Dating someone who has children from a previous marriage can bring unique challenges. Discuss with your partner the role you will be playing with her children. Befriend the children and include them in some of your dating activities. Set boundaries for yourself and your partner so you can nurture your relationship. Establish new traditions within the family while respecting their old ones. And remember that you are in a relationship with a partner and her children.
What is my Role?
Be friends with her kids until, with time, you can evolve your role into more of a parenting role, if you have both agreed to it. Traditionally, couples fully establish a relationship before bringing children into it; however, if you desire a long-term relationship where children already exist, they should be included as part of your relationship early on. According to the American Psychological Association, in its article "Making Stepfamilies Work," your relationship with your partner's children should at first be friendly rather than disciplinarian. Your girlfriend should remain primarily responsible for discipline and setting rules until her children have developed a bond with you.
Help create memories that include you by developing new routines or traditions, but be patient in understanding that it takes time to build a healthy relationship. The National Association of School Psychologists reiterates the importance of creating a good relationship between step-parent and children, but it cautions that this may take time and won't necessarily happen instantly. Have realistic expectations and know that you may be faced with some animosity initially as many children feel threatened by the attention their mother is giving to a partner who is not their parent.
Nurture Your Relationship
Make time for the two of you and communicate well so that you both feel heard, respected and loved. If all of your focus is on pleasing the children, then your relationship will struggle. In a 2011 article, "Who Comes First, the Kids or the Marriage?" for "Psychology Today," social workers warn that making the needs of your relationship subordinate to the needs of children will cause erosion of your own happiness and the happiness of your partner. Your relationship is a work in progress and it needs to be nurtured.
Be Honest With Yourself
Be conscious of your own needs along with those of your partner and her children. Your primary focus will be on your partnership, but for it to thrive, you need to treat the children as part of the package. Be honest with yourself and your partner and determine if this is the approach you want to take. Children suffer when someone shows up, invests into their life for a short period of time, and then leaves. Decide if you want to pursue a long-term relationship with a person who has children from a previous marriage and, once committed, engage in activities that nurture your relationship and the health of the entire family unit.
Cate O'Reilly, who holds a Masters degree in social work, has worked with HIV widows and orphans in Zambia, chronically ill children in Ireland and maternal/child health in America. She has contributed to newsletters, developed protocol manuals and curriculum for education and public health forums.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images