What You Should Know About Dating a Man With Children

04/09/2014 01:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2014
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When I was online dating, I filtered single dads out of my searches. There was no way I'd ever get involved with a man who had that kind of baggage. Who needed to date someone with an ex and children in the mix, since dating was already complicated enough?

Then at a party, I met a man who took me by surprise. He was warm, kind, funny -- so different from the jerks I'd been dating. Sparks flew. The chemistry was there. I felt hopeful again that maybe this time (after more bad dates than I cared to count), things would work.

On our first date, during a hike up a steep canyon trail, he told me that he was a father. He had two girls, ages nine and 15. I won't lie. My heart sank in that moment.

I wasn't opposed to having kids of my own -- in fact, I wanted them. But taking care of someone else's kids who might not want me around? Who were just old enough to form their own opinions about Dad's new girlfriend? Who might think I was out to replace their mother? That was a whole new level of stress I didn't know how to prepare for. I trudged up the rest of that mountain, taking in this daunting new piece of information.

But I really liked him. I couldn't just let him go after one date. So I decided to confront my fears and simply date him and see how things progressed. Why not just enjoy it while it lasts? I reassured myself.

Cut to now, five years later. We are married, and I can say that those first several months of being together and getting to know his children was a tough, but truly valuable learning experience. My greatest fear that my stepdaughters would hate me never came to pass. In fact, they both liked me right away. They made loving toasts to me and my husband at our wedding. In so many respects, I feel lucky, blessed, though it hasn't always been easy.

Here's what I've learned about dating a man with kids: No relationship comes without risks or baggage for that matter. I would have missed out on a life-changing relationship if I made his single dad status a deal-breaker before I got to know him. And the most surprising part for me? Being in a relationship with a man who has taken on raising kids makes my life that much richer and rewarding, mostly in unexpected ways.

If you're thinking about dating a man with kids, here's what you should know:

1. Wait for the introductions.

My husband and I were a little impatient to introduce me to his family, so I met his kids after only a couple of months of dating. Though things worked out, it was overwhelming to me at first, especially because I wasn't certain that our relationship would last. We were still just getting to know each other. In retrospect, I think the smarter thing to do would be to wait until we were in a committed relationship for the sake of the children.

2. Seeing a man's nurturing skills can be a big turn-on.

When you watch your boyfriend interacting with his kids, you see what kind of man he is, what he's capable of. You see what he has to give because he doesn't hide his feelings. To me, that's truly sexy.

3. Even once you've met his children, take it slowly.

You're not Mary Poppins, and his kids may not like you at first. We're all human beings with insecurities, wants and needs. The difference is, you're an adult and they are still kids, so it's important to think before you act. There can be tension and tempers, so you need to put on your big-girl pants and take things in stride. There will be arguments, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Don't force your relationship with his kids. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Take the initiative and reach out -- spend a little one-on-one time together. But don't be surprised if they rebuff your efforts at first. They don't know you, so how can they be expected to trust you? Take things one step at a time and form your own relationship with them.

4. Loyalty runs deep.

His kids have a mother, and they might worry about being disloyal to her if they like you. You'll be the subject of speculation for a while. So again, take things slowly and build trust. Reassure the kids that you are not replacing anybody -- you are an addition to their lives.

5. When you're dating a man with kids, emergencies will inevitably come up, schedules will shift, and your plans might have to go by the wayside.

It comes with the territory. You and your boyfriend aren't the only people to consider in your relationship, so it's important to adjust your mindset if you are used to having things your way most of the time. It's all about compromise and acceptance. You've got to roll with it.

6. His kids will surprise you.

One day you'll feel like you can't catch a break no matter what you say or do, and the next your boyfriend's kids say something incredibly sweet or confide in you or make you laugh. Expect the unexpected.

7. Extend your circle of love.

This might sound hokey to some, but the more love you can share with your boyfriend and his children, the more it will come back to you. There will be times when you feel overwhelmed or scared or unsure. You may find yourself holding back. Remember that you won't always say or do the right thing. You will make mistakes. So will your boyfriend and his children. But after a while, most kids won't remember what you say. They will remember how you made them feel.