Experts estimate that half of all women in the U.S. will wind up living with or married to a man with kids — and some put the number even higher. That means the chances that you or your best friend will wind up a stepmother or stepmother figure are . . . pretty good.
Here’s your cheat sheet on being with a man with kids, whether you’re seeing one seriously now, just dating, or interested "just in case." These strategies can make being involved with a divorced dad easier than you thought . . .
2. Be honest. When in the first stages of getting to know a man with kids, be yourself. Don’t act more interested in his kids than you really are, for example, or paint yourself as a "kid person" if you’re not. It’s hard to buck the social pressure women feel to be loving and maternal every second, but it’s never good to start out under false pretenses. You’re not auditioning — you’re getting to know him.
3. Have a look at his parenting style — it’s part of who he is as a person and a potential partner. One woman I spoke to while researching my book Stepmonster told me that, the first time she went to her boyfriend’s home, she got a good sense of his parenting style. "It was loving but firm," she told me. And since she was on board with that, she could relax into the relationship that much more easily.
4. Read the clues. Debbie, another woman I interviewed, told me that the first time she visited her boyfriend’s place, she immediately noticed that the family computer was in his bedroom. It gave her pause — for good reason. It was a clue about how ready he was for privacy and romance — two key ingredients for a relationship to flourish. Not very! But Martin, dad of an 11-year-old boy, had lived in the living room for years. He built himself a wall when things got serious with Martine — letting her know he was ready to build a space for her in his life.
5. Don’t worry if he doesn’t introduce you to his kids at first. Many divorced dads are very slow to introduce their kids to a girlfriend for a lot of reasons. And some have nothing to do with you. For example, if his relationship with his ex is very high conflict, he may fear the kids letting her know you’ve arrived on the scene, for all the fireworks it could ignite.
6. Don’t feel like you have to make it all about them. Many women report feeling very pressured to pay constant attention to a boyfriend’s kids and "win them over." It’s fine to be a couple and go out on a date. If he can’t do that, or wants every date to revolve around his kids, he’s giving you a big clue about where partnership is on his radar, and what the rest of your lives together might be like.
7. No need to fudge the truth about babies. If you’re a person who wants to have kids of your own eventually, and the topic comes up, don’t craft an answer you think he wants to hear. Give him the real one. If it scares him off, isn’t it better to know that sooner than later?
8. Beware the phrase, "You just don’t understand kids." If he says this, you can expect more of it — and very likely some hesitancy to give you much authority in the household — down the line.
9. Know that he might be time and cash strapped. Divorced dads are sometimes supporting two households, and trying to put in a full-time type effort with kids while holding down a full-time job. He could well be under financial pressure, and sad about not seeing his kids as often as he did when they lived with him full time. Can you handle that? Being honest with yourself — and him — early on can save you resentment down the line.
10. Know that it can be fun. Women I interviewed told me they had some wonderful times dating the man with kids they ended up marrying or seriously partnering with. Sometimes, the kids sealed the deal. Dawn told me she fell in love with her three-year-old stepdaughter-to-be before she fell in love with the kid’s father! "She was and still is such a sweet little girl. She made it even easier for me to imagine us all together." Patty loved seeing that her beau (and now husband) James was an awesome dad. "I saw his gifts as a dad — so sensitive, so committed," Patty told. "And that made him sexy in a whole different way. The other guys couldn’t hold a candle to that."
©2009 Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do
Wednesday Martin Ph.D., author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do was a regular contributor to the New York Post’s parenting page for several years, and her work has appeared in a number of national magazines. She earned her doctorate in comparative literature from Yale and taught cultural studies and literature at Yale, the New School, and Baruch College. Martin, a stepmother for nine years, lives in New York City with her husband and their two sons.
For more information please visit www.WednesdayMartin.com.