Hello! After a long drawn out divorce, I’m ready to start dating again but I’ve encountered an unexpected obstacle – this guy I like, who I really see myself with in the future with, doesn’t seem to like my children! What do I do? Please help. Thanks! – Ms. Anonymous
Dear Ms. Anonymous,
This can be a very difficult and toxic situation, so it’s important to tread carefully. Don’t make any sudden decisions and don’t burn any bridges — yet. Don’t rush to judge either your new date or yourself.
A Very Complex Matter
The situation is complex, and depends on numerous different factors. First, focus on yourself and your own situation. How old are your children? That’s a huge factor to consider. If your kids are grown and on their own, or mostly so, this may not be a “deal breaker,” since your children will only encounter your new date infrequently, and they’ll have time to get to know each other and perhaps form a relationship as time passes.
But if your children are younger and still living with you, that’s a different matter. If your kids are a major, regular, daily part of your life, then it will be very difficult to have a relationship with someone who doesn’t like them. Having an infant or a toddler, or any young child who requires a huge investment of your time and energy is something you can’t “work around.”
Your children are, after all, part of you. They are an essential part of your identity and your personality, and if your new date doesn’t like them, then your new date doesn’t really like you. If that situation can’t be changed, it is ultimately a deal breaker.
But let’s not be too hasty. Another factor is the degree to which your new date doesn’t like your children. Some people are unfamiliar with children, and don’t know how to act around them.
Many adults get quite nervous and self-conscious when they are around children, simply because they haven’t got much experience with them. You, as a parent, are used to the demands, high-energy, messiness, tantrums, endless questions (“But why … ?”), and the many moods of kids.
Because you have years of experience, you are much more relaxed and patient than you realize. But adults not used to being around children don’t know what to do when a kid cries, or yells “NO!” defiantly.
If the problem with your new date is just discomfort caused by a lack of experience and familiarity with kids, then there’s a good chance your date can grow to understand, appreciate and like your kids if your relationship progresses. Being around you and your kids, and seeing how you handle them will set a good example.
Doesn’t Like Children in General?
However, if the problem is more that the person just doesn’t like children, period, you are going to have some serious thinking to do. Yes, it is possible to have a romantic adult relationship with someone who doesn’t like your children. But it ain’t easy, and in fact it is much harder than having a relationship with someone who does like your kids.
A relationship is difficult enough to handle and to keep healthy and happy without adding in a major obstacle like dislike of one partner’s children by the other partner.
I’m not saying it can’t be done – after all, the universe is full of happy, healthy and successful romantic relationships and marriages between people from vastly different cultures, creeds and religions. It can be done, but it isn’t ever easy.
When you are first dating someone, you are looking for signs of compatibility. That’s why first (and second, and third …) dates can be awkward situations as you both fumble around looking for some common ground. Once you’ve found a connection, a place you can both stand together, then it gets a little easier.
It is possible that you may find some powerful common attraction with this person that will outweigh their attitude towards your children. If that’s the case, then you will just have to trust that things will work out, whether or not they ever grow to like or even love your kids.
Listen to Your Inner Voice
Ultimately, you need to trust yourself. As in any romantic relationship, particularly in the early stages, you must learn to listen to your own inner voice, the subconscious voice of instinct. What is it saying? It isn’t always easy to hear that voice, because there are a lot of other voices – outside pressure – shouting at you.
Those outside voices are social pressures, perhaps, telling you that you “shouldn’t” be single, that there’s something wrong with not being in a relationship right now, or that because you are “a certain age” or not in perfect shape that you have to “compromise” or “settle” for a partner who isn’t exactly what you would wish for.
Hollywood and advertisers are doing their best every minute of every day to overwhelm you with messages that say your life isn’t fulfilling, can’t be happy or complete, unless you are romantically involved. This can cause you to make poor decisions. Getting more deeply involved with someone who doesn’t like your children could be a poor decision.
So find a way – some sort of quiet meditation or brainstorming writing session – to shut down all those incessant outside voices and to focus in on your own heart and your own instincts. What are they telling you?
Do you get a bad feeling about dating someone who doesn’t like your children? Listen to that feeling. Listen to yourself.
If, after all your self-searching, your heart and your subconscious are honestly telling you to “go for it,” then there’s no reason not to go on more dates and to let the relationship move forward. After all, you can still end it in the future if things become intractable.
But, if you decide to go forward, be sure you are straightforward and honest with your new date about how important your children are to you. You are a grown up, and you and your new date should be able to have an honest, open discussion about how they feel about your kids, and about how that affects your relationship.
Remember you don’t need to apologize for having kids, or in any other way minimalize their importance in your life. You wouldn’t apologize for having brown eyes or red hair, after all, would you?
Your children are just as much a part of you as your hair and your eyes. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that your kids are some sort of “baggage” that makes you less attractive or less desirable as a romantic partner.