My boyfriend puts his child before me

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You meet a man, get to know him more, and find out that he checks all your boxes. Naturally, you start thinking of dating him.

As the conversation goes on, he tells you that he has a kid which…wasn’t one of your boxes.

However you react, you’re not sure how you feel about the situation yet because you haven’t processed what it would mean to date a man with kids. In your head, it shouldn’t be that hard, right?

Despite all the uncertainty, you’ve already fallen head over heels for him and you’re sweeping all your doubts under the rug.

Fast forward to now, when you’re already way too involved and most likely in a relationship with him. Slowly, you’re noticing that he’s been putting his child before you in both big and small ways.

It’s going to be difficult but getting through a situation like this isn’t impossible — with some compromise from all parties, that is.

You don’t have to leave the relationship just because it starts to feel more and more like you’re an outsider failing to join someone else’s family.

In this article, we’ll tell you how to cope with your boyfriend putting their child before you.

New to this? What to expect if you’re dating a man with kids

1) He’ll spend a lot of time attending to his kids

He’s a dad, what did you expect? He’s one of their primary caregivers and they’re dependent on him — physically, emotionally, and financially.

You might think that it won’t pose a problem, especially since they might live in a neighborhood or a city away. You’re thinking you can adjust a bit without attention now and then.

The thing is that this situation isn’t something you’re going to be dealing with just at the start of the relationship. His kids are going to be there forever. If you plan on taking things to a more serious level, that means they’ll be in your life forever, too.

2) Many things in your relationship will be out of your control

He may be your boyfriend, but he’s a dad first.

Spontaneous getaways are out of the question because he brings the kids to school to and fro. Even already scheduled dates may get canceled because one of the kids got food poisoning and someone has to stay at home to take care of them.

These things are uncontrollable and can be a turn-off if you enjoy a more unplanned, go-with-the-flow lifestyle.

3) He’ll be at a more serious pace

Men with kids are (hopefully) more mature than men without them.

If you’re planning to date and commit to a man with kids, remember that he’s likely also looking for a potential stepmom for his children.

4) The kids might not warm up to you at first

More than just a stranger entering their lives, they’ll also see you as a person who’s trying to replace their mom.

Given stepmoms’ track records in kids’ movies (looking at you, Cinderella, and Enchanted), they might not be too happy about the idea. They’re also trying to be loyal to their mom.

5) The mom will always be in the picture

As long as the kids are there, then so will she.

She’ll come up in conversation often and you might even have to interact with her in the future if you’ll be taking the relationship seriously. If you have any jealous or insecure tendencies, this would be the true test for them.

Now that you know the tip of the iceberg of what to expect when dating a man with kids, here’s how you can deal with the situation as his girlfriend.

Never make him choose between you or them, but remember your needs too

The child was there first

Never make your boyfriend choose between you or them because the child was there first.

His child is naturally going to be his first priority because they’re a permanent part of his life. They’re dependent on him; when it comes to their wellbeing, their needs have to come first.

You have to understand that it’s normal for parents to have to put their kids first before anything else, even when they’re in a romantic relationship with someone new.

You can develop a balanced dynamic later on, but you’re the one who’s entering an already-existing family unit. There will definitely have to be some compromise on your end for the relationship to work.

By “relationship”, you also have to understand that it’s not just your boyfriend that you’re in a relationship with. By dating a man with kids, you’re in a relationship with the whole family.

That means that an equal amount of work has to be put into building that relationship dynamic with the kids involved, if not more.

That being said, don’t try to compete with the child. You’re an independent adult and they’re a child who’s dependent on their father.

In his mind, the two of you aren’t in the same category. You’re not supposed to be competing with the child for his attention because his relationship with you is completely separate from his relationship with his kids.

There has to be a healthy balance

Your boyfriend will have to balance both of those relationships because he chose to date you. That means he made that decision knowing that he’d have to take responsibility for both.

It’s time to face it: you won’t be his number one priority.

Like we said, his kids come first because his family literally came first before you; it’s not that he doesn’t love you, it’s just that you didn’t exist in his world before you dated (unlike his family, which did). He has a commitment to them first and foremost.

If your relationship is going well, then you’ll be the second priority — which isn’t too bad either.

The second priority is what’s on his headspace right after his kids. It’s a space for people he trusts and loves enough to think about after his kids, so being there doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough to be first; it means he loves you enough to place you second.

On the other hand, putting only his kids’ happiness over your needs can be harmful too if it teaches the kids that that’s what a romantic relationship is. Laura Berman, Ph.D., says that when kids see a strong relationship between their parents, it gives them a sense of security and shows them what a loving companionship should be like.

Maybe he can set dates that aren’t at his house or choose to spend a child-free weekend with you (given that he got a babysitter, of course) — anything to show the kids that being in a romantic relationship means setting aside time to develop it.

If the kids see that you make each other happy and he gives you what you need too, it’ll give them good role models to look back on in the future when they’re in a similar position.

Of course, apart from being good for the kids, these moments balance out all the compromises you two have been making for your relationship. Take this time together to spend quality time with each other (and hopefully, veer away from talking about the kids for a while).

Remember to keep true to who you are and why you’re there. If your dynamic with the kids challenges that, take time to communicate your concerns to your partner.

Make it clear that while you’re willing to compromise on certain things to fit his single-parent lifestyle, you also shouldn’t feel the need to completely transform your identity to fit yourself into their lives.

Are you giving up being a partygoer for being a babysitter? Do you still enjoy spontaneity but repress that for the sake of adjusting to your boyfriend’s parenting schedule?

Compromise is healthy (and in this case, necessary) but make sure you’re still respected as an individual.

Be a part of his support system

See things from his perspective

Choosing to date a single parent takes commitment on your end — commitment and a whole lot of understanding.

Part of that decision means being patient and considerate with your boyfriend because while he chose to date someone despite his having kids, you chose that too.

For example, if you’re about to get into an argument because you feel that he’s not paying attention to you on dates, see if he’s having problems with his kids or his ex-wife. If you’re upset that you keep picking up the check on dates, see if his kids needed any extra expenses this month.

It doesn’t hurt to see both sides of an argument, and in this case, your relationship might require a lot of it since you live different lives (especially if you don’t have kids).

Remember that although things might get stressful for you, he could also be strained from all his efforts to balance his relationship with you and his relationship with his kids.

Find a way to support his dad routine

If you want to involve yourself further in this aspect of his life, you can start by figuring out how to support his dad duties so that you can integrate yourself into their lives in a constructive way.

Maybe instead of canceling your date completely since he has to pick up his kids from school, you could come with him so that you can spend time with each other on the road. You could also go on an errand date with him when he needs to do groceries for the house.

Show him that he doesn’t need to give up spending time with his kids for you and vice versa. It’s all about finding a balance between spending time on your relationship and keeping the kids in mind.

Remember that, like in any relationship, you’re there to support each other. Be a part of his support system and find ways to spend together, even in little ways.

Make the transition easier for everyone

If you’re really committed to making your relationship with your boyfriend work, you’ll also have to consider your relationship with his kids.

Always consider their experience. It’s not just that your boyfriend is balancing you and his kids; it’s also his kids’ meeting and interacting with their dad’s new partner.

A good practice here is to introduce or encourage new dynamics to make the transition smoother for everyone.

For example, make sure that the kids are prioritized even in small things.

Let’s say you’re going to dinner with him and his child. The best thing to do is to arrive there on your own, meeting the two of them together (as opposed to the two of you going together and having the child feel like an intruder).

It encourages the notion that he and his child are still a team and you aren’t replacing them in their dynamic.

Another example is making sure that you aren’t introduced to them as “a friend” first and then revealing later on that you’re actually dating their father.

It’ll make the kids feel like they were lied to or blindsided and they can have issues with trusting either of you from then on.

Let the kids initiate with you and take your cues from them. They’ll let you know somehow when they’re more comfortable with you, and it appears less intrusive than you forcing a relationship onto them.

Build a separate relationship with his child(ren)

Don’t rush or force the relationship

With kids, they have to be the ones to take the lead, especially if you’re their dad’s girlfriend who’s looking to join their family.

Deciding when you meet the kids is an important decision to make with several factors involved: the current emotional state of the kids, the seriousness of your relationship, etc.

It’s not a decision that can be made lightly, so take your time with it.

Have an honest conversation with them when you do meet them

Kids are more intuitive than they’re given credit for. They’ll appreciate an open and honest talk with you about any concerns that they have.

On your end, clarify some things from the get-go. Tell them that you’re not planning to hurt their dad because they might see you as a threat to their dad’s feelings.

You can also clarify that you’re not there to replace their mom. If they think otherwise, they could be distrustful of you. What you want is to gain their trust.

Make sure they’re comfortable talking to you — but don’t overdo it

Find ways to gain their trust. The more they trust you, the more comfortable they’ll be about talking to you.

It could be things as simple as them telling you about their day to something more serious like them opening up to you about concerns they have with the rest of the family.

Either way, you’ll want to make sure they trust you so that they can trust you with the more serious conversations, too.

Talk to them like grown-ups

Don’t be patronizing. Talk to them like they’re grown and your relationship with them will be better off for it.

Kids can tell when they’re being condescended to and it can make them feel even more out of place in a grown-up world. Don’t contribute to that and treat them with the maturity they’ll aspire to measure up to.

Pay attention to what they’re saying

It’s one thing to talk to them, and it’s another one to pay attention to what’s being said.

If they’re telling you about their favorite show and you don’t remember what it was the second time you talk about it, they can tell that you weren’t paying attention to the conversation.

Stay interested in the conversation and show that by listening to them attentively.

Spend time with them without your boyfriend

Choosing to spend time with your boyfriend’s children shows commitment and that you’re interested in them as individuals outside of the “child-of-your-boyfriend” dynamic that you initially have with them.

When you’re with them, do things that they enjoy. Maybe you can do one of their favorite hobbies together or you can take them out somewhere they’ve been wanting to go.

Make this time with them meaningful, as if you’re trying to develop a relationship with a friend as opposed to treating the kid like an unfortunate add-on.

Give them space

Most importantly, know when to stop smothering them. If they don’t feel like talking to you right now, give them space.

Let them take the lead for your relationship and give them the choice to step away from it for a while.

What if he doesn’t want you to meet his kids but you want to meet them already?

If it’s important to you that you meet his child and he doesn’t want you to meet them, it can feel like he’s putting his child before you and not even considering your side of things.

He may want to be sure that you’ll be around for a long time first before introducing you to his kids so that they don’t form a strong but temporary attachment to anyone.

Don’t take this personally or as a sign that he doesn’t want to commit to you; he’s just doing what he thinks is best for his kids.

They’ll need a transition into meeting their dad’s new partner (especially when their mother is still in the picture). Because of this, you might be integrated into the dynamic slowly, maybe at a pace you think is too slow.

Try to understand that this is a process that the two of you can’t rush because it involves the kids; things like this need to be handled carefully and with proper thought behind it.

What if his child doesn’t like you?

It’s one thing to have to attend to a child’s immediate needs over yours. It’s another thing to have that child throw a fit just to sabotage a date with your boyfriend out of spite.

Your boyfriend chose you; they didn’t.

If this happens, try not to take it too personally either. They might just be having trouble adjusting to the fact that their dad is with someone who isn’t their mom, especially if the mother is still around.

If the child purposefully goes out of their way to make things harder for you and your relationship, consider talking to your boyfriend and asking them to communicate better with their child about the situation.

Instead of giving him an ultimatum, figure out a way to support that conversation that they need to have.

Child wellbeing should always come first, but things after that (such as whims of the child) must be compromised on.

What if you don’t like his child?

First things first, identify what it is that you dislike about the child and see if anything is solvable there.

Do you not like that they don’t have basic manners? Maybe they can be taught.

Do you not appreciate that they talk back to you? Have open communication with them to see why they’re acting out.

Stay open-minded. They may just be acting out because of the circumstances and things might get better after some time.

Another thing is to try to find some common ground to bond over. Maybe you just haven’t explored each other enough and you might find something that you could like the child for.

Think of it as trying to get to know a friend who struck you as off the first time you met, but now you have to get along. What would you try talking about to soften each other’s edges?

Give them space, too. Not only does this allow for their self-reflection, but it also gives you some time away from them. If you’ve been exposed to them for a long time, maybe it’s just a matter of you taking a break for a bit to go into a space that they’re not in.

Throughout everything, be empathetic about their situation. Maybe there’s an angle you’re missing that could help you understand the child more. Are they being mean because they feel like you’re intruding into their lives? Do they edge you out because they’re upset about having to share their dad with you?

If it reaches the point that there’s really nothing to be done and you’ve decided that you truly can’t get along with the child no matter what you do, it’s time to seriously reconsider your relationship with your boyfriend.

Their child is going to be there forever. If that’s not something you can accept, maybe it’s your deal-breaker.

Stay objective and secure in your relationship

As an adult, all of this compromise should be something that you can communicate about.

You could be together for all of one month or you’ve been in this relationship for two years and are still feeling like your boyfriend puts his kids before you too much. Either way, you both need to put effort into making sure your attachment styles to each other are secure for the relationship to work.

If it’s not, it could spell jealousy, insecurity, and resentment for you in the future.

Secure attachment means having no problem with being independent of each other while maintaining a deep connection. The other three attachment styles (anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant) can be more maladaptive but is something that can be improved.

If your attachment to each other is secure, co-existing with his kids would be easier.

If it’s not and is one of the other three, it might need more work.

For example, having an anxious-preoccupied attachment style would mean a bigger likelihood of jealousy and irrational belief since this style is associated with emotional hunger and a desire to cling to partners for security.

People with this attachment style, in particular, might experience some neediness and dependence on their partners, which could prove to be bad for the relationship since the other person needs to balance the dependence of their children and their anxious-preoccupied partner.

You aren’t there to be another person he has to constantly look after. You’re there to support him as his equal when it comes to responsibility and maturity.

If you’ve got one of the other three attachment styles, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed for relationships. It means that, especially in this case, there has to be open communication about boundaries and aspects of life to improve on.

You may also have issues with jealousy towards the mother of the child. In this situation, it’s most important to remain secure and mature in your relationship.

If the children are in the picture, the ex-wife is also in the picture. She’s always going to be there; it’s just a matter of knowing how to manage these feelings of jealousy.

Focus on constructively building your relationship with your boyfriend instead of reactively edging people out of it.

When dealing with feelings of clinginess or neediness, don’t deny that they’re there but also don’t act on them.

Talk to your partner to help identify these clingy behaviors, learn to trust each other, and work on establishing healthy boundaries.

Enjoy your own time outside of the relationship; there’s more out there that can bring you joy.

Don’t neglect or sacrifice your relationship with your boyfriend

All things considered, talk to your boyfriend about setting healthy boundaries in terms of hard rules for the relationship. If you feel like your boyfriend is always putting his child before you, negotiate for your time together and talk about prioritizing that, too.

At the end of the day, you’re dating him to build a romantic relationship with him. Make sure you regularly check in on your connection to each other and frequently touch base with each other about where your relationship is (and where it’s going).

Do you still feel that spark that got you here in the first place?

Do you still share meaningful conversations, laugh together, or feel free with each other?

Make sure your relationship is covered because, after all, this is what you’re here for. You’re here for that romantic companionship and the commitment that comes along with it.

You started dating because of the connection you two have. Don’t let that get buried underneath all of the complications.

What if, after everything, he doesn’t put enough effort into the relationship?

First of all, make sure that you’ve tried bringing your concerns up to your boyfriend first. He can’t do anything about it if he doesn’t know about it at all.

If he still doesn’t put in enough effort into making the relationship work after you’ve told him, maybe it’s time to reconsider being in the relationship at all.

You can only compromise for so long.

If he can’t put in the effort, it doesn’t automatically mean that he doesn’t love you or doesn’t want to make things work. He could just be unable to handle it right now on top of his responsibilities as a dad. Either way, even if his intentions are good, he can’t follow through on his commitment to you.

You’re not a bad person for saying that enough is enough and that you can’t handle it either.

If you decide to give it another shot, make it clear that something has to change in your dynamic. No different outcome can be expected if no changes were made.

If you think it’s time to call it quits, call it quits; it’s not your fault, and you can surely end the relationship that you put in all the effort that you could.

In the end, just show him that he doesn’t have to choose

All in all, just show him that you won’t make him choose between you or his child until it’s absolutely unavoidable and not a good space for you to be in anymore.

He can have both and you can have him (and his kids); it’ll take some adjustment for both of you, but keep in mind that you chose this man for a reason — and he chose you, too.

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If you want specific advice on your situation, it can be very helpful to speak to a relationship coach.

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