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Dating a Single Dad and Learning to Love His Kids

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Dads are different. Our experiences of divorce are often very different. I spoke to a man a few days ago who has 50/50 shared parenting with his ex-wife. He pays her $23 a month in child support. WHAT? And another man in a FB group for divorced dads was complaining about his $325 child support payment and wondering “how much other dads are paying?”

Dads In Divorce Carry the Bigger Load

In around 60% of the states, dads are routinely given the non-custodial role in their kids’ lives. This not only burdens the dad with a child support payment that is often the size of a rent payment. The dad will also typically get 30% of the kids’ time. In my case, I was asked to pay 1,250 per month (two kids 5 and 7), and to provide health insurance for both kids. This could run anywhere from $300 if I was fully-employed to $600 if I was paying COBRA to cover my kids also.

So when you are beginning (or considering) dating a single dad keep this in mind. His anger towards his ex may be more about the suffering of the loss of a disproportionate amount of time with his kids, and an additional rent payment before he can begin to think about entertainment. I remember dating a woman early after my divorce, she was making around $250,000 per year and she had one kids. Her ex did not pay her child support and lived in a different state. On one date (we had been going Dutch on the dinner and drinks) I told her that I had forgotten my wallet. I was fresh from a run around the lake and had left it in my other pants. She was pissed. It showed some of her true colors. She didn’t hear me, she heard some tape in her head about men, or perhaps her ex, being users and takers. I was certainly not that, and this was the only time I wanted to skip the rotation. I was good for “next.” She was unhappy about the imbalance in our incomes. Wow, I guess that was going to make it very hard for her to find a compatible partner.

As We Lose We Also Gain

One of the obvious benefits to dating a single dad is that his custody schedule will give your early courtship a physical cool-down period. Every other weekend, if you’re dating a dad with the normal schedule (known as the Standard Possession Order) there are going to be good chunks of time you will have to entertain yourself. It’s easy to get discouraged with a single dad. He’s still wounded. He’s got an angry ex. He’s beholden to his kids in a way you may or may not understand depending on your parental status and post-divorce relationship with your ex.

There is going to be a good bit of logistical negotiations if you both have kids. This too is a great acid test for “how motivated are they to set another date?” If both potential partners are into the relationship idea, they will BOTH propose ideas, times, availability options. If both single parents are working to join with each other, they will move mountains to see you again. And the hope is, you will do the same when given an opportunity to see each other. There’s a bit of magic in a long-distance relationship. It’s like a honeymoon every time you get together. Dating a single parent is a bit like a short-distance relationship. There’s still time off and time away. But the physical distance between you is not the determining factor, your kids and their schedules are what grids off your time with our without your partner.

When You’re Dating a Single Father

Work hard to maintain a close connection, even when he’s away with his kids. Don’t interrupt his camping trip with a bunch of heart emojis. But do ping him from time to time with an “I’m thinking of you and smiling” message. Try and express delight in each other’s presence when you do get time together. Give them an easy pass if plans have to change due to a kids’ illness or soccer match. Do give them a little extra empathy when they are struggling with their ex, or struggling with their loss of kid-time. It’s not about you.

Divorce is an emotional rollercoaster for both parents and kids. Dating a man with kids is going to test your boundaries. Let it develop organically, over time. Don’t press too hard on the schedule. And don’t push to meet his kids if there is an agreed parenting plan with his ex. Do your best to hang loose and be nurturing and supportive. Of course, he should do the same for you. Mutual nurturing and mutual respect for the difficult process of co-parenting.

Notice His Energy, Notice Your Desire

More than once, as I was getting back into the dating world as a single dad, I was too exhausted to actually enjoy my date. This might be on a first date. This might be on the 5th date when I was hoping we might move to kissing. When I was smart enough to cancel an “I’m going to fall over exhausted” date this could become a litmus test about the woman’s flexibility. If I continued to have this problem of being too tired to date, I needed to look at my lifestyle, sleep cycles, food, and exercise. Many times, my exhaustion would creep up on me like a blood sugar drop. When I tried to go on the date anyway it usually resulted in bad vibes from one or both of us. When I was smart enough to request a reschedule, I was letting this potential partner know that I was conscious of what my body was telling me.

When you find a vulnerable man, do you want to rush in and fix things? That may be a bad sign and is certainly not the best path forward if you want a long-term and stable relationship. When your partner is having a bad day it’s best to simply comfort and stand by them without offering your solution. Advice giving is usually a bad idea unless the person specifically asks for your ideas. If you offer, “You should get more sleep, you look really tired.” You may be speaking the truth, but it’s not going to be helpful or nurturing. It’s like asking, “Did you lose weight?” While it feels like a compliment, it can be taken as a passive-aggressive jab. Keep it clean with a single dad. State what you want. State your willingness to be flexible to a point. And then go forward with eyes open to his struggle with his ex. Perhaps, you too have an ex and children on a schedule. That will give you a bit more empathy for your single father.

When Two Single Parents Work Together

When two single parents get together, ala the Brady Bunch, a lot of good things can happen. Both sets of kids get additional supportive adults in their lives. You gain a friend who can reflect back on your struggle with the custody schedule, with the additional bills you’re having to pay, or he is, due to needing the 2nd house. If you can stay away from ex-bashing you can both be supportive of the difficult journey of the single parent.

When There Is Not Enough Time

The relationship with a single parent is always a balance. A gift of time to your partner is often a subtraction of time from your kiddo, or your friends, or your family. Yes, and this is how relationships work. Either you have time to spend with your partner or you don’t. If your partner is the last thing you get to in your workday, there may not be a lot left over for them. Can you be delightful and delighted when you’ve worked a 10-hour shift? Can you be loving and flexible when your partner calls in tired? Does it make you mad to reschedule because of his kids or all the other things he has to attend to as a single father? Are you angry at him or the situation?

It’s all about time. Either you have it to spend on relationship building or you don’t. If there is an issue growing between any couple, often there is one partner who takes the lead on finding a solution and building out a plan. If the other partner doesn’t spend any time working on the solution, often the relationship will fail. When there is an issue for one partner, BOTH partners have an issue. If you think of a disconnect as “his problem” or “her problem” you are using blame and shame to change the situation. You are trying to guilt your partner into some modified behavior. Don’t be passive-aggressive. Don’t come to the end of every day too exhausted to share with your partner.

Always, always, always, ask for what you need. And when the other person is asking for something, a behavior modification, always try to hear them. Always see if there is an easy solution to meet their request. If the solution is more of a couples’ plan, then take the time to offer solutions, offer your perspective, and try to join with your partner on their pain and the joint solution.

If you don’t have the time and reserved energy to do a little work on your partnership, it is likely that any disagreement could become a rift and then a terminal fracture. Don’t let that happen. Make time. Make the effort to join in forming a solution. Remember, you are building a relationship, you are creating a couple, a WE container. Try to leave extra time and energy to build trust and healthy boundaries/solutions with your partner. You can tell if the other person is willing to negotiate and solve for YES. You can also tell with the other person is simply too busy, or too distracted to give you any time to focus on a solution.

Dating a Single Dad Is About Time and Energy

When time is our most valuable resource, make a note of how you are choosing to spend it. If you spend 90% of your available energy on other people, on other problems, you will starve your relationship. Little disagreements become “issues.” When your energy is depleted at the end of the day, but the end of the day is all you give to your relationship… You can see where that’s headed, right?

When you are working on your partnership, you are showing your investment, your commitment to solving any issues between you. When you spend time with your partner you are showing them rather than telling them how much you love them. Give time and energy to your partner and watch your partnership grow, watch the trust deepen, and the connections between you grow more fruitful.

Dating a single parent can be a lot like struggling with a toddler. They punch you in the eye, spill juice in your bed, and say, “I love you SOOO much.”

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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