What To Know Before Committing to a Partner if You Have Kids

There is often more to think about when dating as a parent. As a divorce coach, this is the advice I give my clients who are with a new partner or looking for one.

So, you've done the hard thing: You've put yourself back out there, bravely and boldly, in hopes of finding love after a divorce. You did the work on yourself, got clear on what you wanted and deserved, and you made it happen—you found a partner you think you can really see yourself with long term.

Oh, but wait—you're a parent now, and getting serious with someone after kids is a whole different ball game than the one you played before you had a little person to take care of. In fact, when it comes to love and relationships, you're on an entirely different playing field altogether.

An image of a woman and a man holding hands.
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Although this new relationship should fulfill you from top to bottom and the opinions of others shouldn't really matter, you do have kiddos in your life to worry about. And how this relationship affects them is just as important as how it'll affect you, which can be why about 60% of second marriages end in divorce when both partners have kids.

Our children, as resilient and adaptable as they may be, need to feel every bit as comfortable and secure with your partner as possible.

In my work as a divorce coach, the questions I get about settling down with someone new once you have kids in tow are endless, but there are a few constant pieces of advice I share with anyone who asks.

Don't Be Scared to Put Your Kids First

When I started dating my second husband, I was terrified that he would be reminded of how hard it was to parent a 2-year-old and run for the hills. His daughter was 10 at that point, and far less likely to ruin plans because of a temper tantrum or diaper blowout. Not soon after we started dating did we have plans for a big night out, which came to an abrupt halt because my daughter wasn't feeling well. I expected him to roll his eyes and be reminded of the difficulties of having such a young child, but instead, he said, "Please don't feel bad canceling. Our kids come first, and I wouldn't expect anything less."

Red flag

If you find yourself in a situation where your partner expects to come before the kids in all situations, you may want to rethink things. They shouldn't call the shots but they do still need to know that you're there for them. The right partner will respect and appreciate you even more when they do get the time with you.

Don't Force a Bond Between Your Partner and Your Kids

I know, I know, in your movie, your children will instantly love your new partner so much that he'll be taking them to the park and out for ice cream in no time, and they'll grow closer and closer with each passing day. I have news for you—it doesn't always work like this. If your partner is eager to meet your kids—great! But do it on your timeline, not your partner's. Your children, even if they connect with your partner right away, will also have to process this new change and get comfortable with it. They may start to feel that this person is taking away their time with you, which can cause some tension, and their other parent may make comments that put them in a loyalty bind.

If you don't get the storybook ending right away, don't worry, and definitely don't force it. If your kids are nothing more than cordial in the beginning, that's enough, so long as your partner is patient and understands that these things take time. Integrate your new partner into their lives slowly and appropriately, so that they don't perceive this new person as a threat.

Red flag

If your partner is being too pushy with the kids or dismissive of their needs, it's time to rethink things. You don't want to force something as delicate as introducing your children to your new partner.

Don't Ignore Your Gut

Your parent intuition needs to be turned all the way up once your new partner meets your kids. How does he or she interact with them? Does it seem natural or forced? Does their discipline style make you uncomfortable? Do you not like the advice they give you when it comes to parenting your own kids? Trust me, these things matter, because if you overlook them now, they'll come back to bite you—and your kids—later on down the road.

Trust your gut deeply and wholly during this time in your life. Listen to how your kids feel. If time passes and they just aren't warming up to your new partner or have endless complaints, listen, because children can be great judges of character.

Red flag

If your partner seems perfect for you, but is impatient or jealous of your time with your kids, demands you treat them differently, or makes them uncomfortable, honor that and run. You can always find another partner, but you may not be able to undo the damage that can come from your partner mistreating your children.

The Bottom Line

You deserve all of the love and more and a wonderful partner who gives that to you, but that love should never come at the expense of your children's emotional well-being. What works for you should work for them, which will make life a lot sweeter in the long run.

For more advice from Michelle, be sure to visit her website or follow her on Instagram to learn about working with her and purchasing her new boo Moms Moving On: Real Life Advice for Conquering Divorce, Co-Parenting with Conflict and Becoming Your Best Self.

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