Relationship Advice: 9 Hard Truths I Wish I’d Known Before Dating a Divorced Dad

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To say my life took a much different path than I had anticipated is quite possibly the biggest understatement- ever.

While there are many things that have happened thus far in my life that I never saw coming, falling in love with a divorced dad has to be the most unexpected of them all.

You see, as a single woman in her late twenties I had very little experience with dating in general- much less with a man, ten years my senior, who had an ex-wife + young daughter.

But that’s exactly what happened. I met a man who took me by surprise. He was nothing that I was looking for, but at the time, he was everything I needed.

He was warm, kind + unbelievably funny. He made my heart feel full in ways I wasn’t expecting. The chemistry was there. And I felt hopeful that maybe this time (after more bad dates that I care to count) things would finally work out.

Truthfully, the reality of the situation thrilled + terrified me. And it brought with it an unbelievably steep learning curve because, in full disclosure, having a child in connection to a romantic partner of mine was very much unfamiliar territory for me.

Obviously, I’m not a relationship expert (since writing this blog post, my partner + I have made the decision to split), but there is something about having gone through the experience that gives me new perspective on things I once knew nothing about.

Related Post: What Every Single Thirty-Something Woman Wants the World to Know

So, to every woman going through a similar situation- dating a partner who has kids from a previous relationship or marriage- I’m sharing with you the 9 Hard Truths I Wish I’d Known Before Dating a Divorced Dad.

While no relationship comes without risk, I think it’s worth mentioning the special kinds of obstacles that are unique in this circumstance.

Related Posts:

[ If you’re looking for further resources + recommendations to help you in your blended family journey- check out the books + communities that I mention at the end of this blog post- they truly made a world of difference for me!]

Dating after divorce_ What it's really like to date a man with kids

This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, see my disclosures here.

Dating after Divorce Truth #1: You Will Always Be Second.

No, this isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Having a man in your life who puts the well being of his offspring before anything or anyone else is actually a blessing + not a curse.

Still, it takes some getting used to, especially if you’re not use to sharing the spotlight.

This isn’t to say that you won’t be a priority in your partner’s life, but the truth is she will always come first.

So, when a school event or church outing falls on your normal date night, you better believe he’ll choose her over you.

That’s not to say, that he won’t make up for the conflict in schedules in some other way- just understand that you’re not the only person vying for attention in this relationship.

It’s crucial that you adjust your mindset if you’re used to having things go your way most of the time.

Dating after Divorce Truth #2: Wait for Introductions + Be Patient for How You Are Received.

I knew before ever becoming involved with my partner, that he had a daughter whom he cared deeply for. For that reason, I knew that it would be a while before I ever entered her life.

And sure enough, it was months into our relationship before I was able to meet the young lady who stole his heart long before I came into the picture.

I don’t know if I have ever admitted to anyone, how truly scared I was to have the first encounter with her. While her dad may have chosen me to be a part of his life, she, on the other hand, had very little say in the matter. I can’t say that I would have blamed her had she felt resentment towards me.

Thankfully, she accepted my relationship with her dad + warmly allowed me to be a part of her life.

I feel blessed for things to have worked out the way that they did; but I do realize that’s not always the case. Please know that if the situation doesn’t unravel as smoothly for you, it’s alright. Building a relationship, especially with little ones, takes time.

Move slowly and understand that their disapproval of you isn’t necessarily personal. To them, you are a potential threat, someone capable of bringing further unwarranted change to their already shifting family dynamic.

Remember: If you’re not well received by your partner’s children, its likely they dislike you as a concept, not as a person.

Dating after Divorce Truth #3: You won’t always be included.

Though it didn’t happen often, the day my partner texted to tell me that his daughter had asked to have a ‘Daddy Only’ weekend, I was terrified.

I don’t know how much I’ll see you this weekend, he said. [My daughter] wants to spend some alone time with just me.

Honestly, I cried after receiving the news. I couldn’t help but take the whole thing personally. I felt like I had worked so hard to be accepted by this loving, little girl + yet here I was, sitting alone in my car at the grocery store, bawling my eyes out because I wasn’t invited to participate in their weekend plans.

What’s worse, I feared that I had done something to upset his little girl + that perhaps she didn’t like me anymore. I mean, was this a one-time deal or would it be the new norm??

I couldn’t see the situation for what it was: Here was a young girl, sharing her time equally between both parents’ homes. Even with the most evenly split custody schedule, she spent a mere fraction of the time she normally would with each parent had things worked out differently.

Quality time with her dad was critical to the health of her relationship with him.

Much like how I would feel recharged after spending time alone with my partner, she sometimes needed that little bit of extra alone time to keep her daddy-daughter relationship in check.

Therefore, once I wrapped my mind around what was truly going on, I was more accepting of the situation. To no surprise, things did return back to normal the next weekend I spent with her + her dad. She welcomed me with her usual smile + a big hug- because the situation was never personal. She wasn’t waging some sort of vendetta against me. She simply needed some special time to herself.

As the adult in the situation, I can’t urge you enough to take the high road, push emotion aside + maintain perspective in these sorts of situations.

Related: What I Learned When My Boyfriend Went Out of Town

Dating after Divorce Truth #4: Traditional Labels Will Not Apply.

I still remember the first time that I ventured to the mall to shop for clothes for my boyfriend’s daughter. It was near Christmas + I had my eye on these fleece-lined leggings that were sold by one of the more popular children’s stores.

It should have been a simple errand- visit mall, buy clothes + leave.

But when I entered the store, I was greeted by a sales lady. She offered me a friendly hello + simply asked who I was shopping for- the question was innocent enough, however, it awakened a kind of panic that I didn’t know existed in my body, my mind raced for an answer.

Sure, I loved this little girl, but I didn’t feel comfortable ‘claiming’ her as my own. She was neither my daughter, nor my step-daughter. Labeling her as ‘my boyfriend’s daughter’ felt complicated. And calling her just ‘a friend’ didn’t sit well with me either.

I’m not sure that I even responded to the sales clerk that day. She probably thought that I was rudely ignoring her as I walked by to the closest clothes rack- but the truth is, I wasn’t sure how to describe my role in this little girl’s life- and that bothered me.

In relationships where the family lines get blurred, it’s often difficult to pinpoint exactly what we are to one another. Though blended families are more prevalent than ever these days, there’s still no clear-cut definitions- particularly in situations where you + your partner are dating rather than married.

Please, do not feel defeated by the fact that society doesn’t have a clear label for you + your situation yet. By no means is this an indication that your relationship with your partner’s children is any less important or real for that matter.

Dating after Divorce Truth #5: Your Family + Friends Will Likely NOT Understand.

Unless they’ve been there before, your family + friends will have a hard time understanding just what you’re going through.

Their understanding of your situation will likely come from the most unpleasant of sources. What I mean by that is- all they know about dating after divorce comes from how society portrays it.

Seriously, will there ever be a movie where the step-mom/ new woman is kind + loving rather than plain evil? Will we ever move past the negative stigma that engulfs failed marriages? … Not likely.

Truth be told, while my family was very accepting of my relationship, they were equally concerned.

They feared me being involved in awkward exchanges with my partner’s ex.

[In reality, I never once crossed paths with my partner’s ex. Not because there were hard feelings between us, but simply because it wasn’t necessary in our situation.]

What’s more my family had to adjust to my more frequent cancellations to our family gatherings.

It wasn’t because those events suddenly meant less to me, but my schedule became much more rigid because of my partner’s co-parenting responsibilities.

If I were to list out each + every apprehension my family had towards my situation, I’d never get to the end of this list…

So, my advice is to not let their worries dampen your relationship. Just be aware of the extra effort you may need to put forth in order to maintain open communication. After all, they mean no harm in their questions; more likely, they are just looking out for your well-being.

Dating after Divorce Truth #6: It’s Important to Not Overstep

Every situation is different + when you’re new to this sort of relationship, it can be difficult to know exactly where you fit in.

While you may be eager to start a positive relationship with your partner’s child, understand that a single dad isn’t looking for a mother for his kid- he’s looking for a partner for himself.

As women, we have this natural tendency to be nurturers. But just because you’re walking into a situation after a failed marriage, doesn’t mean the situation is broken. Keep some perspective that you and your partner aren’t dating each other out of necessity (at least, I hope not). Rather you’re dating one another out of desire.

There’s a difference.

Understand that while this relationship may bring to you a child who is now a large part of your life, it’s a fine line to say that she is yours

Yes, things get muddled…

I mean, did I carry my boyfriend’s child inside of me for 9 months? Nope.

But for the duration of our relationship, did my whole schedule revolve around her? In a way, yes.

Did I experience her first steps or first words? No, I didn’t. But was I still able to whip up a mean pot of mac & cheese? You betcha 🙂

Did I indulge all of her interests—from the endless crafting with all her beads, bands + slime to filming Musicaly movies involving favorite stuffed animals—even when I would have really liked to sit down with a book or work out for 30 minutes? I sure did. And I loved it.

But at the end of the day, did I have any real say in how many minutes she spent reading each night or whether she was allowed to sleep over at her friend’s house? Not really.

When you enter the life of a child who is not yours to claim, it’s your job to be a role model- not another parent figure.

Dating after Divorce Truth #7: Jealousy + Insecurities will be Magnified.

No matter how long it’s been since your partner’s divorce, it can be a hard pill to swallow knowing that you’re their second choice. Insecurities + jealousy will surface that you weren’t even aware existed.

And trust me, these emotions have the tendency to appear at the most inopportune of times…

For me, it was the simple reminder that I would never experience the typical ‘firsts’ that most couples go through that brought out the crazy irrational side of me.

Hearing about my partner’s memories of vacations he had taken with his ex, his recollections of what life was like with a newborn, even just listening to old holiday traditions- was hard!

Despite the fact that I had my own history of experiences outside of our relationship, it wasn’t the same- because my ex-boyfriends were no longer a part of my life. There were no real reminders that they even existed!

Truthfully, during our relationship I tried my best to act casual, to downplay my feelings because I thought I would ‘get use’ to the fact that I wasn’t the only woman in his life.

I wholeheartedly believed that, with time, the sting of these moments would lessen.

Please- if you take only one thing away from this entire post- let it be that ignoring your feelings to make things easier on everyone else will surely backfire.

Be aware of what triggers your emotions+ communicate your feelings to your partner when appropriate. Trust me, you’ll be much happier in the end.

Related: The Surprising Secret to Finding Happiness

Dating after Divorce Truth #8: This Is Not a Competition.

My partner and I both entered our relationship with obvious baggage.

Let’s be real, unless you’re in elementary school trying to convince the cute boy who sits next to you to hold your hand at recess, all relationships have baggage.

The problem, for me, was that his baggage was much more apparent. Like I mentioned above, the fact that his ex was very much a part of his life was sometimes difficult to accept.

And because of her presence, I felt immense pressure to out-perform on every task that she had once fulfilled.

Being in the same house that my partner had shared with his ex-wife, I worried about doing enough- being more organized, more on top of the housework, more up-to-date on the laundry… the list goes on.

Hanging out with friends from their past, I feared that I wouldn’t be interesting enough- that they’d find me boring in comparison to her.

At times, I even fretted over whether I was as skinny, or as pretty as I knew her to be.

That kind of thinking can be a scary rabbit hole to fall into!

So, let me set the record straight by telling you that you did not enter his life to be ‘the upgraded” woman in his life. The reason his marriage failed is because (for one reason or another) he + his previous partner grew apart. It’s very likely that he is a much different man than he was back then- and the beauty of that is that the two of you are now compatible for each other.

Please stop trying to be the better version of what he already had and focus on bringing the best version of yourself to the relationship. After all, the reason you hit it off in the first place had very much to do with who you are + not so much to do with her.

Dating after Divorce Truth #9: Your Feelings Are Still Valid

If it isn’t obvious by now, then let me spell it out once more. Dating a divorced dad is no easy feat! You will feel anxious, stressed, jealous, insecure, ignored- among other things.

And as many times as I’ve encouraged you in this post to maintain perspective, keep your feelings in check + choose to be the adult in each and every situation- That’s not to say that your feelings are not important.

Yes, your feelings are extremely important, my friend. How you feel matters!

So be honest with yourself. Be honest with your partner. And don’t be afraid to step back every now and then for your own sanity.

Because even though you may be excited to have these special people in your life, the enormity of the situation can be a little hard to handle at times. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed.

Let me tell you, much of what made my relationship so difficult with my partner was also what made it extremely worthwhile. Seeing his interaction with his little girl was what caught my attention all those moons ago + it was enough to melt my heart each and every day that we shared.

Keep your head up friend, you got this!

Related: 30 More Lessons I Learned Before Turning 30

Phew! That was a much longer post than I intended;) I hope you’re still following along- If you’ve made it this far, I’d love it if you’d share your own rules for dating a partner with children in the comments below!

What rules have helped in your relationship with your partner + his children?

As always, here to support YOU! XO- Britney (

P.S. If you’re looking for some great resources to further help you along your journey- Here’s a few of my favs to help you tackle this new family dynamic…

 1. No One’s the Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan For The Mother And Stepmother Relationship by Jennifer Newcomb Marine

This book didn’t apply to my situation as much simply because I never had contact with my boyfriend’s ex- however, it was still worth the read + I definitely recommend it.

2. Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin.

Okay- this book nailed it! Every emotion, every insecurity- it was all right here in this book and truth be told, I felt relieved to know that my feelings were normal in this circumstance. Do yourself a favor- just read this thing!

3. Also, If you’re looking for an online community for women who understand exactly what you’re going through- I can’t recommend enough The KickASS Stepmom Community run by Jamie Scrimgeour. A quick search on Facebook should bring you to this amazing group. Check it out!

Browse more: Personal Growth Happy Goal Setting

Britney Zondlak

11 thoughts on “Relationship Advice: 9 Hard Truths I Wish I’d Known Before Dating a Divorced Dad”

  1. Relatable, and I wholeheartedly agree with your, “If you only take home one point” point! Pay attention to your gut in any relationship, especially early on! No longer together with my ex but thrilled his kids can still be fond of me as we cross paths about once a week…. I knew I was impacting their lives not just the dad’s as we were dating AND when I chose to break up. That’s quite a weight.

    • Yes! It is quite a bit of weight but so glad that you could find the silver lining with this experience! So happy to hear that you have contact with your ex’s kids…that in itself is such a blessing. Wishing you all the best!

  2. This was a great read. I did exactly as you and unexpectedly fell in love with a recently single dad. While I am a very down to earth and matter of fact person, this just helped remind me that everything I’m feeling is normal and will be things I personally need to keep in check and not project it onto the other, unsuspecting person… especially one I really hope sticks around for a while. Thank you again!!

  3. I needed to hear every word of this, especially this week…. as again he chose her over me, my head knows it’s the right decision BUT oh my heart didn’t take it so well! I have so little time w him & was extremely hurt she didn’t want to stay the night- I didn’t handle it well and I poured like a child & now I’m sad and disappointed in myself & embarrassed for how I let it affect me. Now I get to apologize to them both and move forward & try to make up for it.
    The joys of dating a single dad of an only child!

    • I am sending all the good vibes your way, Amy! It is so hard sometimes, but then, the best things in life are never easy. Keep your head up, you’re not alone in any of this 🙂 Praying that you may experience better days ahead, my friend. XO, Britney

  4. Dear Britney, this is such a great piece and it has everything I need at this point. Fell in love unexpectedly with a devoiced man, a father of a 6-year-old little girl. I have experienced a few similar scenarios that you mentioned but more importantly, I know what I should realistically expect in the near future now and I’m prepared. Life is hard, all the best things in life are never easy. Indeed. Also i wanted to say, we learn this is not because we try to please the men we love. It’s all about completing ourselves, navigating ourselves in this complicated world and understanding humanity.

    BTW, I have to say. You are a brave girl Britney and you are extremely kind. People who are only just as kind as you can write such things, I truly believe.

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Hey There, I'm Britney!

Just a small-town gal with a passion for fitness + health- Using my little corner of the Internet to spread light and positive vibes. It is my mission to encourage all women to step into the best-version of themselves possible. After all- you deserve it!

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