Dating … With Children

Camerin:  Sometimes the complicating issue in a dating relationship isn’t the absence of kids but the presence of them. Namely, kids from a previous marriage, or relationship, or rendezvous. It’s difficult enough with two people in a relationship, but when you add kids who’ve suffered a divorce or death of a parent, who may or may not be keen on their mom/dad dating you, who may get attached to you too quickly or fear attachment because you, too, might leave, things can get really complicated. That doesn’t even factor in the former spouse, who’s a permanent fixture in the lives of these kids and your date.

Years ago I had a tough conversation with a friend who was agonizing over her relationship with the man she was seriously dating. He had three kids from a previous marriage, all of them of junior-high-school age and younger. He had custody of them every other weekend, which meant if she married him, she would become an instant mom. While she loved this man dearly and was excited about the prospect of becoming his wife, she wasn’t sure if she was ready for the throes of motherhood at the age of twenty-five. She was seriously torn about how to proceed.

Another friend of mine, Joy, dated an older man off and on for many years before eventually marrying him when she was thirty-one. At the time, he had a college-age daughter who presented an interesting challenge for Joy. The daughter obviously didn’t need much hands-on parenting, which left Joy with the awkward task of figuring out how to factor in to the young woman’s life. And the ex-wife only made all of their lives miserable. For the first few years of their marriage, Joy and her new husband had to adjust not only to each other and to married life but also to these two other people spinning in and out of their orbit on a regular basis. On many occasions, Joy was quite open with me about just how challenging this was. Did she regret marrying in to this sometimes-sticky situation? No way. She loves her hubby and her new life dearly. But this extra cast of characters hasn’t exactly made this new chapter of her life smooth and easy.

They say when you marry someone you marry their entire family. While this is usually a warning to carefully check out your potential in-laws, in the case of kids and exes, this truism is especially crucial to consider. These people will be a part of your new life together, for better or for worse. Going in eyes wide open will at least spare you the surprise of these complications. While it’s always important to remember that dating involves people’s hearts and to make all communication, actions, and decisions accordingly, with the case of children, it’s our responsibility as the adults to remember that these are young, tender, and often bruised hearts we’re dealing with. Their health needs to be one of the most important considerations.

I found it interesting, and quite telling, that when I asked the readers of my singles column who have children or have dated someone with children about guidelines for dating with kids in the mix, I received answers all over the map. I heard from a mom of four who’s waiting until her kids are out of the house to date again, and from another single mom who wants her daughter to see her in a healthy romantic relationship so she can model what one looks like. I heard from a woman who still has a relationship with an ex-boyfriend’s four-year-old son, and others who regret getting so attached to the children now that the relationship’s over.

All to say there are no formulas here. As with many things in the single life, I think it’s important to know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses and take those into consideration when creating any boundaries. And it’s obviously crucial to be in close relationship with God, who knows us, our dates, any children in the mix, to know how best to proceed in any romantic relationship. In these instances we’re reminded of how much we need God, and how blessed we are to be able to lean on his all-knowing, all-wise, higher ways.

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Camerin Courtney is managing editor of
Today's Christian Woman magazine, author of Table for One, and a columnist for

Todd Hertz is an associate editor for
Ignite Your Faith Magazine, formerly Campus Life.  He's a frequent contributor to and