By Kelly Seal
I won’t lie; dating a man with kids can be tricky. Even difficult. After all, I didn’t start dating thinking “someday, I’m going to find a great divorced man with children and we’ll all live happily ever after.” Although, that might make an interesting fairy tale.
From the beginning, I recognized that my then-boyfriend’s children were a priority in his life, and that he was a man with “baggage.” I never begrudged him this; it’s a simple fact that anyone who dates someone with children would have to accept. If I wanted to be with him, he came as a package deal. However, I didn’t realize all the little ways this would start affecting my life and our relationship. Like one romantic night while we were sharing a bottle of wine and candlelit dinner, gazing across the table at each other and flirting heavily, and suddenly his phone rang. Once again, we were interrupted with a child’s “emergency,” like missing homework or a fight over clothes, and our time would have to wait.
At first, I quite willingly gave him a lot of space to take care of his daughters. I had no problem splitting my time between work, friends, and my new boyfriend because I had the best of all worlds. I had time for my old life as well as my new romance. Whenever he had the children for the weekend, I would busy myself with other things. I could carry on my independent life as I was used to doing.
But then I met his children, and we started spending more time together…“family time,” that is. At this point, I really didn’t know what to make of dating a man with kids. I wasn’t born with a mommy gene, and up until then I hadn’t spent much time around kids. It was like being in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. He and his children had their own history, their own family dynamic, their own inside jokes. Every time I tried to step in with a comment or laugh, I felt like an imposter. Sometimes his daughters would ignore me; they were more interested in their friends, clothes, and cell phones anyway. I took these shuns personally, though I realized over time that I shouldn’t. They were new to our relationship, too, and weren’t any more comfortable than I was.
At times it felt like Jeff and I were babysitting, trying to please them. He would plan elaborate trips that included them, rather than romantic weekend getaways for just the two of us. I was beginning to feel like a fourth wheel, and sometimes dreaded our time together. I’d been single for a long time. What did I know about teenagers, Disneyland, or iCarly? I wondered if they would ever accept me as being part of their lives, or if I would ever accept them. I was treading in mucky water, trying to make sense of our relationship.
I often felt like I was trying too hard, but didn’t know what I was trying to achieve. Sometimes I wanted to spend more time with the girls so we could be closer. Other times I wanted them to go off with their Dad so I could be alone. But most of the time, I just wanted them to like me.
I learned that dating a man with kids doesn’t mean that feeling like a family is automatic for me or the children. But every day, we are getting to know each other better. We are building trust, which only comes with time and effort. But we also have a lot of fun together; with them around, I’m allowed to be goofy and act like a kid. That feels pretty amazing.
We’ve started to build our own history together, making comments in the car like: “remember that time in Laguna when we…” Now, they confide in me and ask me for advice. At these moments, I recognize that we do share our lives in ways that families do. Like all relationships, ours took time to build, and it continues to take time and patience to grow.
Dating a man with kids isn’t an easy path to take, but now I can’t imagine life without him…or his girls.