You try to act nonplussed, but a hundred thoughts swirl through your head: Did she used to be married? How old is this kid? When do I have to (or get to) meet him? Am I really old enough to date people who have kids? Do I even want kids? And what implications does this have for our U-haul, camping excursions, and mornings at the farmers' market??
- The kid is number one. Period. And isn't this the way it should be? It may occasionally suck to be one-upped by an eight-year-old, but face it; the kid was in her life before you were, and always will be in her life, no matter what happens with your relationship. This means you will have to deal with planning around recitals and soccer practice.
- She's likely shopping for a co-parent, not just a partner. Unless she's made it explicit that this is not the case, it's safe to say that child-rearing potential ranks high on her list of qualities for an ideal mate. The younger the kid is, the more true this is likely to be.
- If you're not ready to be a parent now, it's (probably) okay. You've got plenty of time to get used to her, to get to know the kid, and to grow into the idea (or not). Heck, you may fall in love with the kid (in a parental way, not a Woody Allen way) and decide that the whole family package is perfect for you. On the other hand...
- If you know that you never want to be a parent, be honest. If you know that kids aren't in your future, don't string her along. She may say that she's looking for a partner, not a co-parent, but regardless of the kid's age, your future DGF's motherhood will be a big factor in your relationship.
- Accept her relationship with an ex who's a co-parent. lt can be hard to accept that our partners used to be in love with other people--and this is underscored if procreation, adoption, and/or child-rearing were involved. Your new love may need to talk to a former love frequently about the kid. Maybe they're friends; maybe not. Either way, your role is to support her, not mediate or badmouth.
- Let her call the shots. She knows her kid best--let her decide when you're going to be introduced, and whether it's as "Mommy's friend" or "Mommy's girlfriend." Offer, but don't push.
- Provide support, not advice. You don't get to tell someone else how to discipline, deal with, or talk to, their kid. Unless she asks for advice--actually, even if she asks for advice--don't tell her what to do. This applies even if you've spent a bunch of time around kids (and even if you have your own). No one wants unsolicited parenting advice.
- She doesn't expect you to be an expert, but she does expect you to try learning. If you don't know how to warm up a bottle, pack a school lunch, or braid hair, that's okay! Your open heart and willingness to learn will mean everything to her.
Of course, not everyone hesitates at the prospect of dating a woman with kids. A dear friend of mine was intrigued when she learned that the object of her budding affections (who is now her wife, also a dear friend) had a kid. Now the three of them are one of the most solid families I've ever known, and I know that none of them can imagine life without the other two. So what's the moral for single moms? There are two:
(1) Don't assume that being a mom will work against you in the dating world;
(2) Remember that you deserve to have someone who loves you in part for being a mom, not despite it.
So, dear readers: Have you ever dated a woman with kids? What obstacles did you face? How about my readers who are (current or former) single moms? What advice do you have for BW readers?