by Jessie Hale
Dating is hard. In those first early days of romance, when you’re finding out everything there is to know about your new partner, you can be filled with giddiness one moment (they love TNG, too!) and horror the next (how can someone “hate” cats?!).
And what happens when you find out the potential love of your life already has an important relationship in their life — with their kid?
When I was 25, I didn’t expect to fall in love with someone who had a child. But that’s exactly what happened, and two years later, I’ve learned all about the highs and lows of this sometimes joyful, sometimes awkward situation. There are a lot of articles that will tell you how to forge a healthy relationship with your partner’s child. That’s really important, but this post is about how to take care of you, and how to keep your relationship fun, fulfilling and shameless — for everyone involved.
1. Think about whether you really, truly, honestly want to date someone with a kid.
Dating a person with a kid can be a lot of fun, in many ways. You get to go to cool places like the Science Centre and Canada’s Wonderland. You get to eat hot dogs for lunch. You get to watch awesome kids’ movies like Monsters Inc. 2 without irony. But there are disadvantages, too.
First, you should consider whether you actually, you know, like kids and feel comfortable around them. But also consider the ways this will affect your relationship with your partner. Particularly if they have full custody, their ability to be spontaneous will be greatly reduced. It’s tough to go out for an impromptu late-night breakfast at the 24-hour diner when you have a toddler sleeping in the next room. Travel will be tough, too — your partner is unlikely to have the freedom to go away for a two-month backpacking adventure through Europe. Think you might want or need to move away from your current city someday soon? Your partner is probably not moving with you. And the costs of child support, babysitting, or simply day-to-day life with a kid may reduce their financial ability to participate in the fun activities you enjoy.
These are not shallow concerns! People with kids are by no means boring shut-ins, but the reality of supporting and raising a child is expensive and time-consuming. Consider it carefully, and try to be really honest with yourself about your answers.
2. Acknowledge that you are entering a relationship not only with your partner, and their child, but also their ex.
One of the weirdest things about dating a person with a kid is that their ex comes with the package. Even if the child’s other parent is no longer in the picture, you’ll still be hearing about them, if not from your partner, then from their child. If they’re on good terms, you may even meet and interact with your partner’s ex. Frequently.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to completely ignore the fact that my partner ever dated anyone before me. So hearing his child stay stuff like “Sometimes I wish Mommy and Daddy would get back together” — which to me sounds like “Wouldn’t it be great if your boyfriend dumped you and got back with his ex?” — is not easy. If you have feelings of jealousy, acknowledge them. Don’t try to hide them by getting over-friendly with the ex. Don’t act like you’re totally cool with this situation, if you’re not. Talk to your partner about your feelings and determine together the best way of handling it. Maybe you don’t go to events if the child’s other parent is likely to be there. That’s ok! Find the balance that’s right for you.
On the other hand, don’t let your jealousy consume you, or turn you into someone you don’t like. Never, under any circumstances, say something bad about your partner’s ex to their child. Not only is it tacky, but it feels ugly and unsatisfying, and can create a back-and-forth situation where the child is shepherding mean comments from household to household and it’s just no good for anyone.
3. Find your limit and respect it.
This is really important! Women, especially, are socialized to think they have to pitch in for every task, but you don’t need to step in and take on all the responsibilities of co-parenting right away. If there’s something you feel you can’t deal with, don’t deal with it. A good example: My partner’s child, like many her age, has trouble settling down for bed. I find the ritual of coaxing her to sleep incredibly stressful, and finally I realized, you know what? My partner has to deal with this, but I don’t. So about an hour before bedtime, I take myself out to a movie or a drink with a friend. When I return, she’s sound asleep.
Selfish? I don’t think so. I help in lots of other ways, and burning myself out on a parenting duty that produces a lot of anxiety for me will only make me resentful. Your limit could be anything — changing dirty diapers, or going to Sesame Street on Ice. Whatever it is, don’t push yourself beyond it.
Yes, you can have a great relationship with someone who has a kid. But there are important factors to consider, and it’s not selfish or shallow to think about them carefully. And if you take the plunge, remember that a good relationship should make everyone feel happy and secure — your partner, their child, and, most importantly, you!
Jessie Hale is a freelance editor and project manager at Taqqut Productions, a media publications company dedicated to preserving the stories and knowledge of Inuit. She thinks a lot about body acceptance, labour justice and reproductive rights. Visit her at www.marginaliaeditorial.com.