HIM or HER and THEIR CHILDREN
Just you, him and his kids - 9th March 2007
Dating a man or woman who has children from a previous relationship is challenging.
Dating can be be difficult enough as the best of times, but when your new partner has children from a previous relationship it can be a real passion-killer.
Rebecca is deeply in love with the man of her dreams. Anthony is attractive and affectionate.
During the week she lives at his flat, but come Thursday night she obediently tidies away her toiletries from the bathroom, packs her clothes into a bag and removes all traces of her existence - before his children arrive.
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‘It’s hideous,’ she says. ‘I feel like a mistress.
'I live in the shadows because he is so scared of upsetting the boys - or worse, upsetting his vindictive ex-wife - that I have to creep off before they get here.’
The couple have been dating for eight months. Rebecca, 35, is keen to move in, but Anthony, who is 46, feels he needs more time to prepare his sons, aged eight and three.
She has recently been introduced to them as his girlfriend, but is never allowed to sleep in the flat when they are staying.
‘I love Anthony, and I really like his kids, but I hate the fact that I’m pushed away, both physically and emotionally, whenever they’re around, which is virtually every weekend.’
Dating a man who has children from a previous marriage or relationship brings with it a set of unique challenges.
Whether you’re expected to make yourself scarce during access visits, find yourself getting reluctantly embroiled in the school run or have to miss out on expensive holidays because he pays so much in child support, it soon becomes clear that you are not the only love in his life.
When on-off couple Sienna Miller and Jude Law announced their breakup at the end of last year, a friend of Miller admitted that she found it difficult to cope with the fact that his children were the centre of his world.
Law later confessed that despite his box office success, he was broke because the divorce had cleaned him out financially. But he declared that he wouldn’t have it any other way, because his children’s welfare was paramount.
‘It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, if you are childless and you enter into a relationship with someone who is a parent, you need to open your eyes to what you’re letting yourself in for,’ says Carol Burniston, a consultant clinical child psychologist.
'A parent can’t be selfish, a parent needs to put the children first. If you can take that on board, then you can make the partnership work, but it’s going to be very different from your previous relationships.’
Where other new couples can afford to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude to their blossoming romance, the involvement of children means discussing the nuts and bolts of the relationship from the outset.
This might range from how you feel about meeting and looking after his kids, to talking about evenings and weekends when he won’t be available, due to his family commitments and times when you will be expected to make yourself scarce.
This degree of analysis can prove to be something of a passion-killer.
When you’re still at the head-over-heels stage of wanting to get recklessly drunk on cocktails and stay out all night, there is nothing more sobering than a serious chat about the eventual prospect of stepmotherhood.
‘You need to be clear about what it is you want from the very start, and to communicate that.’ says Burniston.
‘If it’s important to you to have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, then you should either walk away, or ask yourself if you really do love this person enough to make that compromise.’
While every relationship involves give and take, children add an extra dimension. There are around 1.3 million single parent families in the UK headed by a mother, and 140,360 headed by a father.
If the children live with their father, then any new girlfriend will become part of their lives very quickly, whether or not you like it - or them. They may feel threatened by you, and be standoffish or rude.
Family psychologist, author of How to Help Your Children Survive Your Divorce, has first-hand experience of the pitfalls of dating with children in the background. His son and daughter were 13 and 16 when his marriage ended.
‘My second wife, Clare, had a lot to deal with when we met. I was very protective of my son, with whom I had a very close relationship,’ says Bradley.
‘He officially lived with his mum, but, because he’d always enjoyed spending time with me, he spent virtually every waking hour at my house.
'There was a honeymoon period and then a very fraught period when Clare and my son didn’t get on, and I was stuck in the middle, loving them both.
‘Children are a wonderful thing, but a lot of the time they’re a right pain, especially when they get to the surly adolescent stage. It’s bad enough when you’re related to them, but when you’re not, it’s very hard.
'I was able to discipline my son because I was his father by virtue of biology. The only thing Clare had in common with him was me, so she had to earn her spurs in order to win his respect, which she did, by way of her tenacity.
'No matter how unpleasant the atmosphere became, or how hurtful the remarks that were made, she didn’t walk away; the meals still got made, the washing was done. She demonstrated a patience I certainly haven’t got.’
The couple now have two children of their own. But not every father wants to extend his family, which can be a source of friction, and sadness.
Jo and Will have been together two years. Will is 37 and has a daughter, aged nine, from a failed marriage, who stays with him half of the week and for long periods over the school holidays.
‘It’s ironic that one of the reasons I fell for Will was that he had a child and so obviously doted on her,’ says Jo, 36.
‘He seemed so grown-up and confident and I assumed that he’d be bound to want more children, but I was wrong – he’s adamant he doesn’t want any more, which I still find heartbreaking.
‘I really get on well with his daughter, but I sometimes feel a bit put upon because I’m expected to look after her when she comes to stay and to take time off work when Will can’t get away from the office.
'It’s made worse because I’m supposed to play the role of mummy without being allowed to have a child of my own.’
It’s never wise to make assumptions in a relationship, most especially when it’s about something as important as a desire to have children.
According to YOU relationship counsellor Zelda West-Meads, the subject must be broached before things get too serious.
‘If you feel you are heading towards living together or marriage, you can drop into conversation that if you were to marry you would want to have children,’ says West-Meads.
‘If he then says he doesn’t want any more children, you mustn’t assume he will change his mind, over time.
‘A man may feel that he has “been there, done that” and that his family is complete.
'And if he’s feeling particularly guilty about the collapse of his marriage and the effect on the children, he may be worried that the arrival of a new baby could make them feel usurped.’
There’s sometimes a ‘once bitten, twice shy’ element at work too. A man who has already had to endure a custody wrangle to see his children, may be very wary of starting a second family, in case that relationship, too, breaks down.
Linda Robertson set up The British Second Wives Club as a result of her experiences of dating a previously-married man who was fighting a protracted court battle for access to his children.
The club offers support to women who are married to or in a relationship with a man who has been married. Around 89 per cent of members are with a partner who has children from a previous relationship.
‘If you’re single you can just throw an overnight bag in the car and head for a hotel, but that sort of spontaneity is impossible if you’re with a man who has children,’ says Robertson.
‘Everything has to be planned, even your sex life, because he might not want to have sex when his children are around, in case they wake up and come into the room.
A lot of men also have court orders to ensure they have regular access to their children, and their calendar will be set in stone for the next year, so even if you want your partner to attend a family wedding with you in six months’ time, you might well find his ex-wife refuses to let him change the schedule.’
It may stand to reason that the children should take first priority, but it’s difficult if they also appear to take second, third and fourth priority too. If you’re feeling neglected, it is a very sensitive subject to raise.
‘Some men feel so guilty about the failure of their marriage that they go to enormous lengths to do whatever they can for the children, leaving their new partner to wonder “What about me?”’ says Robertson.
‘Even if he doesn’t have much money, every single penny of it may be lavished on the children as a symbol of how much he loves them.
I also know of cases where the man takes his children on every holiday he goes on, so the new partner never gets the chance to spend time alone with him.’
While some women do undoubtedly find men with children attractive, a great many others can feel very apprehensive about the idea of having a relationship with someone with kids.
The British dating website ParentsAlready.com, is aimed at making the prospect seem less daunting, by enabling prospective partners to find out, in advance, just what dating a parent might entail.
‘A lot of our members feel that telling someone they’ve got children is on a par with confessing to a terrible disease.’ says David Pinless, who set up the site.
‘There’s a dilemma about whether to say they have kids straight away or not to mention it until several weeks, even months, into the relationship.
'Online, people can be frank about their particular situation. We have tens of thousands of members, with a 60/40 women to men ratio; a man may not have custody of his children, but he will still see them as a major part of his life.’
Although a divorced father might feel ready for a relationship, he can feel unsupported if his new partner starts to place too many demands on him.
David, 44, who has two young daughters, and is currently single, says he has grown very cautious since he split from his wife, two years ago.
‘It takes a very self-sufficent woman to deal with all the baggage that you bring when your marriage has broken down.’ he says.
‘I found there was no shortage of much younger women willing to go out with me, but they often felt quite jealous of the weekends I spent with my children and would need so much reassurance that I wasn’t going to go back to my wife, that it wore me down.
‘I can’t just cut free from my ex-wife, because we have children together and so we will need to stay in some sort of contact. I can never walk away from my past. Any woman in my life will have to deal with that.’
How To Survive Someone Else’s Children * Carve out some personal space for the two of you, without the children, so you have time for each other. * Keep a part of your life separate, so you’re not completely bound up in your partner’s life; a hobby or sport is a great way to escape the pressure. * Maintain your friendships, so you don’t feel lonely when he’s off with his children for the weekend. * Don’t assume because he likes his kids he’ll want more; if having your own children is important to you, make sure early on that he feels the same. * Keep the lines of communication open at all times, so you can discuss difficulties before they become problems.
Now tell us… Are you in a relationship with a man and his children? Tell us how you cope at you.co.uk
The Verdict - Jury
F.A.C.T. (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers)
Guidance for education staff and volunteers in schools
LINKS and REFERENCE
SOME PROMINENT CASES:
Very many persons accused of assault, especially sexual assault, are either innocent or having been found guilty by a Court, are later found to have been innocent all along.
Under current legislation the accuser's identity is protected, whereas the accused is not. Where the majority of persons accused turn out to be innocent, during the period they are under suspicion, they are reported in the press, with an assumption of guilt, which usually ruins their lives: relationships and businesses. This particularly applies to Carers or Teachers, or those involved in such professions.
The man in the street is particularly vulnerable when entering into a relationship, since he or she has no body to turn to for advice and is not in any event tuned into the potential dangers. Those most at risk include males joining single parent families with children, and most especially young girls who are most likely to hurl accusations and usually where a relationship is not working or is breaking down.
(Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers)
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