Tomorrow I fly to Spain with my boyfriend of six years and his two cool kids and I can't wait to spend quality time with the three of them for our two-week summer break.
Easy to say now, but falling in love with a divorced dad all those years ago was scary. 'Divorce' and 'dad' were two huge grown-up concepts for one very single woman. Even though I was 39, neither marriage nor motherhood had ever featured in my life and so I had no idea what to expect. Our lives had been on very different paths before we met.
I decided to take a risk on him though and it sure paid off, I couldn't be happier. I wanted to share my tips on how to thrive while dating a divorced dad to encourage you in case it's a risk you're thinking about taking.
1. It's OK not to come first in his life all the time
When you date a dad, there's a fear that you have to compete with his children for his time and attention. With this mentality, you're always going to lose. No, you aren't always going to be his number one priority in life but nor should you be.
I knew early on, that one of the reasons I loved him so much were his sound values. I found that the better a dad he was, the more I loved him. This makes it easy for me to support him to be there as much as he can for them without feeling hard done by or like I'm in second place. He knows he is free to be there for them as much as he can without feeling he's letting me down. In return, he makes it easy for me by making me feel loved and secure. The kids and I have been in each other's lives for a long time now and there are times when they need to come first, but there are occasions when they recognise that I need to come first and we're all cool with that.
If you have a needy personality, then I'm going to suggest that dating a divorced parent isn't for you. You have to be able to let them be the best parent they can be. Ultimately, I knew I wouldn't want to date someone who was an uncaring dad, that would be a huge turn off, so supporting him came easy. I feel proud of him every time we celebrate his kids' successes.
2. Give him the space to heal
I've never been married and before this relationship hadn't had a relationship longer than a few years. Divorce wasn't something I'd ever experienced up close. I arrived on the scene quite a few years down the line after the divorce but the aftermath is like grief. So while we were giddy in love in the early stages of our relationship, there were moments when past pain and emotions would come to the surface. It's really important to give them the space to heal. You may wonder why can he be so sad when your relationship is so good but it can take years for that pain to heal and you can't speed it along or ignore it. Just be there for them and allow them to grieve.
If the grieving is taking over the joy of your own growing relationship, then you may need to confront the fact that he may just not be ready to be with someone else at this point.
3. Take it slowly with his kids
For me the key thing about building a relationship with his kids was to let things develop slowly and organically, like any relationship and not try to force or rush things. They may not like you at first. Don't hold it against them and certainly don't take it personally although of course it probably feels personal. Don't try and take the place of their mother. Your relationship with them is already unique and special and you don't need to force it to be something it isn't. I relish the title of 'dad's girlfriend'. It's not a relationship you get to experience very often and when you do, it's a really special one.
4. Don't view their past as baggage
It would be easy to sigh and wish they came without all the baggage. It's tempting I know. But for me, it's his past that has made him more emotionally mature and a better communicator. He knows what he wants from a relationship now and together we have been able to create a healthy relationship that works for both of us.
5. Find your own rhythm as a couple
He had been married so long, there were things about his lifestyle that I could tell were remnants of his married days. I had been single for so long, that I found it hard to shake off my own set ways. When we came together, we had to learn how to spend time together in a way that worked for both of us by giving each other the space to do this. Eventually, you find your own rhythm as a couple and shake off the old ways from your past lives.