Dating After Divorce with Kids – The Single Dad’s How-to Guide

If you’re a divorced man, you know that dating after divorce with kids can get complicated.  As if being a father wasn’t complicated enough, you now have the potential to screw-up two separate worlds: your family life and your love life.

We all know that divorce is more difficult when kids are involved.  But did you know that this rule also applies to dating?

Why is this?

Because when you’re divorced and dating with kids, there are three parties that you must keep happy: your ex-wife, your girlfriend, and most importantly your kids.  Any mistake you make in one aspect of your life can have a ripple-effect in others.

This article provides tips to help you successfully manage both your love life and your responsibilities as a father after divorce.  Believe it or not, these two worlds can absolutely exist harmoniously side-by-side.

Rule #1: Make sure your kids are ready before you are

Kids are ready for you to start dating

Just because you’re ready to hit the dating scene running doesn’t mean your children are equipped to handle the repercussions.  If your divorce is fresh and your kids are still adjusting to life with mom and dad living separately, your primary focus should be helping them adapt.

Kids routinely take months or years to adjust to their new family dynamic.  Ensure they’ve had time to process your divorce and their emotions have settled-down before you divert your focus to dating.

Probe your kids’ mindset by dropping hints

After your children have adjusted to your divorce, they’ll naturally start to ask questions about whether you’ll get a girlfriend.  The tone of these conversations will be a good indicator of your children’s readiness.

My daughter was 8 when I divorced.  Within a few months of my divorce, she started asking when she was going to get a new step-mommy.  Although I was certain my kids would take years to adjust, she was ready for there to be another woman in the house almost immediately!

If your children do not broach the subject of dating, drop some hints to get their gears turning.  Suggest scenarios where you bring a friend along to do fun things and gauge their reaction. Maybe even ask how they’d feel if they had new step-brothers or sisters with which to play.

Rule#2: Reveal you have kids early in the dating process

Believe it or not, the idea of dating men with children is repulsive to some women.  I  know that’s hard to believe, but maternal instinct aside more and more women are choosing not to have children.  Caring for someone else’s kids as part of a new relationship is not something they will entertain.

Because of this, it is imperative that you reveal you have children as early as possible in the dating process.  This way you won’t waste her time (or your money) and can focus your attention on women who are more accepting of kids.

How to broach the subject of children

In my experience, the subject of children comes up relatively early when first talking to a woman.  However, I am 39 so most of the women that I date are past the average child-bearing age of 26..

If you’re dating someone in their early 20’s, you might have to initiate this conversion yourself.  How you bring it up will depend on the situation.  Ideally, you’ll reveal you have kids by the end of the first date (but no later).

Indicating you have kids on a dating site

Kids on dating profile

If you’re using an online dating site that requires a detailed user profile (such as Match.com or eHarmony), your profile will indicate if you have children or not.  This makes everyone’s life easier as women can simply filter you out if they don’t date single dads.

Large user bases make these dating sites great options for divorced men.  Because these sites are so large, separated or divorced women comprise a sizable subset of their members.

On dating apps where a detailed profile isn’t required (Tinder and Bumble come to mind), things are a little trickier.  In these instances you might want to simply drop a hint that you have children in your profile.  But don’t make it the centerpiece of your profile, and definitely don’t include any pictures of your kids.

If you haven’t tried online dating, read my Match.com review for divorced men and eHarmoney review for divorced men.  These reviews are full of useful, non-partial information that is invaluable to a divorced man approaching online dating.

Rule #3: Introduce your kids only when it makes sense for everyone

If your are dating casually, involving your children in any capacity is totally unnecessary and inadvisable.  But if your relationship becomes exclusive, you may risk alienating your girlfriend if you continue to avoid introducing family.

The key is finding balance and only moving forward with introductions when it everyone is ready.   That includes you, your kids, and your girlfriend.

Don’t make assumptions about the preparedness of your children

Just because you’ve concluded that your kids are ready to meet your girlfriend doesn’t mean that they are ready.  Broach the subject and give them an opportunity to ask questions before you move forward.  This is key.

If your kids are ready, then talk through the situation with your girlfriend to see how she responds.  If she wants to meet your children, then set up a fun outing that is conducive to an informal introduction.

By keeping everyone in the loop, everyone has a chance to prepare for the introduction.

The grey area: orchestrating pre-relationship introductions

Attending a wedding after divorce

I generally preach that you should only introduce long-term partners when dating after divorce with kids.  But there may be situations where an introduction is completely unavoidable.

family-oriented social event that occurs when your relationship isn’t exclusive, but has progressed past a few dates is a good example. A wedding is the perfect example.

Even though your date might not be your exclusive girlfriend in this scenario, she would likely be miffed if she didn’t get an invite.  Consequently, you may have no other choice but to speed-up introductions.

Rule #4: Don’t break commitments to your kids for a new woman

In any promising, new relationship, it’s easy to become giddy and spend lots of time with your new partner.  While it’s important to have your own life, remember that your kids come first.

Follow through and honor your responsibilities

If you’ve made a commitment to your children, be sure that you follow through on those promises.  If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll get to the truth one way or the other.  And if your kids find out that you sacrificed their’ time to be with a woman, she’s not going to be their favorite person.

I learned this lesson the hard way

Dad Dunce Cap

My ex and I have an arrangement where we rotate weeks (50/50), but the off-duty parent can take the kids to dinner on one of the days they’re off-duty.  This is a great arrangement because it ensures we don’t have to go a full week without seeing our children.

I admit that there have been a case or two where a super hot date got priority over my bi-weekly dinner with the kies.  There just wasn’t enough time to do both on a work night, and I had a moment of weakness.

I’m not proud of it.

My daughter definitely notices when Daddy doesn’t take them to dinner one week, because she calls me out the next time I pick her up.  There is nothing worse than having to tap dance while an 8-year old grills you one why you didn’t come through on a promise.

I now move our bi-weekly dinner night to a different day if I run into ANY sort of conflict on our designated Thursday.  Luckily my ex has been flexible in this regard so it’s been a win-win.

Rule #5:  Keep your children on a need to know basis

Your children don’t need to know about every woman you’re dating.  During my one year separation, and since my divorce almost a year ago, my kids had no idea that I go on dates.

The divorce already up-ended their lives.  It makes no sense to introduce new, interpersonal dynamics when it’s not necessary.

Just because you like a woman doesn’t mean your kids will

You might think you have met the most amazing woman, someone who you envision clicking perfectly with your children.  But especially if your divorce is recent, your children are very likely to not feel the same way.

Their loyalty is still with their mother and it’s natural for your children to reject anyone trying to fill her role.  Giving your kids time to adjust to the new family dynamic will ease introductions in the future.

How long you should wait before considering an introduction

Some experts suggest a good rule of thumb when dating after divorce with kids is to only introduce women that you have been dating exclusively for 6 months.  I’ll go a step further and say you should also be confident that your relationship will continue for the foreseeable future.

Reassure your kids that they will always be your top priority

Sometimes my eight-year-old daughter gets inquisitive about where I’m going.  I keep things simple and just say I’m going out with a friend.  She’ll even tease me sometimes about having or looking for a girlfriend, and I just play along and we have a good laugh.

The one thing I do impart to my daughter is that she is and will remain the #1 girl in my life.  I tell that if I do get a girlfriend, she’ll be the first to know, and it will not affect my relationship with her.

Rule #6: Expect and prepare for varied reactions from your kids

Kids react to meeting new woman

Although your children may initially have a positive reaction when you reveal you have a girlfriend, it’s completely normal for them to change their minds.  As they play out potential scenarios in their heads, they could worry that a new woman might change their relationship with you.

It’s completely natural for a child to assume that a new person in the family will threaten their sense of security and belonging.

Seeing things from your children’s’ point of view

As your children process the prospect of a new woman in the family, they might experience anxiety as they question their place in the new family dynamic:

“Will this new woman steal my dad’s attention?”

“Will we have to move?”

“Will I have to call my dad’s new girlfriend mom?”

While the answers to these questions might be obvious to you, to your child they can be frightening.  This is why both active listening and communication are musts if you hope to alleviate these fears.

4 sure-fire tips to help erase your kids’ fears

4 tips for kits

Here are some actionable tips that you can follow as your kids are adjusting to a new partner when dating after divorce with kids. If you do these things on a regular basis, it’ll help to address your children’s fears before they manifest themselves as behavioral problems.

  1. Remind your kids that their relationship with you won’t change.  Emphasis how things might change for the better with a new woman around.
  2. Set aside one-on-one time to ask your kids how they feel.  Let them openly express their concerns.
  3. When talking to your kids, don’t interrupt.  You don’t have to agree with them, but the key is understanding their fears.
  4. Spend time doing fun activities with your kids without the girlfriend around.  This will reinforce the idea of sacred, unbreakable relationships.

Rule #7: Consider introducing your wife before the kids

Regardless of how you feel about your wife’s character-assessment skills (remember she did pick you, after all), it’s important for her to get along with any new love interest.  If her kids are going to spend time with another woman, her approval is going to be a must.  And you can’t blame her really, mothers instinctively protect their children.

But why should you even consider introducing your wife first?  I mean, you spend much of your time with your children and almost no time with your ex.

Although this approach seems counter-intuitive, it’s ingenious

The Cart Before the Horse

While introducing your ex-wife first may seem like putting the cart before the horse, there are a couple key benefits:

  1. It gives your ex-wife a sense of control, even if her approval isn’t the deciding factor.
  2. It reduces the potential drama if your ex-wife should vehemently disapprove after an introduction has already taken place.

If your ex-wife sees that you’re seeking her approval first, the chances that she’ll approve (and be more cordial) go up significantly.  If you plan on introducing your kids, regardless of your ex’s opinion, then you lose nothing by letting your ex feel that she’s dictating the situation.

But if you plan on honoring your ex’s judgement, then introducing her before your kids could help to reduce drama should she vehemently oppose an introduction.  Consider that if your new girlfriend and kids had already started to form a relationship, you would have a mess on your hands in this scenario.

Rule #8: Treat kids of different ages differently

Children different ages

All kids are different and you can never predict how they’ll handle the introduction of a new woman into their lives.  But age and temperament are good indicators for how direct you can be when broaching the subject with your children.

You know your kids better than anyone, so there is nothing wrong with going with your gut when discussing dating.  If unsure, tailor your approach based on the child’s age.

Be concrete with toddlers and younger children

Although there are no hard and fast rules, younger children tend to bond much faster and quicker than teens.  As such, you can be more concrete when discussing your new relationship with them. This means if you only have very young children, dating after divorce with kids can be much simpler.

Because of their age, the direct approach is easier for them to digest.  Also, they are more apt to accept the new situation for what it is and not speculate on the possible repercussions.

Talking new relationships with your teenagers is trickier

For various reasons, divorce itself is tougher on teens than it is on younger children.  They are more temperamental than younger kids, they’ve been part of the family longer, and they may still remember a time when you were all one, big happy family.

Because of this, it’s best to handle pre-teens and teenagers with kid gloves (pun intended).  Before you even think about an introduction, talk to them about the prospect of having another woman around.

Let them express their feelings on the subject early-on so that you’ll have a better idea of how to alleviate those fears when the time arrives.

In the beginning, always utilize the concept of friends

During the first few encounters with your kids, introduce your girlfriend as your friend.  Doing so provides them with a chance to build a rapport with her without having to process everything all at once.

Also, since your girlfriend is initially playing the part of a friend, lay-off the PDA when your kids are around.  You don’t stick your tongue down your friends’ throats, do you?  Try to keep it together until you’re ready to formally upgrade her to the girlfriend role.

Rule #9: Avoid sleepovers when dating after divorce with kids

Avoid sleepovers when dating after divorce with kids

Dating after divorce with kids sometimes tosses you into seemingly unwinnable situations.  For instance, how to handle sleepovers with a long-term partner.  I must admit that as I was going through my divorce the issue never even crossed my mind.

I must admit that as I was going through my divorce the issue never even crossed my mind.  But much to my dismay, morality clauses that prohibit overnight visits with the opposite sex are now a standard part of many divorce settlement agreements (including mine)!

If you have a sleepover morality clause in your property settlement agreement, you too are expected to refrain from having another woman sleep at your house while the kids are present.

But are morality clauses even enforceable? You be the judge.

<picture of the morality clause in mind>

Factors to consider when contemplating sleepovers

These are several factors that you should think about before inviting your big squeeze over while you’re on-duty parenting:

  1. The age of your children – Young children (i.e. toddlers) are largely oblivious (and don’t run their mouths)
  2. The stage of your relationship – Hopefully, you’re only considering long-term partners
  3. If your children have adjusted to your divorce – Kids that are already rebelling obviously won’t approve
  4. Whether your ex-wife is cohabitating herself – If she is, she’ll be less likely to call you out
  5. How long you’ve been divorced – If your divorce is fresh, sleepovers aren’t a good idea for anyone

To shack-up or not to shack-up

Obviously, your children should be the focal point of your life when dating after divorce with kids.  Sleepovers risk alienating your kids and even blowback from your ex if she finds out.  I’d advise against letting your girlfriend sleep over unless most of the risk factors are in your favor.

If it’s been 10 years since your divorce, you’re on good terms with your ex-wife, and your kids love your girlfriend, then you might be safe.

If you’ve only been divorced for a year, your ex-wife is crazy, and you’ve only been seeing your girlfriend for a few months, then wait it out.

Rule#10: Never, ever throw in the dating towel

Don't give up on dating

You need an active social life. After all, it’s scientifically proven to be essential to your health and happiness.  Sure, your kids are your main priority.  But their happiness is also tied to your happiness.

The key is finding a good work/fun balance that works for you and your family.

The modern dating world can be lonely and depressing

It’s easy to throw up your hands, say the hell with dating, and become a hermit.  I was married for eight years and was shocked to learn much more complex dating has become.  People are much flakier than they use to be.

To be successful at dating, you must develop a tough skin.  Becoming a hermit is definitely not the answer.  If you want to truly connect with someone, it’s very likely that you’ll have to go on many more dates that you did before you were married.

I call this building up your dating endurance.  And in my experience, the older you are the tougher it gets.

So suck it up, expect the worst, and try to have fun.  Once you start to have some successes in the dating arena, you’ll be a happier man.  A happier father is exactly what your children need at this point in their lives.

The bottom line

Because every man has a different family dynamic, there’s no one size fits all approach to dating after divorce with kids.  Carefully consider the tips provided in this article and tailor them to your specific situation.

About the Author Brad Pinch

Brad is a divorced father of two who is navigating the brave new world of dating after divorce. A software developer by trade, he experiments with the latest dating applications and tools so that you don’t have to. Brad writes online dating reviews along with other actionable content for men to improve their quality of life after divorce.

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