Spending the Night When Your Partner Has Kids
A while back, I wrote a post called Advice for Dating People With Children (When You are Childfree). I ended up getting a great response to this post, which wasn't all that surprising. As I've complained before, the only literature out there is for step-parents -- which is not what daters need.
Dating someone who has a child is complicated for its own unique reasons. And even though I'm no longer dating the man who had a child, I'm still excited about having this conversation. As I age, the likelihood of finding someone who is childless is rapidly declining. I'm tired of feeling alone and adviceless regarding dating people with kids. Let's change that, shall we?
Dating with kids via Shutterstock.
The man I dated had a 10-year-old son when we first got together. It was only a matter of time before the most confusing aspect of dating someone with kids reared its ugly head: How do you spend the night when a kid is there? Spending the night with your partner is WAY easier when the child is young, but once they reach a certain age, their little imaginations (or perhaps tempers) will run wild regarding mommy or daddy's new partner. Here are some little nuggets of advice for when you find yourself in this situation:
This was part of "meeting the child" in my previous post, and it's here again. Unless the children live with your partner full-time, there is NO good reason you need to be there overnight right away. You don't need to spend the night just to be doing it OR to get your snuggle time. Realize that by bringing yourself into children's lives in this way, you're making a commitment to stick around for quite some time. We all know that children don't need different people popping up at the breakfast table every other day (or we should anyway), so you don't want to be that person. Part of managing children is gaining their respect, and you won't earn any points with tweens if you show up with a shack pack at 2:00AM the week after you meet them.
Regarding that shack pack, it needs to upgrade a bit. If you're going to your partner's house and no one else is going to be there, it's easy to just toss what you need in a grocery bag or cram your toothbrush and clean underwear into your purse. Not so when kiddos are involved. Plan ahead by choosing a small, nice bag -- not a suitcase because you don't want to freak them out by making them think you're moving in FOREVER -- and pack appropriate nighttime clothes, your toiletries, and maybe a book or magazine. Do not bring your shack pack in and just dump it by the door, either, which leads us to...
Announce Your Intentions Right Away
The minute you show up with a bag in your hand, the children will know something is different. After you're there, settled in, and de-shoed, mention that you are going to be spending the night. (Do not EVER try to sneakly spend the night when there are kids involved -- they will know you are there.) Depending on how the children have responded to you so far, this could either A.) become exciting B.) become terrifying or C.) become confusing (because he or she doesn't know how to verbalize what he or she is feeling).
As the grownup, it's YOUR job (along with the parent, of course) to make them feel comfortable. Do NOT ask if it's OK for you to stay the night. That's a bad idea because they might say no. Also, they don't get to make that choice, you and the parent do. Instead, mention that you're spending the night and you hope that it's OK with him or her. I suggest you also have an evening plan ready in advance that will make the night go smoothly -- a game with you, a new movie in your shack pack, or plans to go to dinner and do something fun. Hopefully, this will make the fact that you're spending the night less uncomfortable and more AWESOME!
Keep It Normal
Whatever the regular routine is, don't try to interrupt it OR insert yourself into it. If the child is used to having special bath, books, prayer, or whatever time with the parent before bed, let those activities go on without you (get that book or magazine out of your shack pack or finally take control of the remote). Even though you are excited to be a part of the child's life, it's still NOT your job to do the parenting. Let the kiddo have time with mommy or daddy while you do something else. This will also go a long way toward showing the child that you are NOT trying to replace another parent or think you are now a New Boss of some kind.
Do Say Goodnight
After the parent has had his/her special time with the kiddo, pop in to say goodnight. Show the child you care by doing a little extra tuck-tuck or giving a hug or a kiss on the forehead. And, this is key, remind the child that if he or she needs anything during the night, it’s OK to come get the parent, which leads to...
Leave the Door Open
Even if your partner is used to sleeping with the door shut at night, leave it open for the first nighttime visits. This will show the children that the parent is still available for any nightmare-consoling or scary noise-hearing. It also shows you have nothing to hide and that you're not doing anything "dirty" in there, which is another tween imagination issue. Closed doors equal a lot of questions. It's best to just keep the door open. After some time, you can start shutting the door again.
Plan for Breakfast
In the morning, either make breakfast or go out for a nice breakfast together. This will give you some extra time to see if the children are comfortable with you. If you notice any new shyness or strange emotions appearing, talk privately with your partner about what you notice or how you are feeling.
Remember to Take Care of You
Dating someone who has children when you don't can be a juggling act between their needs and yours, and theirs will almost always ending up trumping yours simply because there will always be children, exes, and schedules involved. Remember to voice your needs or concerns regarding sleepover arrangements. For example, if the children are used to sleeping with a blaring television on and it keeps you awake, discuss a compromise -- with the adult. Just because you’re being welcomed into their home in this way doesn't mean that nothing can ever change. Be your own advocate.
Give Them Space
After you have spent the night for the first time, remember that you don't have to do it every single time they are there. Children still need alone time with their parents, no matter how much your new little posse wants you to come over. It's flattering that they want you around, but you don't always need to be there. Remember -- all good things in moderation. Regarding space, also remember to not hover over the kids just because you're there. It's OK if they go in their room for hours a time, especially if they are tweens. It doesn't mean they don't like you (well, maybe it does), it usually just means they are KIDS.
Do you have advice for spending the night with your partner when they have kids and you don't? Share it in the comments below!
Blondie writes at Tales From Clark Street.