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.
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.