They Don’t Love Your Kids, and They Shouldn’t Have To

Dating with kids

The closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve had since getting divorced was someone I met in the first 10 months.

And that might sound like a long time to regular, non-divorced people, but I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you it took two years to stop feeling super-fragile and waking up in the morning without feeling like the universe had just spent the night brain-raping me.

She was throwing a birthday party for her kindergarten-aged son and I attended because my little guy was friends and classmates with the birthday boy. Totally pretty. Totally single. I asked her out. She said yes. We had a four- or five-month thing.

She is a very busy mother of three, working full time and running her kids around constantly to little league games, Girl Scouts, and whatever else. Because the father of her children is a substandard human being, she received ZERO amounts of help from him. Like, couldn’t even count on him to keep their children overnight once in a while. She had also lost her parents, making her the grand prize winner of the Least-Supported Mother I’ve Ever Met contest.

Even though she only lives a few blocks away, we were lucky to get together once a week for a few hours. Her children are her highest priority (as kids are with most parents), and in the end, the math worked against us.

That experience taught me two things:

  1. Dating school moms is a HORRIBLE idea because if it were to somehow end badly you’d be stuck seeing them for several years. (It worked out fine for me, but still. Single dads: Don’t date school moms.)
  2. Dating after divorce with children is very hard and complicated.

The Plight of the Dating Parent

I was afraid it would be hard to find people willing to date a divorced father. And it’s actually much worse and more difficult than I expected. The good news is that I was all emo about it during the initial divorce period. I was worried about it hurting. Divorced people are tired of hurting.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel nearly three years later, where I now sit emotionally steady and sharper mentally than I’ve ever been.

So, it doesn’t hurt. Not now. And that’s key. But it is somewhat frustrating and annoying because I’m good at recognizing data samples and long-term trends, and it’s super easy to see that having one almost-girlfriend for four-ish months two years ago doesn’t extrapolate to anything hope-inspiring looking forward.

If the goal is cheap sex and casual dating, children would only serve as a hindrance in logistical ways (only being available when the children are with the other parent, or making sure there’s a trusted sitter available), though I’ve heard of plenty of parents who don’t insulate their kids from their dating and/or sex activities, which I consider unwise and disgusting, but I don’t pretend to know everything.

Cheap doesn’t appeal to me, which is particularly inconvenient since celibacy also doesn’t.

Children present challenges for people who are dating with an eye on the future—those open to long-term relationships and possible marriage.

When you view dating through that prism, your children become the ultimate filter, with the parent asking: Would this person be a positive influence on my child? Would they make me a better or worse parent? And if the answers to those questions aren’t the right ones, the potential relationship is dead on arrival.

The other person (who may also have kids) asks: Am I willing to take on a stepparent role to this person’s children and love them as my own? Can I be unselfish enough to respect the existing parent-child relationship as well as understand that I can never replace the children’s biological father (or mother)?

I’m terrified any time I meet women with several children (which I define as three or more). When I imagine a life with them, I imagine never having any money, ever, and even less time, and it gives me anxiety and makes me feel even more selfish than I usually do. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I just know it scares me.

Which is the perfect segue to…

People Want What They Want, and It’s Often Not Others’ Children, and That Needs to be Okay

I didn’t think it was fair. Don’t they want the best possible partner? Isn’t that the most important thing?

Not dating me because I’m a father seemed shortsighted to me because they were never going to meet my son anyway unless it got to full-fledged boyfriend-girlfriend status at which time I assumed they’d lovingly accept my charming son as a valued addition to their life.

But really, I was the one being shortsighted. They weren’t making a choice for right now. They were making a personal choice about forever, and I wasn’t respecting it.

 

From a human value standpoint, I am not better than anyone. But in the context of the dating pool (of the non-cheap-sex variety)? I’m not better than the best men. But I like my chances of ranking in the top half, making me “better” than most men.

So, what the shit!? Why does it feel like I never meet anyone?

For the same reason most thirtysomething divorced parents feel that way.

Last time we were all single, we were high school or college-aged, and for the most part, we were almost exclusively surrounded by A. Single people, B. People our age, and C. People like us. I mean that culturally and demographically, which allows people to more easily discover common interests, participate in the same activities and feel comfortable with each other.

Fast forward 5-15 years to being divorced with children.

Now, we live somewhere else, or most of our friends have either married or moved out of town. We are not typically in social situations surrounded by single people, and while diversity is a great thing in the work place and in our friendships, the reality is too much cultural diversity in an intimate relationship–especially with kids (and philosophical disagreements on how to raise them)–can cause a ton of problems in marriage.

I swiped the previous three paragraphs from an obscenely long comment I left yesterday on Lisa Arends’ excellent and enlightening post “Dating After Divorce: What About the Kids?” at Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Lisa’s explanation of her choice to avoid dating single dads following her divorce helped me better see things through the prism of women who choose to not be mothers.

I used to believe it was practical to meet people the old-fashioned way. I’ve never been shy about saying online dating is horrible and unnatural and that I hate it more than cabbage which is subpar raw, and shitty and indefensible when cooked.

I also used to believe it was possible I’d end up dating someone younger than me who had never been married and didn’t have kids.

I’m not saying I prefer someone like that. That’s not how I think about dating.

I simply look for someone I feel drawn to, which tends to begin with physical attraction, after which interest grows or recedes relative to all of our conscious and subconscious filters and biases: Ugh. She’s not very interesting. Or. Wow. We have nothing in common. Or. Damn. She’s intolerably bitchy. Or. Whoa. This woman has a brilliant and sexy mind. Or. Sigh. She has the kind of heart I want pushing me to be a better man. Or. Uh-oh. This girl is amazing and it’s going to hurt if she doesn’t like me back.

But dating after divorce got scarier still when I realized the never-married/no-kids crowd wasn’t the option I thought it was. It’s a numbers game. The largest percentage of single people fall into that category, so when you take them off the board, things start to feel even more bleak.

I’ve never set out to meet someone of a certain age nor particularly cared whether someone had been married or had children prior to me meeting them. Of course, that’s really easy for me to think and feel as a now-divorced parent.

Parents with four kids don’t think having four kids is scary. They can’t imagine NOT having four kids. Yet, I can be scared of it.

Similarly, it’s not scary to have my 7-year-old at home half the time. In fact it’s logistically about as easy as single parenting gets. Yet, single women are often scared of it. Or more importantly, per Lisa Arends’ post, may deliberately choose not to get involved.

And it’s not because they’re busy or judgy or shallow or selfish.

In some cases, it’s because they respect us enough to not mess with our hearts and minds, and they’re thoughtful enough to not subject our children who we love above all things to any more loss or potential feelings of abandonment by that partner.

No matter how much we love our children, or how much it doesn’t feel like a difficult choice to put them first because it’s our default position as parents once they enter our lives, we still sacrifice an insane amount of time, resources, and personal interests on their behalf.

Imagine purposefully volunteering for all those same sacrifices when you have baggage-free options available to you. That would be akin to getting two job offers from different companies to perform the same job, only to learn that one of the jobs has a 90-minute-longer commute, more stressful hours, more complex problems, a crappy vacation policy and 30-percent less pay, and then choosing it over the other.

Both my parents remarried when I was young, so I grew up seeing and experiencing what stable, loving stepparents accepting and loving a child they didn’t produce looks like. It’s probably as easy for me to imagine loving another’s kids as it would be for anyone.

Not everyone had that experience. Hopefully because their parents stayed together.

But maybe because their parents didn’t, and then they had a bunch of negative or traumatic experiences with the strange men and women forced into their lives.

I can’t imagine how hard that might have been and how much worse my life might have gotten had that been my experience.

And maybe now they’re going to trust their instincts and do all they can to give themselves the best chance for a life of happiness and contentment.

I’ve never been able to see it that way until now. But then I read something that challenged my assumptions and made me grow up a little more.

That always feels good.

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23 thoughts on “They Don’t Love Your Kids, and They Shouldn’t Have To

  1. Ha! Hubby and I use to argue about who had to take the kids if we ever broke up. I mention that so you will know I am human and also because obviously someone forgot to explain to us that you’re supposed to fight over who gets the kids, not who gets left with them.

    They’re all grown now and will hopefully never read this, but I think we’re a bit quick to declare that it’s always wrong to stay together for the kids. Sometimes that’s all you got to hang onto and sometimes that’s enough. I laugh about it today, but both hubby and I always had a keen awareness of how complex dating after divorce with kids could be. Not that it isn’t possible, I know a pretty amazing blended family with ten kids between them…but they’re unusual. Also insane. ;)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      To be sure, I haven’t had a horrendous experience dating. It felt horrible in the beginning, but brushing your teeth and driving your car and watching TV feel horrible, too, when you’re freshly divorced and constantly terrified. I’ve met awesome people here and there over the past three years. The primary issues have ALWAYS been logistical, and having children has ALWAYS been the largest hurdle within the Inconvenient Logistics category.

      So, yes. Totally possible, and frankly, expected that I’ll meet someone with whom there are not many obstacles one day. And assuming that will be a good thing, I’m more than okay with whatever has to happen between now and then to arrive at that destination.

      Like

  2. I know, with 100% certainty that I would be a GREAT step mom. I adore kids. I’m great with them, I’ve got natural parenting skills BUT….On paper, I think I’m a more intimidating situation for people who are “like” me because I have older kids…One going into college and one Jr. High son. Talk about feeling like the options are beyond slim. (sigh)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      You make a fair point based on my personal experience. I haven’t mentioned it before, but older kids are scary as hell.

      Not because they’re actually scary. Just because we tend to be scared of most things we don’t have any experience with or context for.

      I “get” little kids my son’s age. So, ideally, I’d meet someone with a child or two around his age.

      Few things happen ideally. I don’t stress about these things too much. I just like thinking and writing about them.

      Like

  3. jinams says:

    I have four children. I started following your blog yesterday when I read your other posts which perfectly describes my husband. Great father, great man…. Shitty husband. Hate to say it but it’s true. We have been together for 12 years married 9 of those and we have three children together the other is his child from a previous marriage. I fell in love with him the moment I saw him and knowing he had a child made me love him that much more. Keep your head up this too shall pass

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Thank you very much. I promise my head’s up. I perceive my dating situation to less than ideal, and I can list all the reasons why. But that doesn’t make it hopeless, nor does it make me emotionally troubled by it (that wasn’t true 2-3 years ago).

      Things tend to work out.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m sorry for your marriage situation. I’m a hopeful sort-of guy, so I’d like to believe the right combination of choices and events can make him a perfectly non-shitty husband.

      That will be my hope for him, for you, and for your family.

      Like

  4. jadedwildcat says:

    Firstly, I love whenever someone properly uses the word ‘segue’ in any piece of writing. Hehe. xX

    Secondly, damn, what a challenge.
    I feel ashamed of myself for having contributed to this difficult endeavour for divorced men with kids… having turned down QUITE a few men who were wonderful for me in every way, apart from the fact that they had a kid(s)…
    Kind of feel like a terrible human being all of a sudden.
    What can I say though? It isn’t for everyone. Definitely not for me. Maybe if I myself had a kid(s) I’d feel differently… But even if I did, I mean having your own is one thing; having to deal with and maybe not even LIKE someone else’s kids just seems like such an ordeal… gah. I feel like I’d still have a problem with it.

    All I can do is wish you luck and pray that you find someone who’s just right for you – maybe ideally someone who has just ONE kid like you do? Seems easier that way.

    `Jade

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Hells yeah on “segue.” Solid word.

      No need for feeling bad somehow, Jade. You don’t owe married men your time or interest, and any father worth a damn is going to want to be with someone with a genuine desire to be part of a child’s life.

      You just be you and don’t exert energy apologizing for it. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cheney says:

    I’m a single mom and haven’t been in a relationship in almost three years and the last one I had was more of a sex / hook-up kind of thing than an actual boyfriend and relationship. So basically, yeah, things suck and they are really hard when you’re single with a child and trying to date. I get what you are saying here – we all have the option to make the choice or not to date people with children, but I know one thing for sure – I would never want to date anyone who wouldn’t accept my daughter and love her as their own (as I was loved and accepted by my own step-father when he married my mom when I was ten).

    This is one of those things where you really have to try to find balance between what’s best for your kids and yourself. So. Freaking. Hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Vince says:

    Around a year and a half after my life as I knew it crashed I decided to start dating again. The first thing I did was consider my options. As a divorced man with FOUR teenagers that are with me half the time, what am I looking at in the dating world? Probably nothing..kidding.. kinda. Being realistic I knew my options would likely be someone like me so that’s what I focused on. I know you hate online dating and feel it’s unnatural but for me it worked really well. Getting dates came easier than I expected. Being able to actually connect past that not so much but I just kept at it.

    I’ve been seeing someone exclusively for a couple months now. She’s super sweet and pretty. We see each other a couple times a week. For me that’s not enough but then I remind myself to be realistic. I’m content in life. Anything that adds to that is a plus and right now she adds to it. Rather than focusing on how much I miss her and how much it sucks that I can’t see her more I just try to enjoy the time we have together. Then I think about all those years of feeling rejected, sad and worried. It’s nice to be with someone who actually wants you too.

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  7. Holly says:

    It throws people off that my son is as old as he is, especially at my age. My philosophy now since he still lives at home is he already has a dad (former step-dad, at that) soo I’m not looking for a father-figure for him, but whoever I end up with would ideally be a good one because of the type of person they are. (If I were looking, that is :) )

    Like

  8. I married a man with small children (2.5 and 4). I remained married to him for 15 years, he had 2 more children while married to me (not with me). I retained custody of the youngest of his sons, with the agreement of the previous ex-wife and of course biological mother, the eldest was in university by then. Both had been living with me for years.

    I think we all figure it out. Their mother is one of my best friends. We have been friends for well over thirty years now. We share sons, grandchildren and a large extended family. The common ground, obviously our shared love of the boys.

    Like

  9. nights7 says:

    I just fixed the flush lever thing on my toilet. It was loose and just needed a little tightening. I was turning and turning the screw that holds it on in the direction that I thought was the correct one. Lefty loosely righty tighty, ya know? It’s what I expected to work.
    Except that it didn’t. After a minute or two I realized that this thing needed to be turned the other way. After that it was fixed and functional in a matter of seconds.
    Post divorce dating with kids is like that. You expect that it’s going to go a certain way but you really don’t know until you’re trying it out. Sometimes you need to adjust your expectations to find something that works, think outside the preconceived box.
    If you expect that dating with kids will look anything like dating before having kids did you’re totally wrong. You just are. Kids change everything, I know you know that. So relationships are going to be totally different when you have kids and you don’t really know what that looks like until you’re doing it. I think it’s important not to let your perception of how something might go or not limit your possibilities. Like you said, the pond of potential date-able individuals is already quite a small one.

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  10. outoftheashesofmylife says:

    I am totally open to the idea of dating a man with children from a previous relationship- however…. I am NOT open to drama. So for me that means if you have children from more than one woman, you are out. If you describe your split, divorce, ex all in terms of totally their fault, and with obvious or even veiled hostility…. you are out.
    If you are constantly arguing with your ex… you are out.

    That is before we even get to the next ones….
    If you want me to meet them immediately to super quick…. you are also out. Because even though I know I’m great, you just met me and don’t. If you don’t protect your children better than that, how can I expect you to protect me?

    If you don’t expect the feels that come with these meets, and think everyone is going to be perfect friends right off the bat…. you’re out too.
    You get that it’s over with the ex…. but chances are, your kids are still holding on to some hope. They are going to see me as a major bummer. ( From experience )

    I could go on and on…. and perhaps that is a window into why I am still single? :) IDK, but I feel my own post coming on.

    Bottom line, I’m open to dads with kids….. but on MY terms.

    Like

  11. sethsownstar says:

    First, let me say that I really enjoy the way you write. I love a blogger who gives me the sense that their blog is written just like having a conversation with them would be transcribed.

    Second, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post. I don’t want children for my own medical and personal reasons. It is incredibly refreshing to have someone – especially someone with children – share an understanding and respectful opinion about dating people who don’t want kids. In general, I am made to feel like some kind of monster because I won’t date someone who has kids or who even wants them in the future but it seems irresponsible to me to even consider because I’m not going to have the patience to deal with your child or want them getting in the way of our plans. Your children should always come first and you need someone who can make space for that.

    Like

  12. chevygirl7 says:

    Okay so My fiancé reached out and spoke to another woman (no sexual contact) while I was pregnant. I was betrayed of coarse and lost complete trust. Over the year in therapy things have improved. We get along a lot better now my trust in him has def healed. But on the flip side… He feels resentment bc I have questioned him, snooped, and found out about what he did. It was a huge process and it took a lot of reassurance for me to build that trust back. Meanwhile it bothered him and resented me for not trusting him I suppose. On the flip side I’m the one who doesn’t need to feel the emotional connection to have sex I want sex whenever where ever I want fun different spontaneous. I initiate to cuddle or hold hands compliments I bring dinners to his work or lunch I always show my love to him along side of wanting him sexually but he is unavailable. I initiate sex and he declines with the same old excuses. I know he’s not cheating now but I have no idea why he isn’t available to connect with me. He says he feels pressured to have sex and he wants to focus on other things in our relationship and while I have and things are good I feel he’s exchanging me for a room mate I feel temptation to seek someone else to fill those voids and while I wont bc I’m faithful I think about it. I wish he knew that but I don’t think that’s exactly what I should say to him as it might piss him off. Actually No might , it will.
    I feel exactly the way you explain the guy feels in your blogs. I have no idea what to do to have him open up nothing works anymore. I know I could be in love with him again I just don’t feel that when I can’t connect with the person I have strong feelings for and supposedly he does for me in return. Confused. Please help.

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  13. Fantastic, you have covered everything. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I have often pondered this topic. Being a divorced parent, and yet too be 30 in 2 months time. Disney fairytales, belief in true love, happy ever after…. Hmmm. Online dating is a minefield. Most people are selfish naturally, I believe, more so now than historical years. Everyone can do everything by themselves. What’s the estimated statistic on people living alone in 2020? Google?

    Thanks again.

    Ps, problem solving.. How to overcome this “30 something divorcee with kids” label? Can’t? Try? join a course of interest, meet like minded souls. Maybe just maybe, they can love the kids. Or submit to getting a good overnight babysitter, and carry condoms… Conundrum

    Like

  14. Fantastic, you have covered everything. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I have often pondered this topic. Being a divorced parent, and yet to be 30 in 2 months time. Disney fairytales, belief in true love, happy ever after…. Hmmm. Online dating is a minefield. Most people are selfish naturally, I believe, more so now than historical years. Everyone can do everything by themselves. What’s the estimated statistic on people living alone in 2020? Google?

    Thanks again.

    Ps, problem solving.. How to overcome this “30 something divorcee with kids” label? Can’t? Try? join a course of interest, meet like minded souls. Maybe just maybe, they can love the kids. Or submit to getting a good overnight babysitter, and carry condoms… Conundrum

    Like

  15. Ijelly says:

    Man oh man, heterosexuality is hard. Sure, gay people have to deal with a fair amount of garbage thrown at us by the outside world, but, wow, our relationships are a heck of a lot easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ijelly says:

    Man oh man, heterosexuality is hard. Sure, gay people have to deal with a fair amount of garbage thrown at us by the outside world, but, wow, our relationships are a heck of a lot easier. Thank you, your posts have given me a lot more understanding of what my parents and siblings go through on a daily basis.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Jennifer says:

    “But in the context of the dating pool (of the non-cheap-sex variety)? I’m not better than the best men. But I like my chances of ranking in the top half, making me “better” than most men.”

    It’s not like all straight women want exactly the same thing and so all straight men can be lined up on one spectrum from best at that thing to worst at that thing.

    Whether you’re better than most men or not for dating purposes depends on who the potential date is and what her preferences are! Someone may want stepchildren, someone else may not want any children whether step or not. Someone may want a fellow native speaker of Spanish and/or English, someone else may want a French speaker regardless of fluency in any other language.

    Like

  18. Okay, so while I don’t agree with you on the cabbage comment (think Mu Shu anything…), I am completely with you on the online dating comment. I call it surrealistic, and the funny part is I don’t have anything to compare it to. I met my ex when I was 19, so dating wasn’t something I had done prior to that point, and was married to him until 3 years ago. The kids part of dating? That I completely relate to. One really nice guy who I clicked with just didn’t get that as a single mom whose son lives with her 90% of the time, I wasn’t available for spur of the moment get-togethers. Now that my son is 15, my time is a little more flexible, but I still make it clear that he comes first. Does it make me lonely sometimes? Yes. But not enough to make him feel he doesn’t matter to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I can love someone else’s kids easily! I could easily adopt, and yes, love them! It can be done, trust me! You should expect nothing less as they are part of you. They Love you, they love your kids! Period!

    Like

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