Can I Date a Single Dad?

 It’s easy to respect single fathers for everything they do, but harder to commit to one, because it’s really two commitments.



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In college, for a hot second fueled by hormones and other things that fuel 19-year-olds, I dated a single dad. Many nights, he put his daughter to bed via Skype, reading stories into the camera and melting away my lingering reservations. I found him irresistible, not in small part due to the combination of his devoted parenting and roguish, floppy-haired charm. Compared to his beer-swilling peers pulling Red Bull-soaked all-nighters, he seemed to possess an unusual maturity.

Alas, 19-year-olds are dumb, and the hot second during which he seemed like a good idea was quickly ushered out with a storm of humiliating tears. So it goes, right? The seed was planted, however, and the question remains: were the right guy to come along with a toddler or two in tow, would I give him a chance? Or is stepparenting, however temporary, something I’m just not ready for, regardless of how much Prince Charming has to offer?

I’m no stranger to the unique joys and challenges of stepparenting, though my previous experience comes from the other side of the coin. I’m from what I call a “creative family.” You might call it broken, or split, or blended, or some other adjective that describes families that are hodge-podged together from the remnants of other families, but I prefer “creative.” My brother and I spent most of our childhood and all of our adolescence shuttling between two such families a mere fifteen minutes apart. Two addresses, two bedrooms, and two stepparents.

I’m from what I call a “creative family.” You might call it broken, or split, or blended, or some other adjective that describes families that are hodge-podged together from the remnants of other families, but I prefer “creative.”

 

From the vantage point between these households, we got a front row seat into the struggles and challenges of the most thankless role in the modern family: the stepparent. They suffer all of the most trying aspects of parenthood, the carpools, endless sixth-grade baseball games, temper tantrums, and bratty teenaged self-indulgence, with none of the authority of biological parenthood. Their opinions count less than the parent’s, might be respected less by the children, and are potentially resented by the ex. Talk about a rock and a couple of hard places. For a decade, I watched my stepparents navigate this murky gray area with aplomb, but I can’t say I envy them the ambiguity and uncertainty of their role.

A few weeks ago, Emily Maynard, current tabloid queen and star of The Bachelorette, booted contestant Kalon when he referred to her daughter as “baggage.” Kalon deserved the boot for an endless litany of slights, but I can’t help but sympathize with him, just a tiny bit. Someone else’s child is baggage, in the sense that the integration of a new parent into an existing family is no easy hurdle. To my mind, baggage is anything from your past that’s going to impede the success of this new coupling. It might be a lingering former fling, familial drama, mental health struggles, or alcoholism. We all have some of it, it just comes in a variety of exciting shapes and sizes.

But what about a child-sized piece of luggage? What does that entail exactly? There’s your relationship with your stepkid, of course, precariously balanced on your tenuous adult authority, but undermined by the fundamental fact that you are not their parent. There’s your relationship with your partner, and the tricky tap dance of co-parenting, offering your support without accidentally offending with your well-meaning advice. And then, don’t forget, your relationship with the ex, the other parent, if he or she is in the picture. This piece of baggage might be the most awkward and unwieldy of all, tied as it is to the break-up of the original family unit, and a fertile breeding ground for resentment. Yikes.

I’m not saying it’s untenable, or that thousands of families don’t handle these challenges with grace and understanding. They most certainly do, but even most of them would tell you that it’s no small undertaking. Is this really the kind of drama I’d willingly invite into my life at 24? At this stage, I date for the most selfish of reasons, to meet new people, to expand my social circle, to sharpen my conversational skills, and to get laid on the regular. I’m not in the market for a life partner, and consequently, I don’t pay too much attention to baggage. That’s a bridge I’ll cross when I start looking for someone who wants to explore some of my baggage.

Then again, you can’t control with whom you fall in love, or when that person walks into your life. And you can’t control what rich history they may be bringing into your relationship. In this day and age, with so many out of wedlock pregnancies and divorces, the older I get the more likely it is that potential partners will arrive with “creative families” attached.  How much am I willing to limit my options?

I’m a product of creative family-making and I believe from the bottom of my heart in our collective ability to mold healthy, happy families in unconventional shapes and ways. It’s extremely likely (likelier than we all probably admit) that we will one day be part of a creative family of some kind. I don’t feel prepared for it quite yet, but since when does life offer you the exact thing you’ve prepared for the exact moment you’re ready for it? Live boldly, live openly, and grab good things when they come your way. They may not be what you thought you wanted, but how do you know until you try?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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About Emily Heist Moss

Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works at a tech start-up. She's a serious reader and a semi-pro TV buff. She writes about gender, media, and politics at her blog, Rosie Says. (Follow her: @rosiesaysblog, find Rosie Says on Facebook). 

Comments

  1. At 19 I became a step parent and since then it has continued to be a journey for me (even after that relationship ended for many reasons). Though we had a unique coparenting arrangement which made it easier (I was and am good friend with the mother of the child) the reality was it still wasn’t easy.

    That being said I would likely date a man with children. As I learned it’s not the parenting aspect I didn’t like but the chaos of the two adults I don’t like at all. In a functional, serious and long term relationship the step parent will have a voice. But, unfortunately, the romantic relationship will be impacted by the coparenting relationship of the single father (unless he’s widowed and that’s a different issue altogether). Is it a contentious coparenting relationship? As a step mother would I have to pick sides? Would it be an endless line of legal battles and fights over weekends? Is there a lot of “she’s crazy” being thrown around? I take those all as warning flags for potentially how my relationship may go with the guy. If they are stable and able to communicate and work through their issues I’m much more willing to walk into that scenario. But chaos no way.

  2. Mark Neil says:

    The question bothers me a little, because as you glossed by your your bachelorette reference, a man failing to accept a single mothers children is deemed a horrible person. We’re told women shouldn’t be punished for being expected to raise their children, yet the man you dated also wanted to raise his children, and worst, didn’t get as much opportunity to do so (puting the kid to be via skype?)… So why should we men be expected to take on the single mothers greater parenting time, simply because she (generally) chooses to take more time? And why shouldn’t the father be awarded the same consideration, especially given he has more free time as is? Or perhaps is it because, due to him having less time, the time he gets you don’t stand a chance in interrupting? It just seems to me, a man daring to even ask this question would be lauded as a sexist, insensitive male chauvinist jerk.

    As an aside, i’d be curious to know, given you experienced both type (step-mother and step-father), what advantages and disadvantages each may have? For example, from my limited observations, step-mothers tend to be granted more authority over the step-kids, but need to deal with more ex related issues, while step fathers tend to be denied authority over the step-kids, but (barring violent divorces), tend to be able to relate with the ex better. Was this, at all, like your experience?

  3. Well stated Kat.

    Mark, I think it’s due more to a lack of preparation for parenting than a spiteful fit of time nabbing, haha.

    Emily, what I see women too often do is set up a negative scenario based on what they assume life will be like before they understand what it would actually be like. Opinions from a lack of understanding can be the worse baggage of all, as you’ve defined it.

    If you view a child as baggage, how are you going to interact with that child? If you view the fact that there are children involved as a difficult hurdle in the relationship, how are you going to start off and treat that relationship? It’s way too easy for assumptions to fail a relationship before it really gets started. Granted, it is a good idea to know what you’re getting into, definitely. However, the mere fact that a child is there is not necessarily a sign of the slippery slope you’ve here presented.

    From my own experience, it is impossible to date a woman that is this concerned over the fact that I have kids. It’s as though I’m no longer a man like any other she would date. Now I’m a man to be cautious around, and think about the future with. When really, I’m just looking to have fun and enjoy the moment. I don’t date to find a step mom, I date to find a woman I enjoy spending time with. I’ve noticed if the connection is right, and the love is strong, the rest works out on its own. All this worry over what a potential future might be like stresses me out.

  4. Your last sentence says it all! You really cannot say that you would or would not be able to do it until you’re in the situation. I’m a single full-time father and I freely admit that it is a difficult task for anyone to date me. If giving advice to anyone interested in dating a single parent, I am always honest and state that they should proceed with extreme caution. Normal relationships are difficult without throwing a 3rd person into the mix. But this isn’t just the single child-less persons difficulty with that dynamic, the parent-partner needs to be understanding of that added stress and must also take great care in not being offended when that “well-meaning” advice is given. I’ve seen a great many people take offense at someone elses advice, solicited or not. I’ve also dated single mothers and that whole Brady Bunch style familial relationship can be very difficult. The logistics of planning any given days activities alone is enough to send someone to the asylum. But I’m a firm believer that regardless of what difficulties arise from baggage, people who care about eachother will work to make it work! No relationship is effortless, and the resulting bond is equivalent to the amount of effort put into building it.

  5. Mark Ellis says:

    In early adulthood I was ruthless in my unwillingness to even consider dating a woman with kids in tow. Life threw me a curve years later when, for reasons beyond my control, I was awarded full custody of my kids. It was extremely difficult to find women who would even consider dating me during those earliest years with the children, and I totally understood. I wouldn’t have dated me. It is just a great deal to ask of another person, and the younger you are, the more daunting the challenge. As far as blended families, tried that too, and unless you’re a combination of Dr. Benjamin Spock and Mother Teresa, it rarely works over the long haul. There are whole psychiatric/counseling schools aimed at helping the people in blended families–that should tell you something.

    It’s all well and good with the Brady Bunch and Dick Van Patton’s “Eight is Enough,” but outside Hollywood, again, unless you’re very mature and committed to the person, forget it.

    My 20-something daughter tried living with a man who had a child from a previous marriage, and almost immediately started complaining to me about the child. She moved home last October.

  6. I think the hardest thing I’ve encountered in dating men with children is that they expect me to be “maternal” and to have a natural ability to relate to children, and to automatically know “mom stuff.” In fact, I find children rather scary, and I am not good at talking to them or relating to them, and I don’t have kids so I’m not even sure of the basics like what they should eat and what to do when they get cranky. I remember going to a hockey game with a man and his 6 year old daughter, and he kind of delegated responsibility to me to “be the mom” and entertain his daughter (who was a nice girl, but rather demanding) while he watched the game. At one point, I took her to the restroom, and she got upset because she was constipated, of all things. I didn’t have a clue how to handle that situation! She was in the stall crying “I can’t poop! I can’t poop!” and I was thinking, “what the heck am I doing here? I’m not a mom! I don’t carry a bag full of juice and laxatives!” :-)

  7. I didn’t finish my thought yesterday. My second end of that thought is there are a lot of people out there just not suited to dating people with children. I’m thinking mostly those people that have to be the absolute center of attention all the time in a relationship. They are likely to see the child as baggage because the child is taking away from their time. The child becomes this annoyance. Or they get annoyed because on the days the child is around they are going to be doing kid friendly things. I didn’t particularly care. In my situation when I wasn’t taking care of the kid at my ex’s home I was baby sitting for the child’s mother. We had a unique co-parenting arrangement.

    I will say that one thing that made me leery for a long while about dating someone with children is the break up. When that relationship ended I was absolutely heartbroken. I moved 900 miles away from a child I deeply cared about and whose safety I worried endlessly about. I was fortunate to stay friends with his mother but it was still tough. I don’t enjoy breakups when children are involved. Usually that means I walk away from guys who try to put me into the children’s lives right from the get go. There’s a time and place and that time and place to have the talk with the kids and it’s usually not early in the dating phase in my case. So I am cautious like that.

  8. As a single father of 3 (26, 24, and custody of the 12 year old) I have faced the other side of this over and over. The fact is, as a man I have to decide what my highest priority is. For me, this decision was very easy to make, but for some it’s not easy to keep. I have walked away from more than one relationship because the woman I was dating couldn’t understand that she wasn’t my highest priority. When I explained that my children come first over ALL other people in my life, most women get that loving look in their eyes. They appear to swoon when they see a strong father who takes charge and care of his children. Unfortunately when the commitment is put into practice, they don’t understand the limitations within our relationship. For example: I have a rule, I don’t introduce my minor child to anyone I am dating until I feel that the relationship is stable and the person I am dating is “stable”. I don’t want my child exposed to anyone I am not sure will be with me for a Long Term Relationship. Women who come in and out of my life as dates sends the wrong message to my 12 year old son, and since he will model his relationships as an adult on mine, I want to make sure he understands what a mutually respectful relationship looks like. Sounds good right? But when I tell the women I date that I won’t see them for maybe a week because my son is home from his moms, they start to express “why am I not good enough to meet your son?”. There are a slew of more examples that I can give about how this affects the life of a single (mostly custodial) father, but I think this one example shows the stress it can put on the fledgling relationship. This article does give awareness to the other perspective, but there are many women who will handle this in many ways, unfortunately there are very few women who have the strength and moral fortitude to withstand these types of stresses on the relationship. But on a bright note, it will expose the woman for who she really is early… and when you know who she is early, you don’t waste time on a dead end relationship. Just one DADDY’S perspective.

    • Those are good points…. I think it is tough for anyone to accept they won’t be a priority in their significant other’s life, that they may not be able to spend as much time together as they would like, and that they will always be playing 2nd fiddle to,the children. Which is one reason why I’m to interested in dating men with children, I have needs that need to be met; Such as emptioal support, companionship, and regular sex; I don’t think my needs are excessive, but if a man can’t meet them because of his children, there is no reason for us to be together. I totally understand and respect the reasons why I would not be as important as the children but that’s not the relationship I want.

  9. “Can I date a single father?”. The better question is “do I want to date a single father?”.

    The answer is no! While I enjoy children, I am not keen on having to deal with a man with children from a previous relationship. It doesn’t make me selfish to want to be with someone that comes to the table with a similar life experience. Everyone has preferences and this is one of mine.

    • Amen Annie, Amen. I’ve heard many men say that they would never date a single mother. No big deal, but it’s a preference of mine not to date men who have children.

      • Funny I googled dating a single mother vs. dating a single dad to see the different views that men vs women have.

        It’s ok for a woman to readily admit that she doesn’t want to deal with all of the baggage and headaches that come with dating a single dad.

        When men publicly say that won’t date a single mom they’re bashed and called less then men.

        I think you did a really good job pointing out the negative points of being a step parent. I would argue for a man it’s 10 times worse because you actually have to deal with the child 24/7. Women only have to deal with it every once and a while or never depending on the dad.

        I’ve dated single moms quite a few times and it’s been pretty bad every single time. Key points:
        – single moms money all of their money go to the children, not on fun stuff like taking a vacation with your mate, or buying your mate gifts to show love.
        -Child usually hates your guts if you try to discipline them “kiss my ass your not my dad”
        -Dad hates you and usually wants to run your household like he would run his own.
        -Two sets of inlaws (mom and dads) double trouble

        It’s really such a bad experience that I really believe it should be illegal. Not being biased, but women really don’t have to deal with that as much when they date men with children.

        • Other negatives

          – when you try to cuddle with your girl child says “get off my mommy” and starts kicking and screaming.
          – hard to have sex because child bursts in the room.
          – tons of other bad stuff

          Anyone who would actively deal with this on a day to day basis has to be desperate.

  10. I first off have to say that people’s opinions should not have direct reflection on ones decesion to date someone with children. “I’m just looking to have fun and enjoy the moment. I don’t date to find a step mom, I date to find a woman I enjoy spending time with. I’ve noticed if the connection is right, and the love is strong, the rest works out on its own.”, best quote from above. This guy couldn’t have said it any better.

    • Venting…..

      Oh yes, single dads, have you ever dating a women with children that wanted you to put her children before your own.

      FOH

  11. Personally I don’t mind dating a single father for a reason all my own: I don’t want to have children. I don’t mind dating someone with a child because then I can avoid the uncomfortable argument about why this guy won’t be “the chosen one” to make me have child(ren). I’ve never wanted to be anybody’s biological mother, and I like the arrangement that no matter how cool me and this child are, it’s ultimately not my responsibility. Quite honestly the couple of times that I’ve dated a guy with kids I just felt more like the aunt. I’m sure had we moved in together or gotten married, the topic would’ve been much heavier, but I just don’t want Mother’s Day cards. It’s not the life I want to lead, but I can totally respect me who want a child. I certainly think it helps if the stepmother (or father’s girlfriend) gets along with the biological mother. I had a conversation about this Christmas Eve with a family friend who shook her head and said, “The women who really would be good mothers wait to have kids or don’t want them but the ones who have no business having children have four and five.” I’ve had three people advise me to never date a guy with kids because his money could’ve been used on YOU instead of child support. (I think that advice is SUPER jacked up, but I do see the other side where men go broke paying massive rates for child support so I kinda sorta understand.) Either way it goes, I feel like as long as the father emphasizes respecting the girlfriend or wife and the mother and girlfriend can be cordial, this can work.

  12. If dating single dads is so effing awesome, then why do the ALL lie in their profiles and you are lucky if you find out on the first date???? Obviously, they know how much it sucks to date them and know they are no match and cannot give nearly as much to a relationship as people without baggage. First they lie about having kids to trap women and make them attached to them, and then when the women realize how much it sucks and how much crap they need to deal with bc that guy was too obsessed with sex that he reproduced with an effed up woman before and now has baggage….All the smart beautiful women like myself with advanced degrees and great looks should never ever ever even go there unless in their forties and desperate. Believe me, I work in education because I love kids and at first when I met my ex I was happy about the fact he has a kid. I was sooo naïve and thinking “yeah another cute human being in my life, what could be wrong with that???”. EVERYTHING!!!! No quality time, a crazy bi**** he was too addicted to having sex with in the past and then realized it’s not everything and you can’t deal with an effed up person your whole life because they give you sex, so they finally get a divorce and HAVE TO take the kid or else the kid would end up just as screwed up like mommy….and they call themselves so great and loving and giving….giving ONLY to their kids who are in this world as a result of their mistakes of getting involved with horrible people….either that or THEY cheated and got a divorce. Everyone can reproduce (unless infertile) and of course our instinct is to take care of the offspring. It is basic instinct and does not make single dads any better than other guys. The only difference is that single dads either cheated on their wives or were involved with effed up women who they finally had to leave when they grew up enough to realize that life is not all about sex and they got involved with some effed up person and most likely have messed up kids as a result. Then they look for childless women to knock them up because they know nobody with great looks and sane would marry then and call women selfish for not wanting their crap. How about you all go and log in right now and let the potential dates reading your profile know the truth that you are in fact daddies???!!!! What a great way to avoid selfish women, right? The problem is, you know no one would be interested except for desperate people without other options because you all know how much dating you sucks…. Be honest with your self and others and date people on your level with the same amount of baggage as you bring (SINGLE PARENTS SHOULD DATE SINGLE PARENTS OR NOT AT ALL)!!!!! Nobody on eharmony ever has kids if you look at the profiles. I now learned to be very blunt about that and I make sure I ask that question again before I even exchange a few text messages because there are too many liars out there and I’ve already wasted 4 months of my life dealing with a horrible relationship with a “wonderful, caring, and giving” single daddy. You are the entitled ones who deceive childless women and are looking for someone to dump your baggage on. STAY AWAY!!!!! As a womam who puts her man first, you will never be first and you will give your life away to fix and suffer from someone else’s past mistakes. You will be an outsider in your own home and if disrespected by kids, you will be blamed for not being “understanding enough”. Single dads can be horrible, soul-sucking people who only care about THEIR BLOOD and then spoiling their kids is a result of their own selfishness. It makes them feel wonderful and needed. Then they create kids as effed up and entitled as their effed up exes are and end up single. Then they wake up when their kids move on without giving too much crap about them and realize why they are so lonely. At that point they are too old and even less desirable in the dating pool. As long as their needs are met, kid’s moodiness and ridiculous spoiled behaviors should NEVER come first. Parents like that are the reason why the American society is so messed up and people so entitled. If you find a great woman who you know has enough common sense to care about your kid and is WILLING to TAKE ON YOUR BAGGAGE and is a great person who you want to marry, you need to put her first or else don’t be surprised when she’s gone…there are PLENTY OF guys without kids out there who would die to date her, ya know???? Plus, if you were honest enough to include the fact that you have kids in your dating profile, nobody will be hurt. Funny how you all put your kids first but are too embarrassed to admit their existence on your dating profiles right off the bat. OK, the venting was helpful and this is not about all single parents but just the ones who deceive potential partners and lie about not having kids in their profiles. Us, as you call us selfish bitches, are hurting when it is time to go too. You trap us without saying how bad the situation will be and then we have to leave heartbroken when he face the undeniable truth that we deserve better!!! Be honest from the beginning or stay away.

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  1. [...] essay up at The Good Men Project about dating single parents, “creative” families, responsibility, and why step-parenting is the most thankless role [...]

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