destructive patterns (verbal abuse, hitting others, wrecking possessions, etc.), (c) not respecting boundaries, then investigate ways to learn to deal with defiant behavior, resolving conflict in destructive behavior, and respecting boundaries before bringing in a new partner. If you can't get your child to respect you, how can you expect your partner to fare any better?

3. Have your own life, too.

Try not to create a lifestyle completely wrapped around your children. What's the solution? Creating a life of your own. It is important for you to maintain your own life as much as it is to be a parent. If you don't have time for a sitter established, and if you don't have time designated as your own, you're likely going to run into problems with managing a dating lifestyle. Establish time respect prior to any new relationship and your children won't freak out as much when you introduce someone new into their life, because they're already used to you doing your own thing sometimes. Make sure your children always respect your time and don't interrupt it with phone calls, text messages, or barging into your room unannounced. If you respect your time, they will start to respect you more, too.

4. Practice sound financial judgment.

If you're running into credit card problems or other types of debt issues, you're creating a problem for your partner to fix. Don't be a victim! Instead, be someone who empowers you and your children to a better lifestyle. Invest in your children's college education BEFORE you need it (start when they are born). Put money aside for your children's clothing, medical, and transportation needs so that your partner isn't burdened with these things. That way, you're entering the relationship empowered, healthy, and without any additional burden to your partner. If you can accomplish financial strength, you'll be a catch rather than a possible liability.

5. Encourage positive interactions between your children and other adults.

As much as children can cause concern, they can also be a true JOY to be around. I've seen some children who are so well-behaved, sweet, and kind to others they make me yearn for more children of my own. Do your children do this? If so, you're on the right path! If your partner can see themselves gaining through the interaction with your children, instead of losing their path, you're likely to create a much more harmonious environment for ALL of you.

6. Respect ANY and ALL positive interactions with your partner in a step role.

I've been in situations where it was expected and demanded that I accept children, share, and involve the kids in my life and get involved in their life, too. I've also been in situations where my accepting the child wasn't appreciated very much. Instead, I felt judged for ways I didn't match the mother's expectations. Try to minimize judgment and maximize positive support. It is healthiest when you recognize that all interaction from your partner with your child is not an expectation but rather a CHOICE. Make sure you make the request but allow it to be your partner's choice exactly how much they want to get involved in your child's life. When they do get involved, show them appreciation for the things they do well. It will matter to them and help reinforce the positive interaction that builds more love between everyone if you do show appreciation for the positive interactions.

As much as children can make it harder to date, if you establish your boundaries, create an environment that is loving, supportive, fun, and about EVERY person's needs, not just the children, you're so much more likely to attract people to you who love children and want them in their life. Personally, any woman who had children, but they were cute, behaved well, and respected both of us would be a blessing, not baggage. So, take the steps to make sure you can date more easily through building a healthy and functional relationship with your children, starting today!

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