The fairytale dream of finding the perfect single, never-married childless guy whose yin completes your yang may be morphing into reality: The world is full of great guys who've been married, have kids, or both. Even though American divorce rates have improved from about 50 percent to 30 percent in the past few decades, there are still millions of guys out there with exes and kids, good guys that are just as anxious to find a loving, supportive partner as you are.
A past marriage is easier to handle simply because it is past but kids will be part of his life forever. Those children can make dating a challenge but a good man is worth the effort. And kids can tell you a lot about a guy—as well as shed some light on your true inner self and personality. If you've always wanted kids, having them around will test your patience and let your maternal instincts shine – or not. Seeing a dad on the job brings out sides of him you'd never see in one-on-one scenarios, so that's also an advantage.
Going into the relationship with some tips and pointers helps your chances of success and finding a loving, supportive partner. And always have a positive attitude!
13 Understand your place.
You may be the queen of his universe but if one of his kids legitimately needs his attention, gracefully set that crown aside and be supportive. Offer to accompany him but don't be hurt if he wants to go it alone, especially if your relationship is new and the kids aren't familiar with you. If his ex has to be there for the crisis, be compassionate and understanding.
12 Be gracious and pleasant.
From his kids and spouse to his former in-laws (think Grandma), smile and be friendly and sincere but don't oversell yourself. You're not running for prom queen and if you come off as too perfect, you'll likely be resented by the whole lot. Don't offer comments on anything. Even if asked, answer diplomatically and choose your words carefully, kind of like you're being interviewed for a job.
11 Remain as flexible as a rubber band.
Know going in that kids break arms, run away, get in trouble at school and moms have personal emergencies that require dads to step in at a moment's notice, so that gourmet dinner you slaved over may become leftovers. If necessary, excuse yourself to the bathroom and do some deep breathing exercises to remain composed. Never have a drink or pop a pill to calm your nerves; you could find yourself losing control rather than gaining it.
10 Look beneath the surface.
When you're feeling neglected, remember this: that love and concern you see in his eyes when he kisses a boo-boo would likely carry over to children you may have together in your future. That old adage that says you can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats his mother also applies to how he interacts with his kids...and his life partners.
9 Gently probe his history to find out if the split was amicable or nasty.
This not only helps you understand his actions/reactions but gives you insight to your future with him. Find out things through conversations, both intimate and playful. Engage in board games, see movies and read books and articles that naturally elicit responses that give you insight into the man as a whole.
8 Don't give child rearing advice.
Even if you're a child psychologist or full-time nanny, bite your tongue because you're bound to say something wrong. You may believe in an occasional spank on the derriere as a deterrent for naughty behavior while he may think time-outs are effective disciplinary tools. Never defy a parenting standard like letting the kids stay up past their bedtimes if you're left in charge just to gain favor with the children. You'll lose his trust and the kids will likely try to manipulate you.
7 Be supportive without being a doormat.
It's one thing to understand him rushing to the side of a sick child but another matter for him to cancel plans at the last minute because Mom spontaneously wants to go out with her friends. This is tricky territory and you'll sometimes have to walk a tightrope to avoid conflict but it's essential for you to know his true priorities before things get really serious.
6 Respect his schedule.
Offer to plan weekly/monthly events on a shareable app or just an old-fashioned calendar to coordinate school events, parent-teacher meetings, family social events, business meetings and trips, etc. to ease tension for everyone. Remember this respect works both ways. Your work and personal schedules are as important as his, even if you don't have children, but being flexible when you can will earn you Brownie points.
5 Be realistic.
It's not easy being the second (or even third or fourth) serious love interest and potential stepmom. If it's important for you to always be first, kindly move on for everyone's sake. By the time you're dating potential mates, you should be mature enough to realize the world doesn't actually revolve around you but if you still believe in that illusion, leave the guy and his kids alone until you grow up.
4 Act like an adult.
Joking and laughing about relationships can be tricky, especially if his break-up is fresh, so your sensitivity is imperative. Don't ridicule past boyfriends or brag about how resilient you are after breakups. Avoid commenting on any aspects of his ex or how he could've acted differently to salvage his relationship with her. Look forward and leave history in the past.
3 Take his interest in you seriously.
He wouldn't be dating you if he didn't see a possible stepmother candidate. If you don't share his vision for the future, it's not fair to anyone. This doesn't mean broaching the marriage topic or pointing out possible venues for destination weddings. Just listen closely to his hopes and dreams and it will soon become crystal clear if the two of you are generally on the same path.
2 Become a sincere buddy to his kids.
Talk to them about their interests, friends, school but avoid discussions about parents, living arrangements, anything that might portray you as a busybody. It's usually safe to share anecdotes about your childhood or pets or tell stories the kids can relate to their everyday lives.
1 Ignore the kind advice of strangers, friends and relatives.
Everyone who's ever had an ex, been an ex or happened to be a stepparent will shower you with guidance. Respectfully listen but don't forget everyone and every situation is different; listen to your guy and figure out together what works best for your particular relationship. You're bound to make mistakes. The key is to learn from and not repeat them. And since both adults and children change every day, it's an ongoing challenge.