Single moms dating single dads, are you prepared?

 

I can’t count the number of times a single mom has declared that it is easier to date a single dad than it is to date a single man especially if you are looking for a long term commitment. I always wondered is it really? Sure it’s easier to hit it off, understand each other and bond over kid-talk but when the warm fuzzy feelings die down and you now have to focus on partnering to raise a blended family is it still easy? Well I don’t think so and here is why. There are far too many issues that get overlooked and yet need to be carefully considered before taking the plunge whether you are a single mom or a single dad. If you deal with these early enough then you will be in a much better position than letting the issues creep up on you unexpectedly and creating fertile ground for serious conflict in your family. What exactly do then look out for and need to know well in advance before you take the big plunge?

 

 

It’s a complex family

Think about it, two parents, two sets of children who now have to accept and adjust to new siblings, two exes to deal with, two extended families or four if we count your exes family has close tie with the children, four homes that the children will be shuffling to and from, and that is just on the relationships side. Add on to that schools and church, visitation schedules for the other parents and finances. It’s a lot to handle not just for the couple but for their children as well. This complex dynamic needs to be addressed by the couple because it will definitely not be a seamless fit. Ask yourself the following questions;

  • What is the current custody agreement and how will you manage as a couple in future?
  • How old your children? This is important because it will alter the order of birth in your new family and the children will have a hard time adjusting. For example a child who was first born child when with the mother is now a middle child because moms new partner has an older child.
  • How are the exes involved with the children? Are they active or passive?
  • How will you handle your respective exes?
  • Where are you going to live?
  • Which schools will the children attend?
  • Child support? Who is getting it or paying for it, how much? how frequent? What does it cover?

Make sure you are the right fit

Take time to observe the relationship between you and your partner as well as between your children and his. It has to be more than just love if you want a successful long term relationship.  Ask yourself

  • Are you the right fit?
  • Do your children get along and are they OK with having new step siblings?
  • Are you  willing to share responsibility over all the children not just your own?
  • Do you intend to have children with your new partner?

Get involved at the right time

All children regardless of their age love their parents and dream of them being together again one day. Introducing someone new to them kills that dream and so it is important that your new partner gets involved at the right time. Introduce them gradually so that your children can get used to the idea of them. Get to know them better and form their own relationship at a slow pace. This also gives you time to have private chats with your children and find out what they think about the person and address any fears or concerns they might have about your new partner.

The older the children the harder and longer it will take for them to adjust

Set new boundaries

You have been raising your children now for ‘x’ number of years now. You have your own style and know whats best for them, what works and what doesn’t. All this changes when you have a new partner who is now a new parent to your children too. You will have to trust him to do right by your children and yet he has been raising his children in his own style with completely different set of boundaries. You will therefore need a new approach to parenting that is inclusive of both of you. A new set of boundaries for you and the children to live by. The boundaries are not just with regards to the children but also apply to your exes, communication with them and visitation for the children, extended family involvement, basically on every matter. You will need to operate a team and the only way to do that is by playing by the same rules. Make time to come up with your new family rules.

Couple time

Your blended family will only be as strong as your couple’s relationship. Its easy for couple time to be sucked up by parenting duties. Too much time spent on making sure the home is running smoothly and that there is peace and harmony among all involved. You will need to be very deliberate about setting time apart to spend with each other as a couple, away from the children. This keeps your friendship and bond strong. The stronger your relationship the more capable you are of positively driving your family onto the path of love and happiness.

Parenting Styles

This is a biggie. You need to look out for signs that that your parenting styles do not conflict. Does how you approach your own children work well on his children and vice versa. Who is the strict disciplinarian and who is the liberal? Once you have these details then sit down and discuss on what the best approach will be for all the children.

Are you single mom dating a single dad? what was your experience like and what lessons have you learnt from it? I would love to hear about it. Drop your comment below

 

 

 

 

Dating a single dad? Here’s what you need to know

At 25 years of age I met the man who I would later call my husband. Of course I had no idea back then, it was not love at first sight  or anything like that. Well at least not for me. Before we even became an item he was very open with me about being a father. Something that I never gave much thought to at the time but which would later play a very big role in our relationship. I thought it would be a relationship like any other but experience revealed that the dynamic was quite different. I grappled with ego issues, jealousy associated with the ex, feeling like I was not his number one priority; the list of emotional challenges is endless. These are all challenges that we had to work out as and when they came up which was not easy. I wish someone had given me a heads up on what to expect, then maybe I would have spent less time trying to fit the relationship into the traditional relationship mould where there are no kids involved, and more time into understanding my particular situation and making the best out of it. In a bid to pay it forward I have summed up some of my crucial lessons and what you need to know  and expect if you are a single woman dating a single dad.

Loyalty is to his children first

Be prepared to hear a lot about the kids when you spend time together, after all he is a proud single dad. I know it doesn’t make for good conversation when you are out on that date. He may have to cancel a few dates, postpone some plans due to some conflict with the children’s events or unforeseen circumstances like the illness of child; all of which may hurt or frustrate you but remember, THAT IS A GOOD THING. It means you’re not dating a deadbeat dad. It says that he has his priorities straight and he will not compromise on his role as a father regardless of what happened between him and the mother of his children. Give him some time, be supportive and patient and eventually he will get to the point where its it is about you and him.

On the flip side should you meet a single dad who drops everything, alters his plans with the children for you then that is a serious red flag for your relationship.

Respect his children and the relationship he has with them

You have to respect them before and after you meet them. Your actions towards his parenting responsibilities will tell him if you respect his relationship with his children and his responsibility over them. Say you had planned this romantic getaway to spend some quality time together, God knows you need it right? After all, you never really get to spend quality, uninterrupted time with him. Flights booked, hotel booked, itinerary is all set and then at the last minute he has to cancel. For some reason baby mama who was supposed to have the kids this weekend is suddenly not able to and needs him to step in. That’s enough to make any woman flip. Taking it out on him doesn’t help you nor the relationship. If he feels attacked of course he will back off, have reservations about making plans with you in advance, may be even end things. Instead try and take a more supportive approach, express your disappointed but willingness to try. By doing so you are indirectly encouraging his parenting and he sees that you understand his situation.

There is no escaping the EX

Unless of course he is a widower there is definitely an ex somewhere. Whether you have met her or not, know about her or not; know that she exists and there is no way you can ignore her presence and influence. If you still think this is not an issue for you wait until you get a little closer to the kids. Its not uncommon for some mothers to be completely out of touch with their children, hardly seeing or speaking with them or being in any way involved in their lives only for them to come out of the woodwork when they hear their kids are getting close to daddy’s new mate.

Avoid trying to be a replacement mother or trying to make everyone get along. If you did not break it, you have no reason or right to fix it. Understand and support the fact that due to co-parenting responsibilities your man will be in contact with his ex every now and then especially if she plays an active role in their lives. Its not easy being with someone who’s past is in your present, who has shared so many of his big firsts with somebody else who is now permanently in the picture. You will have to be honest about how you feel and deal with the challenging emotions as they come along with your partner. Knowing when you have genuine concerns or are just being driven by emotions and feelings.

Expect a different dynamic

A lot of the expectations you will have will be based on your experience dating men who had no kids. Some of the dynamics will definitely be different. For example you may find yourself dating in secret for a while simply because he doesn’t want to introduce someone he not sure about to his children. He doesn’t need his children to be emotionally attached to you and then have to explain things when you break up. I dated my husband for a little over a year before I met his kids. Something which I didn’t understand then and made me question his love for me because of it but which I now fully understand and appreciate as a wise decision on his part.  A dad with physical custody of the kids means he has less availability than one who has visitation so be prepared to share his time. Just roll with the punches. Experience has taught me that when it comes to children so many unpredictable things can happen that will throw out your ‘plans’

Decide if this is for you

Single dads come as a package. You cannot have the man without the children. If you say yes to the man you are ultimately saying yes to the children and all the responsibility that comes with that decision. Think about it in advance and decide whether you can do it or not.

 

 

 

From Single to Married with Kids… Understanding your not so enthusiastic stepchildren

Children are at the very center of any new blended family. They tend to get forgotten because the couple is so in love, optimistic and ready to start the new life with their new partner. It’s important to always remember that all step-families are born out of loss. The new couple lost a husband/wife and the children have lost either mom and dad through separation, divorce or death. It is difficult for the children to deal especially since all children have an innate need to have their parents together regardless of their age. The truth is children are usually many steps behind when it comes to dealing with the loss of one or both parents and therefore it takes a lot of time to adjust to having a new parent; the step-mom or step-dad in their life.

Not all children adjust at the same time. It’s not surprising to find that one child warms up to the step-parent faster than his/her siblings. Other factors that affect this period of adjustment and new family formation include the ages, stages and sex of the children. Its key to always remember that all children need loving and trusting relationships and it is up to biological parents to reassure them of this through words but most importantly through their actions as well.

Here are some things to expect with regards to gender and different ages of the children. This will help you understand your child and their behavior toward the stepparent enabling both of you to respond and react in a manner that will foster good relationships for everyone.

What to expect by gender:

Girls will often be uncomfortable with physical displays of affection from a stepfather. Therefore do not take offence as a stepparent. It’s not a rejection of you as a person. As the mother do not push your child to hug or make other physical gestures that they are uncomfortable with. With time they may come around to doing it but it’s also possible that they never do. Do not take it personally.

Both girls and boys prefer verbal affection such as compliments to physical affection like hugs and kisses. Try and stick to this. The children will generally guide you so go with their pace for example, if you try to hug them and they pull away, then that’s a sign that you are not there yet so avoid it. If you tell them “I love you” and they are silent again know that your relationship with them has not got to that level yet. When they are comfortable with it they will let you know, through their actions.

Boys also tend to accept a stepfather more easily than girls do.

What to expect by age

Children Under 10:

At this age children are usually very open and tend to be more accepting of new adults. Usually easier to for a stepparent to form a relationship with. They may also adjust more easily to the new family setting because they usually have a strong desire for a complete family. At the same time they are prone to competing for their parents love, affection and attention. As a step parent you need to allow your partner spend time alone with his/her kids in order for them to get this. This works to your advantage since the children slowly stop viewing you as the threat, the person who is stealing mummy or daddy.

Being younger of course means that the have more every day needs and therefore will require attention of the biological parent.

Kids between 10 and 14 years:

Children in this age group have the most difficulty adjusting to step-family. This is because they already have a strong relationship with their biological parents. They also had a great deal of family history before the parents split. This means that they require more time to get over the loss and additional time to bond before they can start accepting step-parent and getting in line with the new family norms. They also take longer to adjust to the stepparent being a disciplinarian so slow down on this one, let their mum and dad take the lead on this.

At this age children will not openly demonstrate feelings yet they will also be the more sensitive ones compared to younger children. They need more love, support, and attention than younger kids so it’s up to dad and mom to constantly reassure them of their unwavering love and support despite the new family arrangements.

As a stepparent be patient, and don’t push them. Slowly work on forming and building a relationship with them.

Teens

They are just discovering themselves and usually slowly move away from family life. Their involvement becomes less and less as they try to form their own identity. It tends to be more difficult to form a relationship with them as a step-parent so please be patient. Try to find things you have in common that you can do together. They also need to know and feel loved, they need to be secure even though they will not openly express it. Reassure them as you would younger children

Adult children

Contrary to popular belief, they do not understand the new family arrangements and share the same issues as younger children.  They feel betrayed by a parent’s decision to remarry, they too desire to have their parents together. If they are in the same age bracket it makes it even harder to accept the stepparent. They may hate seeing displays of affection between their bio parent and the stepparent. Pressure from the bio parent to accept their new love is also difficult to cope with.

Having been in the family for so long, letting go of the family history is extremely difficult. Since they have moved out of the nest, with their own careers and maybe even their own family life makes it difficult for the stepparent to establish a relationship since there is no day-to-day interaction. Other factors that come into play are inheritance.

The best thing to do is to give them time as well to adjust the new situations. Being adults also means that they have the capability to step up and proactively work on establishing a relationship with a stepparent. The biological parent should explain their actions, why they love and need their partner and request their child to understand and respect their decision. After all they are human too. And just like all human beings they need a companion, love and happiness.

I hope this has helped you gain some insight as why children may act a certain way when a stepparent comes into the picture and how you can respond and act or help your partner and children reduce the friction during the transition.

I would love to hear from you, your experience, what you would love to see me write about, questions and comments. Write to me wendy@livinginstepafrica.com

Have a great week!

 

The single parent and dating

I remember when I started dating. It was only a matter of time before I discovered just how difficult it is. Now when you have children it is downright complicated. Everyone is involved, and I mean everyone. There is you and your partner. The kids are engaged, at least on some level, even when you don’t think they are. The Ex is also engaged and everyone has strong emotions and opinions about everyone else who is involved and what the end result might be. Now if both of you have kids multiply all that by 2. No wonder single parents cringe at the bare thought of dating someone let alone settling down and marrying them.

As complicated as it is, its possible to climb this mountain and create a successful family the second time around. However it requires hard work, wisdom, patience and deliberate choices from the beginning and at every phase of the dating period. If you are a single parent or are dating one here are some best practices for you to consider as you start and go through dating.

Avoid a Quick U-Turn

Do not date soon after the end of a relationship whether by death, divorce, separation or breakup. Single parents who decide to marry/date someone shortly after the previous relationship ends will often find their children more resistant to their new partner. This is because the children are still grieving and cannot understand how their dad/mum has moved on so quickly. This also sabotages the ability of your partner the new stepparent and stepchild to get off on the right foot with one another and puts the whole family at risk.

So relax, sit in your pain and understand why the relationship ended, what was your contribution to its end? What lessons have you learned for the experience? Are you ready to let go, to forgive and move on? Unfortunately there is no reset button. You have to go through all the motions.

Mirror! Mirror! on the wall

The smart single parent takes a good long look in the mirror before they start dating. Find out what is motivating you to start dating. Your answers will let you know whether you are truly ready to date or are looking for an ‘elastoplast’ solution to deeper unresolved issues. Look out for reasons rooted in fears e.g. your children not having a father, being the only one in your family or circle of friends with a broken family, loneliness or unresolved pain after a divorce or nasty break up. These are red flags and ignoring them can only lead to more pain and disappointment if you enter into a new relationship

Have “What if?” Conversations with your children

Way before you even start dating, single parents need to begin a series of conversations with their children that go a little something like this, “What if I began dating? How would you feel?” If it’s someone they are already familiar with mention their name. “What if John and I were engaged?” “What if John’s kids came over every Friday during this December holiday?”

Each conversation will help you assess how your kids feel about these possibilities and/or realities. It also prepares them for what might happen. A smart single parent listens and gives serious consideration to how the children are feeling. Engage in these conversations throughout your dating experience, in anticipation of each stage of a developing relationship.

Acknowledge your Child’s Fears

Based on the “what if” conversations you have with your children you may uncover some fears they have with regard to you dating. Validate your child’s fears. It shows them that their feelings are important to you; it keeps the communication door open. Reassure them constantly. Later in the relationship, you new partner will also needs to do this in order to help them deal with the threat of having someone new in their lives

You’re potentially creating a Family

The truth is when you start dating the couple’s relationship creates competing attachments. The choice to be with the dating partner or children generally means the other is left waiting…and wondering how their relationship with you is being influenced by your relationship with the other. This is why your new partner may complain that you spend too much time with your children and not enough with him/her and your children may feel you spend all your time with your new partner. In addition, children commonly feel some insecurity by mom or dad’s relationship with another person.

Do not assume that becoming a couple necessarily means that you can become a family. As a single parent you have to attend to both ‘being a couple’ and ‘being a family’ always assessing how the potential stepfamily relationships are developing.

Introductions

The first few dates should be about  and between the two of you. Spend time together without the children. At the beginning you can refer to your date as “a friend” or if your kids are prepared, call them your “date.” When you start off go for casual introductions. Don’t put your kids and the person together until you are sure there are real possibilities for the relationship especially if your children are under the age of five. They tend to bond to people very quickly.

As your relationship grows, gradually become more intentional about finding time for your boy/girlfriend and kids to get together. Be cautious and conscious at first and monitor everyone’s feelings, fears or concerns. If the other person has children as well, it might be prudent to have get-togethers with just one set of children and a separate activity with the other set of children at a later date. This is because managing multiple relationships can be overwhelming. Eventually, though, if your dating relationship continues to deepen, you’ll want to get everyone together for a shared activity.

Teens and adult children need to move toward your dating partner at their own pace. If you take it upon yourself to get them to love and accept your partner you are only sabotaging yourself and creating room for resistance. Instead, create opportunities for them to get to know each other without forcing it. Show respect and allow the relationship to develop at its own pace.

Pace yourself… it’s a marathon, not a sprint

When you fall in love it’s tempting to want to spend all of your time with your new found love. Don’t abandon your kids by spending all of your free time with your new partner. Doing so only taps into your child’s fears that they are losing you and also gives the false impression to your dating partner that you are totally available to them. You’re not. Don’t lose your balance.

If You Don’t Have Kids

Encourage the single parent you are dating to be with their kids and spend time with them, without you, every once in a while. This helps lessen the fears of the children; and it keeps perspective in your relationship. You might you feel a little left out and lonely but then this relationship is as much about the children as it is about you. If you can’t get used to this notion and learn how to deal with it, then you’ll be a miserable stepparent

Expect Hot and Cold Reactions

Liking mummy’s/ daddy’s new boy/girlfriend creates a loyalty problem for kids: They don’t know how to embrace your partner without hurting their biological parents feelings. Because of this they can be warm and accepting sometimes and other times turn cold. Don’t panic or judge the children too harshly. Relax and work with what they give you. Reacting negatively will only make their loyalty stronger and in turn work against you

What’s Your Family Vision

What vison do you have of your family and the spouse you allow into it? You cannot judge lasting love and relationships by physical attributes or the ‘chemistry’ between you and your partner. You need an objective measure of the values and character of the person you are looking for not just as your partner but also as a parent for your children. You cannot have one and not the other. For example if the person you are dating isn’t good parent material with your children or with theirs you ought to move on even if you love them as a partner. Some things will not change because of marriage

 Learn All You Can About Step-family Life

Finally the secret to success of stepfamilies is getting smart about stepfamily life. Getting smart means learning all you can about stepfamily dynamics, how stepfamilies function, operate best, and why they have the unique challenges that they do. This will help you make informed decisions not just based on your emotions/feelings. Adopt the attitude of a learner.

 

 

 

Top 5 things that all stepparents have to deal with

So you knew your spouse had children before you met them. Now what? Most people do not think about the next move in the game. They are clueless about just how different stepfamilies are to biological families. They jump in with the mentality that all will be well, that they will apply the knowledge from their own family experience, apply it and BOOM! success. This is one of the greatest misconceptions. Ever tried cooking lasagnia with a mandazi recipe? That’s sheer ridiculousness right? Well in the same way don’t try and cook your stepfamily with a biological family recipe. You will fail miserably.

The reason the two families are so different is because of some additional factors that biological families don’t have to deal with. Here are the top 5 factors that everyone getting into a stepfamily situation should have in mind and learn how to deal with each for a successful family

1. The Ex

You can never get rid of the the Ex husband/wife, girlfriend/borfriend. Baby momma and baby daddy are here to stay so deal with it especially if they are actively involved in the children lives. Bad mouthing them in front of the children will only make things more difficult for you. Children view this as a threat and will defend their mum or dad fiercely. Their loyalty is with them, even if they are junkies, imprisoned or absent. So keep whatever negative opinions you may have to yourself or speak them to your spouse in private. Never in front of the kids. Respect is the bare for the sake of raising the children well.

If you think because the ex spouse is dead it will be easier, you are wrong. You might find yourself competing with a ghost as the children measure you against the memory of the lost parent.

Consider also the fact that its possible that you could be dealing with multiple Ex spouses. Which is even more complex

2. The Kids

If your spouse has children, just know that children are part of the package. You cannot have one without the other. Neither can you compete with them. They are blood. We all know blood is thicker than water. The sooner you realize this and start respecting the children and trying to earn their respect as well the better for the family. You will need to be patient though as this doesn’t happen overnight. According to the children you are the person in between mum and dad, you are the threat. Don’t try and be their mums or dads replacement. Just be you. Let the kids accept you as you are. When they see you are not a threat to their relationship with their mother or father, they will start to let you in slowly

3. Child support

Who has permanent custody of the children? Who pays for what? Does your spouse also support his Ex? These are some of the issues that arise here. The problem is that the stepparent in this situation feels the pressure of having to support another family so to speak. This is unavoidable. Do understand that your spouse has to take care of his family as well, especially if he does not have permanent custody of the children. Also discuss this with your spouse especially if you have concerns so that you can work it out together as a team

4. Visitation Schedules

One parent will definitely have the kids permanently and the other will have the visitation. Visitation schedules can be a serious source of conflict especially if they are random. You may find yourself a s a stepparent having to pick or drop off the kids when you had made other plans. The key here is have a schedule that all parties agree and adhere to. That way everyone can manage their time and personal schedules as well

5. Legal Issues

There are various legal issues that come into play with stepfamilies. Child custody arrangements, legal guardianship for the stepparent, child support, succession and the will. These cannot be ignored. It would be best to engage a family lawyer to discuss your unique situation as they vary from family to family. As well as have your concerns addressed from a legal perspective. You and your partner can then agree on the best decisions to make for your family.

At all times remember that you and your partner are a team so look into these issues together and plan together for the success of your family.

Start with the end in mind

Imagine if you had to put together a 1000 piece puzzle. You are shown the picture on the box and the pieces are poured out for you to put it together. You are then blindfolded and told that the picture you were shown doesn’t fit the pieces that you are working with. And the guy wishes you good luck and leaves the room. Where would you begin? Am sure you are already frustrated just thinking about it right? I mean, unless you are Chris Angel, that puzzle isn’t getting done any time soon. Matter of fact it isn’t getting done ever!

You see when you get into a stepfamily situation, whether you are the stepmom or stepdad it can feel pretty much like the puzzle analogy. The puzzle pieces of your stepfamily do create a home however the picture doesn’t look anything like that of a biological family which most of us normally have in mind. The natural tendancy is to treat your new home like a biological one. Similar to what you grew up in. You would be surprised that even adults who were children of divorce and grew up in stepfamilies still make this mistake.

I am no different. I walked straight into that one when I started out with my stepfamily to be. I was standing smack in the middle of our fog of love. I thought due to our love, shared values, acknowledgement of our situation and the challenges that lie ahead of us and the unwavering commitment to make it work would make everything fall into place. Well, it didn’t. At least not as fast as I thought it would. It was a deceptive mirage. Kind of like this one time I went hiking the rocky hills in Ukambani with a couple of friends of mine. As we stood at the base of the hills looking up to our final destination, I thought to myself  “Hmmmm, this is going to be easy. The hill is not so rocky, neither is it as steep as I had thought it would be.” Turns out I had spoken too soon. As we started climbing I realized the hill was indeed very rocky, and very steep and the distance? Much longer than I had anticipated. Needless to say I bitched all the way up the hill (excuse my French) until I got to the top.  In the same way, I never quite knew what I was getting myself into until I started to climb my stepfamily mountain so here’s my advice to you dear stepmom or stepdad;

 

Lesson #4

Know that YOUR STEPFAMILY IS NOT AND WILL NEVER BE ANYTHING LIKE A BIOLOGICAL FAMILY. Do not try and fit the puzzle pieces of your stepfamily to match a biological families picture. It will fail. A stepfamily is different in so many ways and its dynamics are also different. Take for example the parties involved. It’s not just mum, dad and the kids. It’s you and your spouse, your kids, your spouses kids if any. Children are normally the obvious part of the package but in that same package you also get ex spouses and ex in laws which can be multiple as well not just one. You basically get your spouses past as well. Now most people are unaware of this hence the numerous conflicts surrounding stepfamilies. Pretending these parties do not exist only causes you more stress. The sooner you acknowledge this and are smart about how to handle it early the better and easier it is for you to manage each and every relationship wisely for the success of your own.

The other disillusionment for adults getting into stepfamilies is how long it takes to bond and create that stable family relationship. Well, studies in the US have shown that the average stepfamily takes about seven years to form and bond and function as a stable family unit. Of course this varies from case to case. Mine took about 4 years just to build a relationship with the children and it is still a work in progress. I still face new challenges daily so my climb continues. Therefore get in knowing that it will take time and be very very patient about it. All children want their mummy together with their daddy, that’s the bottom line. It will take them time to accept you as the new person in mummy’s or daddy’s life. So give them time and space to do so.

 

And  finally as a bonus lesson, please do not bitch as you climb up the mountain. There is a reason why I was never invited to another hiking trip ever. Maya Angelou once said, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”