Even with just two people involved, dating can be challenging. Adding a child and potentially a co-parent to the equation means there are even more factors to be aware of. While, yes, dating someone with kids can be complicated, sex and relationship expert Jessica O’Reilly, PhD says that not only can it work, it can lead to a vastly fulfilling relationship. (Just ask Luke and Lorelai.)
That said, there are a few factors to think about that you otherwise wouldn’t have to. Here, Dr. O’Reilly shares insight on what to know (and what to discuss with your potential partner) before pursuing a full-on relationship with someone who has children.
3 important questions to ask yourself before dating someone with kids:
1. How involved are they with their kids, and much do they want you to be involved, too?
“Dating someone with kids is going to look different for everyone because not every parent has the same relationship with their kids,” says Dr. O’Reilly. “One parent may see their kids every single day, while another person only sees them at holidays. One big question to ask early on is how big of a role that person plays in their kids’ lives.”
Next, Dr. O’Reilly says it’s important to ask how big of a role your potential partner is expecting you to play in their kids’ lives. “Do they expect you to take on an active parenting role? Will you be more like the fun aunt? Do they want to date casually and not have you in [their kids’] lives at all?” Dr. O’Reilly says it’s important that both people are on the same page early on so no conflicts around the expectations arise later, when feelings are deeper and more complicated.
“You and your partner can design the relationship you have with the kids based on what you both want; there’s not a set rulebook you have to follow,” Dr. O’Reilly says. What is important, she notes, is communicating early on so that you create your own rulebook together.
2. Are your lifestyles compatible?
Something else Dr. O’Reilly says to consider before jumping into a relationship with someone with kids is if you are both envisioning the same type of future. “If you are someone who wants to travel and never live in the same place, but the person you’re thinking of dating wants to be close-by for his kids, that’s something to consider,” she says.
She reiterates that because parents play such varying roles in their kids’ lives—with some being more active and present than others, depending on the kids’ age and custody arrangements—there isn’t one specific type of lifestyle that has to become “your lifestyle” if you decide to move forward with the relationship, but it is something to be aware of.
3. Is there another parent in the picture, and what is the dynamic like?
If another parent is involved, Dr. O’Reilly says it’s worth it to think about navigating that relationship as well. “Be mindful and know that if two parents are in the picture, that other person has been there from the beginning and you have not,” she says. “That means you have to take into account that they will likely be in the picture as well and you have to be able to have reasonable discussions.”
When should you meet your new partner’s kids?
If you decide to move forward with the relationship, figuring out when you should meet the kids is bound to be something on your mind. “This is going to vary from couple to couple, but it really depends on the relationship the parent has with the kids and how old the kids are,” Dr. O’Reilly says. “To me, it’s more important for the parent to be honest with the kids than when the person they’re dating meets them,” she says.
Dr. O’Reilly says that kids—of all ages—are intuitive and smart; they don’t like being tricked or lied to. If the parent introduced someone as “just a colleague” but then later it’s apparent you’re dating, they are going to feel tricked and that isn’t good for the relationships between everyone involved, she explains. “What the parent can do is tell their kids, ‘I’m starting to date’ or ‘I’m looking for a companion,’ so that way they aren’t blindsided later on.”
The resounding advice to dating someone with kids is communication, communication, communication. But Dr. O’Reilly emphasizes that dating someone with kids can lead to a beautiful, fulfilling relationship if both people envision the same future together. You just might end up with even more love in your life than you were expecting.
If you’re in your 40s and dating, here are some things to keep in mind. And BTW, this is how many dates it takes until something is a relationship.