If you’re in a relationship with a single dad, you’ve probably wondered at some point in your relationship whether being a stepmom is for you.
According to fairy tales, stepmothers are often portrayed as evil and wicked women.
Cinderella was made to clean the chimney and wear rag clothes by her stepmother.
Snow White was driven out of her father’s house and given a poisonous apple by her evil witch of a stepmother.
With these role models, is it any wonder many kids blanch at the idea of having a stepmother in their home?
Fortunately, real life isn’t like the fairy tales.
But stepmoms often become an easy scapegoat when problems arise in a relationship.
After all, you’re the “outsider,” the woman that daddy is spending time with instead of mommy.
Add in a vindictive ex-wife, passive dad, and kids who are acting out…and things can get really messy really fast.
Especially if he is recently divorced, the stress of adjusting to a recent divorce is tough on the whole family and anyone else involved.
The Unique Struggle of Women Dating Single Dads
Women who are dating a single dad, especially women who don’t have kids or who have never been previously married, often struggle with trying to get their relationship needs met while also trying to be understanding and realistic about their partner’s responsibility to his kids.
It can be a really a tough thing to navigate, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with kids.
Often, women who are dating a single dad end up feeling resentful and frustrated with their partner, and at the same time feel guilty for wanting more from the relationship when their partner is clearly struggling.
Every situation is different. And while you might luck out and have a relationship where his kids adore you from the first time they meet you, or have an ex and partner who are very well-adjusted and emotionally mature, it is more likely that there will be some bumps along the road.
Set Yourself up for Relationship Success When Dating a Single Dad
If you’re “daddy’s girlfriend” and are wondering how to determine whether this relationship is right for you long-term, here are seven recommendations to help you get clearer on that question.
These considerations alone won’t set yourself up for a successful relationship; there are additional considerations when you’re trying to determine whether a relationship will work out.
But these seven essential tips below are an excellent place to start:
These tips were adapted with permission from a continuing education program led by David Steele and Yvonne Kelly from the Relationship Coaching Institute.
Do the Work to Determine What Your relationship requirements Are of a Relationship at This Time in Your Life
What do you really want in a relationship at this time in your life? (In a relationship in general)
Have a vision of the future. Know what your values are and the characteristics of the relationship that you are seeking to have.
Be clear and honest with yourself.
And be willing to walk away from a relationship that does not meet your relationship requirements. (Because relationships that don’t meet your relationship requirements or that don’t support your values and vision for your life will ultimately fail).
Remember, relationship requirements are your deal breakers.
They are the things that you MUST have in a relationship in order for the relationship to work for you.
I go deeper into describing what relationship requirements are and why they are important are in my free guide.
Find out Your Partner’s Values, Vision and relationship requirements and Determine If They Align with Yours
One of the key indicators of long-term relationship happiness is alignment in your vision and relationship requirements.
How awful would it be if you spent months (or years!) dating a wonderful guy, fall deeply in love with him, and THEN you find out that he is DONE having kids—but you really dream of being a mom of your own some day?
Believe me, I’ve seen this happen.
And it’s heartbreaking.
But what if you knew very early in your relationship what his dreams and goals were, what his vision for his life is, what his relationship relationship requirements are, that way you could decide for yourself whether his vision is something you could be happy with and support?
Take the Time to Decide If You Are Truly Interested in Dating Someone with Children at This Time in Your Life
Do you like children?
Do you want to be around them?
Do you have an understanding of what they need?
If you are unsure, spend time with other children (the kids of your friends and family members, for example) and pay close attention to your comfort level, tolerance level, ability to enjoy them and how you generally feel about the experience.
Do you have a plan for your life that eventually involves children?
Can you envision yourself in a relationship that involves children, whose needs will often take precedence over your own as the natural course of events in the evolution of your relationship?
Wanting children of your own someday is very different than being a stepparent to someone else’s children, and it is essential to be aware of that.
Take Responsibility Early on for Communicating Your Own Needs
Don’t assume that your partner knows what your needs are.
We often shy away from telling our partner our true feelings because we’re worried that telling him how we feel might scare him away.
But not talking about your needs and expectations creates a vacuum for misunderstanding and will inevitably lead to issues between the two of you.
We often make the mistake in thinking that “if he really loves and cares about me, he should already know…”
But communicating your needs is an essential part of getting them met.
Communicating your needs and telling him how you feel doesn’t mean that all of your needs will be met in the relationship, but it does increase the likelihood that some will.
It’s also a very healthy relationship practice because you alone are responsible for getting your needs met, whether that means adjusting your needs, getting them met in different ways, or finding someone who will actually meet them (versus trying to change the behavior of someone who is resistant to meeting them).
By sharing your needs with your partner, you are also determining if there is a good fit between the two of you and what better time to find out than now?
Be Willing to Support Your Partner in Meeting the Needs of His Children, as It Relates to Your Relationship
This means having a clear plan around the following:
- How and when you see each other,
- Boundaries around sexual conduct,
- How he maintains parenting responsibilities, in particular, alone time with the children, and
- What your role is with the children.
Be Willing to Flag Issues in the Relationship
When we’re deeply in love and attracted to someone, we can have the tendency to overlook or minimize important issues, such as when our needs and relationship requirements are going unmet, because we get deeply attached to having the relationship work out.
But I encourage you to be willing to flag issues in the relationship so that you and your partner can assess if they are issues that you will be able to work through, or ones that are deal breakers for the relationship.
If you are ever certain that the relationship is not going to work, then do the right thing and be honest with your partner.
There are more people involved in this relationship than just yourselves, and there is more a stake.
Step-family relationships at any level require a great deal of awareness, responsibility and honesty in order to protect the interests and well-being of all involved.
Learn as Much as You Can About Step-family Dynamics Which Are Alive and Well in Any Step-Dating Relationship
As you might have already experienced, dating a single dad, especially a recently divorced single dad, can be a very complex road to navigate.
But learning more about step-family dynamics will help you determine if this is the right relationship for you.
And if you decide to pursue the relationship, it will inform you about how to proceed in ways that will safeguard the interests and feelings of everyone involved.
So I encourage you to learn as much as you can about this topic by getting a book on the subject and/or working with someone who can support you through these challenges.
I also highly recommend that you check out my colleague and fellow Relationship Coaching Institute member Yvonne Kelly, founder of The Step and Blended Family Institute.
The divorce rate for second marriages in the United States is a whopping 67%, nearly 20% higher than the divorce rate for first marriages.
Preparing yourself for the road ahead and getting support will help you lower these tough odds.
The content of this article was adapted with permission from a continuing education program led by David Steele and Yvonne Kelly from the Relationship Coaching Institute.
Whatever the issues are in your relationship, if you find yourself agonizing over questions like…
Is this relationship worth it??
Should I give him a chance or walk away??
I totally get you. I felt the same way when I was dating, which is why I created a free guide to help you get clarity.
In my free guide you’ll discover:
- 30 questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you should give him a chance or if you’re wasting your time
- 22 red flags you should be aware of if you want to avoid heartbreak and painful surprises
- How to assess your compatibility with your partner to know if your relationship has long-term potential
Want to avoid wasting your precious time? I hear you! Download my free guide Should You Stay or Go? Relationship Choice Assessment ↴
Heal Anxious Attachment in Romantic Relationships
If anxious attachment has been a problem for you in your romantic relationships and you want to feel confident and secure (and make conscious relationship decisions) so that you can have a deeply fulfilling life and love, I can help.
I invite you to apply for a free Anxious to Secure Breakthrough Visioning & Strategy Session.
This session is for those who feel ready to do deeper work on this and are considering working together to overcome painful relationship patterns so that they can free themselves anxious attachment, have fulfilling love, and live an authentic Soul-led life.❤️
Losing Hope says
Hi Melissa –
So glad I have stumbled upon your site. I am currently in a relationship with a single dad of 2 toddler boys. We’ve been officially together for over a year now and it has been a bumpy ride. There are many days that I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and call it quits – and I have done that occasionally. However, I do love him and that is the only reason why I agree to continue.
There are many problems being in this type of relationship:
1) I don’t feel like I’m ever a priority. I know his kids always comes first and I will never get in the way of that, but I just don’t feel special. Like I’m not the #1 woman in his life. Sometimes his ex wife (mother of his children) would call and ask favors and it would end up breaking our original plans. It’s very frustrating having to plan around his ex-wife’s schedule. We’ve talked about this before and it hasn’t really been corrected. I still feel like she’s a priority over me simply because she’s the mother of his children. He says that he doesn’t want to deal with the drama with the ex wife so he tends to be passive about it.
2) No bonding time for us. It’s really hard to even go out for dates these days. Although he pays child support regularly, he seems to be the custodial parent who has full custody of the kids given the amount of time he keeps them every week. I really enjoy spending time with them too, because they’re great boys. However, I feel resentful that I don’t get to go out on dates or to the movies like my other friends who are in relationships/marriages. Plus, he’s paying a good amount of child support but still has to keep the kids longer. He barely has left over to spend on himself or me. At least that’s how I see it.
3) I recently found out that he owes money to his ex-wife’s family for business purposes while he was married. I’m pretty sure this has a lot to do with the fact that he is still pretty much in the picture when it comes to their family events, etc. I know he’s bound to see his ex-in laws from time to time due to the children and all, but should boundaries be set? I’m not sure if I want for him to get to know my family because it seems like he’s already chummy with his ex-in laws. It’s so weird and makes me uncomfortable about it.
Sorry for the detailed comment. I’m just very unsure about continuing to stay in this relationship. It’s becoming depressing. I have had many opportunities to date other great men out there, but I do love him and that’s why I’ve stuck around. Maybe it’s time for me to wake up and realize that this relationship is doomed for failure? Please advise.
Melissa Josue says
Hi Losing Hope,
You’re so welcome! I’m so glad the resources on the site are helpful to you!
I hear you, dating a single dad is definitely more complicated than dating a man with no kids and no ex-wife.
I actually wrote an article here that might be help to you about When you Feel Second to his ex-wife and kids.
To address your concerns:
1) Sounds like he has a boundaries issue. If he’s breaking your plans to do favors for his ex and they’re non-emergencies, not related to the kids, or things that can be circumvented by planning ahead, he needs to work on setting boundaries with his ex. And if he’s afraid of the drama, then he’s not going to be able to be in a serious relationship if he’s going to be at his ex’s beck and call and can’t overcome his fear.
Also, when you say “I don’t feel special”…this means that there’s a functional or emotional need that’s not being met. What do you need to feel special in a relationship?
2) I feel you. I have a toddler myself and I don’t get much bonding time with husband these days (let alone sleep). Since his kids are toddlers, they require a lot of care and supervision since they can’t take care of their own needs right now…so part of this time crunch is just that he’s the father of very young children…and those kids have physical and emotional needs (many of which cost time and $$$) that he has to meet if he wants to be a responsible parent. And he’s going to be responsible for them at least until they are 18…which is another 16 years? I don’t know what his custodial or child support arrangements are, but if he feels the arrangements are unfair to him, it is an issue that he needs to take up and resolve with his ex (and perhaps their lawyer).
I would encourage you both to think about ways you might be able to spend quality time and bond together that would fit around his parenting schedule. Date nights might have to be planned well in advance and they may be modest dates in terms of spending because of his limited resources. But if you’re missing connecting with each other….there are lots of ways to connect. Just have to find which ways feel really good and meaningful to both of you.
3) I’s not unusual to still have a friendly relationship with the in-laws, especially if the divorce was not contentious, and certainly if there are grandbabies involved…the inlaws are going to want to see their grandbabies. And if he owes money, then he has to make good on that debt…so that’s just another string that he has attached to them.
Sometimes we feel weird and uncomfortable with our man having a chummy relationship with his ex-in-laws because they’re related to his ex and the chummy relationship might feel a bit threatening to us. My husband has a good relationship with his ex-in-laws and it used to feel weird to me…but I got over it. They are nice people and nice to me and he was married to their daughter for 15 years and they have two kids together so it makes sense that he has a relationship with his ex-in-laws. And that relationship did no sour after the divorce. So, it’s really a case by case basis. If they are mistreating you or your relationship, or his relationship with them is really detracting from your relationship (like he is canceling dates to go do favors for them), then there should be boundaries in place.
No need to apologize. I’m here to help. 🙂 There’s a book that you might find helpful called Dating the Divorced Man: Sort Through the Baggage to Decide if He’s Right for You and it has a couple of really good chapters on dating the single dad. I highly recommend it! Might offer some clarity.
All the best,
Ms. Am I In Over My Head? says
I hope this comment reaches you. Your article was very thought provoking for me and I couldn’t help but reach out. I am a 22 year old from Canada and I am dating a wonderful 28 year old man with one 4 year old son. I have always been more mature than most people my age. I developed a visual impairment at the age of 7, which made me more responsible and my parents always raised me to be independent as well as comfortable around those older than me. I have dated men who are older than me exclusively. I met my boyfriend on a dating app, where he disclosed that he had a child; I have never dated a man with a child before. He and I have been dating for 7 months and I have yet to meet his son. My concerns are many as I have a diagnosis of GAD as well as am more of a jealous person than I’d like to admit. and I worry about my mental wellbeing often in this relationship and if it will meet my relationship requirements. He and his ex were never married, they were both rather young when they had their son. My boyfriend was the one who ended the relationship. They have week-on-week-off split custody; neither of them pay child support. My boyfriend carries a lot of guilt for this and often reiterates how his son is the most important thing in the world to him, which I totally understand and have never got in the way of. With this being said, I often feel anxiety when he speaks at length about his son. Statements like this concern me because it makes me feel very unimportant. I feel like he expects me to feel the same type of emotion towards his child even though, I have never met him or made a connection. He once expressed concern to me that he will not be able to give me the attention I need once I meet his son, which is also a concern of mine. Sometimes I feel as though his perspective is a little unrealistic and I’m sure he feels the same way towards me. He doesn’t really let me set boundaries regarding his ex coming over to his house during his weeks of having his son (she comes over once a week to read bed time stories). Our goals are aligned as we both want children together. I do enjoy the company of children, more so babies, but am unsure of the tolerance. He is very supportive of my dreams and goals and does not want to rush me; I do what I can to support him to the best of my abilities as well. I believe a lot of my concerns are fear based because I have not met his son yet and I am the only one I know dealing with this issue at my age. Am I in over my head? Somedays I am really excited to think about my future with my boyfriend as we are a great pair, but other days I want to cry because I am so unsure if this is the right move for me and if I’m rushing into things too soon in my life. It is a lot of stress for someone in my life-stage and often experience scrutiny from people my own age for my decision to date someone with a child. I would love to book a session with you, I just wanted to leave this comment to provide some details before hand.
Melissa Josue says
HI there, thank you so much for reaching out. I totally feel you. And I’m so glad that you are asking yourself these really important questions. These were the same questions that I had when I was dating single dad, and I was in my early twenties at the time, too, so I get where you’re coming from.
And I hear your concern. I can understand why those statements from him would make you feel insecure in your relationship.
But I want you to know that it’s not unusual at all that you don’t feel the same way about his son that he feels about his son. He is his son’s father and he has had years of bonding and emotional connection moments with his son that you haven’t had, so it absolutely makes sense that he has a bond with his son in a way that you don’t have (and that is not realistic for your to have at this stage) since you’ve never met his son and don’t have a relationship with his son.
Where I would invite you to start is really getting clear on your vision for the kind of life and relationship that you want to have. The clearer you are about who you are and what you want, the easier it will be for you to decide if this is the right relationship for you, and whether you want to get more deeply involved.
I would love to talk with you more deeply about this and help you get more clarity. This is my area of expertise! Helping women who are dating the divorced man/single dad! There are indeed challenges and the stakes are indeed higher. But those challenges can be overcome and there are ways to really understand what you’re getting into so that you can make an informed and conscious decision about your love life!
If you’d like to discuss this by phone, we can talk about this at length, and I could help provide you with some next steps to help you. Here is my calendar and booking link if it interests you. And if you don’t see a time that works for you, no worries, just let me know and I can work with you to find a mutually beneficial time. 🙂