You're getting ready for your big date that you’ve been planning for days. It was super sweet of him to invite you to a play that you mentioned in passing. The phone rings. And it’s him canceling your date. Again. This time it’s because his son is begging him to stay home and help him put together his new train set. You’re bummed, of course. But more than anything, you’re confused about your role in his life. How do you realistically date a guy who puts his relationship with his kids before his relationship with you?
You Get the Silver Medal
Even if his kids are miniature hoodlums, accept the fact that he will never compromise his relationship with his kids for you. You can see this by the way he continues to be involved in their lives. This may also be evident by the fact that he may even continue to live in the same neighborhood as his children, according to research reported in an article by John Defrain and Rod Eirick in Family Relations. The truth is, you may always feel like you’re in second place. Admittedly, this can be a tough pill for you to swallow. But dating this kind of man is not all bitter, especially after you understand his perspective a bit more.
The Underlying Fuel
The most important point to understand is that he probably feels guilty. All the time. Parents constantly feel guilty about how they’re raising their children. But in his case, he likely feels guilty about not being with his children’s mother. Not providing them with the “perfect family” that he probably thought he was going to have for them when they were born. It doesn’t matter if he hates his ex. Or even if the breakup was completely out of his control. He still feels guilty. So when his kids cry when he leaves and ask him to read one more bedtime story that turns into ten stories, try your best to not get too angry. He’s in a tough position and is likely experiencing “parental role strain,” according to the article “Divorced Fathers: Parental Role Strain and Psychological Distress” in the Journal of Family Issues.
Integrate, Don’t Alienate
Try to slowly become a part of his daily daddy routine. For example, if he always goes out on a date with his daughter on Saturday mornings, suggest fun things for him to do with her. Buy him a book of questions he can go over with his daughter. Play a supportive role, and over time he will likely invite you into his world with her. If you sulk at being an outsider in his relationships with his kids, then he will feel like you are trying to make him choose between them or you. And he’s already told you how that story will end. He will choose them.
Broach Conversations With Care
What if you feel completely neglected because of his relationship with his kids? Try not to target his kids directly or use harsh words to express yourself. Instead, say things like, “I felt lonely when you were not with me,” or “I really missed you yesterday.” He will likely respond with care and concern and will try to make things up to you.
Nina Edwards holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and has been writing about families and relationships since 2000. She has numerous publications in scholarly journals and often writes for relationship websites as well. Edwards is a university lecturer and practicing psychologist in New York City.
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