Dating or living with someone with children is common—but often common sense can take you in the wrong direction.
Here is a list of the suggestions that have worked best for my clients:
A. Discuss With Your Date or Partner Ahead of Time His or Her Parenting Wishes and Rules
Sounds easy? Well, surprisingly, it’s not. Why? So much of parenting is “on the spot.” Yes, parents tend to plan for the “big” things such as discussions about drugs and sex and grades. And some parents do have charts for chores and bedtimes.
Yet, the day-to-day life of parenting is, as one of my clients said, “parenting-when- needed.” Rules are guides and decisions; wishes are both longer term, as well as “on the spot.”
So, just what are you supposed to do—or know—if you are in a beginning or serious relationship with a partner who has children?
Here are the top things to ask your partner as soon as possible so you and he or she can be on the same page:
1. What are the main decisions that you and your ex share?
You are the new person, so know in advance the rules! Typical issues might be the times each child goes to bed or the foods the children eat or how much time is allowed for television, texting or computers. The last thing you want to do is show up with your famous cookies—only to find out that sweets and treats are limited or no-nos.
2. What are the areas of parenting where you have discretion?
This information is very important because it gives you both permission and power to forge your own relationship with his or her children. For example, is it okay with your date or partner to watch certain television shows or play computer games?
3. What do you need my help with—or not?
Knowing what your partner expects or needs from you is crucial to your relationship. Don’t give advice. Just remember this important maxim: “No good deed goes unpunished.” And definitely don’t jump in with your help and suggestions in order to show your date or partner what a good partner you would make!
B. Discuss With Your Date or Partner Ahead of Time “Just Who Is This Person”—meaning YOU and Your Role?
Oops—the last thing you want to do is get off on the wrong foot! Good intentions can lead to bad consequences.
Here are some key questions to ask:
4. How do you want me to identify myself?
You will need to know if you are supposed to say things such as: “I am a friend.” “I work with your mom/dad.” “I live in the neighborhood.” “We know each other from (community or religious organization, etc.)” Most likely, you will not say: “I am dating or in love with your mom/dad!” Kids are curious—and often anxious about a new player in their lives.
Children of separation and divorce tend to need more clarity, familiarity, power, and assurance. So, be prepared for questions such as: “Are you my dad/mom’s new girl/boyfriend?”
5. Do we show each other affection in front of your children?
Usually, it is a good idea to refrain from hand-holding or kissing. You can always add that later—but you can’t take it away once you do it.
6. Do we spend the night together while your children are in the home?
This question is one of the most frequent questions I am asked regarding children. My answer is no. You have plenty of time to be seen in bed together. The situation that caused the least amount of problems with my clients and the children of their partners or dates is not to be seen in bed together until no earlier than being engaged to be married with a firm—and not too distant– date for the wedding.
Children of all ages—including grown children of widowed parents—need the same kind of preparation, certainty, comfort, and clarity.
C. Discuss the Best Ways to Interact and Get to Know Each of His or Her Children
Think about the differences between you and your siblings. Or, if you don’t have any siblings, think about the differences of your friends and cousins with their siblings. The differences are often great—and surprising. Ask the following questions:
7. Which of your date or partner’s children is shy—or anxiously aggressive?
For example, the answers will help you decide whether to back off and take your time to engage the child. If a child’s style is confrontational, ask your date or partner how he or she responds. For example, should you ignore the child—or should you say something such as: “I don’t do well with meeting new people. My name is… What’s yours?”
8. What are the interests of each of your children?
Knowing ahead of time what each child likes is a potent tool for creating a good first impression and beginning. If a child likes to read, ask what he or she is reading now—or their favorite book so far. Children of all ages like to know that their mom and dad think so highly of them that mom or dad talked or bragged about their interests and accomplishments.
Younger kids often like to show you their room—or the names of all their dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, and real pets!
The more genuine interest you show, the more you will be accepted!
Hope these tips are helpful! Oh, and by the way, I am a proud, grateful, and happy stepparent who actually raised my (step)daughter!
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