Modern family life comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.
Plenty of parents will tell you that at times getting along with your own kids is a challenge. But what about when it’s not even your child, it’s your partner’s.
Those feelings of unconditional love that might see mom’s and dad’s through difficult times don’t naturally exist in this case, making it so much trickier.
How do you bond with a child that’s not yours? And what do you do when you don’t like your partner’s children?
Don’t worry, real life is far from the Brady Bunch and it’s totally normal if you are struggling to accept a partner’s child.
You might be a little jealous that someone else is getting their time, or secretly wish they didn’t have a child.
This article will offer practical solutions for what you can do.
How to be in a relationship with someone who has a child: 6 tips to accept your partner’s kids
1) Don’t feel the need to rush anything
Deciding whether you want to date someone who already has kids from a previous relationship can instantly catapult you into thinking about a future that hasn’t even arrived yet.
Whilst it’s smart to consider the implications of being with someone with children, you may also end up jumping the gun.
If you haven’t met your partner’s child yet, you might already be worrying about it.
Everyone has a different idea about when it’s right to meet your partner’s child for the first time, but it’s never the best idea to rush into things.
Psychologist and author Rachel Brace says it’s better to take your time and wait until the relationship gets serious before arranging a meet up.
“Avoid the temptation to arrange a face-to-face meeting between your kids and partner too soon in your relationship. It is best to wait until you know that the relationship is serious, and you and your partner are committed. Most experts recommend waiting at least six – twelve months before organizing that first face-to-face meeting.”
Long before they become a fixture in your life, you may end up with more time than you think to get used to the idea of your boyfriend or girlfriend having children.
Both your partner and you get a say in when it feels like the best time. Even if your partner is ready for you to be introduced, if you are not, then that is ok.
Similarly, when you do meet your partner’s kids for the first time, it’s ok for it to feel awkward, it’s ok if you don’t have much to say, or if you feel like it didn’t go so well.
All connections take time to build, and you don’t need to feel a certain way overnight.
2) Talk honestly with your partner about how you feel
It might feel like a really delicate situation to discuss with your partner. After all, there’s not a lot they can do about having a child, it’s just how it is.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty you need to talk about.
For starters, so that you don’t end up dating a man with kids and feeling left out, you’re probably going to want to know that they have room in their life for dating and relationships.
As things progress you’re going to need to have an honest dialogue about what they expect your role or responsibilities to be.
If you have fears, you should share them with your partner.
When we keep concerns to ourselves, they have a habit of bubbling destructively away under the surface. But when you air them, not only do things not seem as bad but you can actively work to resolve any areas of conflict.
If you’re having difficulties accepting that your partner has a child, tell them. If you are struggling to get along with your partner’s child, have a conversation about it.
If it’s handled sensitively, you shouldn’t shy away from letting your partner know what’s going on in your head and exactly how you feel.
Even though it can be extremely challenging to raise these kinds of topics, just like everything in a relationship, strong communication is key.
3) Take the pressure off yourself
If you’ve been stressing out about things, it’s time to take a breath.
Knowing that your partner has children and worrying about whether you will be able to accept them is probably piling on the pressure.
You may be feeling obliged or nervous about what is expected of you. But don’t feel like you have to take on any responsibility that’s not your own. Especially not in the beginning.
No matter how much you love your other half or how much of a fixture you become in their life, you’re not going to be their child’s mom or dad.
Neither do you have to instantly love your partner’s child, that’s a really unrealistic expectation to place on yourself.
At the same time, your partner’s child might not immediately like or accept you either. So remember, it’s a challenging situation for all concerned.
Researcher Constance Ahrons, Ph.D conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce, and found that most children find their parent’s courtship behaviors confusing and strange.
Despite the stereotypes that exist about difficult teens, Ahron’s research also noted adolescents may be more accepting of you than younger children.
If you’ve already met your S.O’s kids and it didn’t go how you were hoping, you may even be questioning ‘Is it normal not to like your partner’s child?’.
The reality is that there is no normal. Every situation is completely different and you shouldn’t stress youself out if you feel like you’re not getting along right now.
Don’t forget that plenty of parents don’t always like their own kids at any given moment either. Children can test anyone’s patience.
Instead of aiming for genuine affection, settle for a more acheiavle goal of respect as you navigate the relationship.
Whilst it undoubtedly would make it easier to get on great with a partner’s kids, it’s certainly not essential to form a strong bond straight away.
Don’t put unfair demands on yourself, or allow your partner to do so either. You can take it every day at a time.
But try to see it as an opportunity. Look for the positives and realize that for many people, children can even bring an extra richness to the relationship.
4) Spend time getting to know your partner’s child
Before jumping to any conclusions, spend time getting to know your partner’s child without expectation.
Some of the effort you would naturally spend at the beginning of any relationship getting to know your bae must also be spent on this incredibly important person in their lives.
When the time is right, you might want to do things together with your partner and their child. A few fun activities can help you to bond in a more natural environment.
Even little things like watching a movie or taking the dog for a walk can help to normalise things and accept your partner’s child into everyday life.
Take time to get to know your partner’s child, what they like, what they dislike, and generally what makes them tick.
You can even ask your partner any specific questions you feel like you need to know.
5) Understand that it’s never going to be just the two of you
The reality is that whether you like it or not, your partner and their child come as a package deal.
Regardless of whether the child lives with your partner or other parent, as long as you two are together, they will always be a permanent feature in your life too.
As relationship expert Jessica O’Reilly, PhD points out, that’s going to look different for everyone.
“Dating someone with kids is going to look different for everyone because not every parent has the same relationship with their kids. One parent may see their kids every single day, while another person only sees them at holidays. One big question to ask early on is how big of a role that person plays in their kids’ lives.”
Acceptance is always about facing the facts as they are and not as you wish things were.
That means, no, you’re not always going to come first.
It is undoubtedly more complicated when someone you’re dating has other serious priorities in their life.
We all have competing things that take our attention and can get in the way of our relationships, whether it’s work, families, or even hobbies. But the biggest of all commitments is undoubtedly a child.
Accepting your partner’s child means accepting how this will change your relationship dynamic.
They may have less time to offer you, as they deal with their child’s needs. You might not be able to be as spontaneous in your relationship for the same reason. There will always be certain things out of your control. Having children with someone else means that an ex is likely to be in the picture as well.
Can you handle these compromises?
It’s important to work out what sacrifices you are willing to make and whether being with your partner is worth it. Because if it is, there is no way around it, certain adjustments will need to be made.
6) Make up rules that best suit your situation
We’ve all heard that sadly children don’t come with instruction manuals, well neither do modern families.
Ultimately, there are no set rules for dating a man with a child or a woman with a child. You’ve got to work out what’s best for you.
That’s going to depend on what stage in your relationship you are at, how strong feelings are between you and your partner, and the individual circumstances you’re facing.
It’s not selfish to consider your needs. Even though you will care about how your partner and their child feel about it all, you are still primarily responsible for you and you alone.
That means working out what you want and being honest with yourself. At the end of the day, you will need to accept your partner’s child, but you don’t have to bend over backward or accept things that are wrong for you.
It’s important to consider your boundaries, because as Psychologist, Dr. Daniel Tomasulo says, accepting your partner’s child does not mean that anything goes:
“The child or children will have to be given the utmost importance in the new relationship, but this does not mean that you dance to their tunes, buy them expensive gifts or focus only on getting into their good books.”
Whilst you’re figuring out the practicalities of what dating someone with kids will look like, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself.
It can quickly become a stressful situation. Which is all the more reason to keep plenty of time for yourself, your interests and hobbies.
To conclude: How to cope when your partner has a child?
You don’t have to accept your partner’s child, but it will mean giving up your partner if you can’t.
You don’t have to feel guilty if you find yourself breaking up because of his child.
If you’ve tried and it genuinely doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason, then know that plenty of people break up over far more trivial matters.
It certainly doesn’t make you a bad person if you decide that it’s not right for you to date someone who has kids.
It’s not about you being selfish, it’s more a question of taking self-responsibility and honestly assessing what is in your best interests.
If you do decide that the relationship is worth the effort to you, it might not be something that happens overnight, but given time, plenty of partners manage to create healthy and happy relationships with their other half’s children.
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