Love and Approval

Dear Mr. Dad: I have been dating a divorced dad for a year now. I’ve met his two awesome daughters. We’ve hung out together but they don’t know that I’m in a relationship with their dad. How do we tell them that we are more than friends in a way that will be least disruptive and will produce the best results?
A: Dating a divorced dad can be a pretty daunting prospect and you’re one brave woman to be doing it. You’re absolutely right to be thinking about this now, but I’d be willing to bet that your boyfriend’s daughters are already on to you. Kids are a lot more perceptive than we give them credit for, and if they’ve hung out with you at non-work-related functions (office parties and picnics, for example), they’ve already connected the dots or at least suspect that something’s up.
Ideally, you’d have kept your relationship with their dad a complete secret until you were ready to tell them. However, the fact that the girls already know you may work to your advantage by making it easier for them to accept you when you make the official announcement. Hopefully, your boyfriend wouldn’t let his kids’ opinions of you dictate whether or not your relationship continues, but getting their “approval” is important. Those girls are going to be a part of your life for a long time and they’ll always have some influence over their dad. Sounds like you’re off to a good start.
The key to successfully dating a divorced dad and getting in his daughters’ good graces is to take things slow. Let them gradually get used to you being a part of his—and their—life. Children are usually very protective of their parents (this is especially true of daughters and their dads) and they’ll lash out if they feel that you’re not the right person for their dad or that you’re “up to no good.” The slow-and-steady approach will reduce the odds that this will happen to you.
As for the mechanics of spilling the beans, dad should be the one who starts the conversation. Something like, “I know you’ve already met Audrey and you know her as my friend. But we’re really more than just friends.” Give the kids a chance to respond. Since they know you, there’s a good chance that their response will be a yawn.
Put some thought into where this is going to happen. There are no absolute rules, of course. Home is good because it’s the girls’ territory and they’ll feel more comfortable there (plus they can go running off to their rooms if they need to get away). A public place could be good because it’s neutral territory (but you may end up incredibly embarrassed if the girls pitch a fit). Either way, leave plenty of time to answer questions.
Even after your status change (from friend to girlfriend) has been confirmed, keep taking things slowly. Hold hands with their dad and kiss every once in a while, but don’t go overboard. And avoid overnighters for a while longer. The kids need time to adjust and having you move into their house—or even just leaving a toothbrush on the bathroom sink—could be too jarring.
Finally—and maybe most importantly—be a friend to the girls, but make it clear that you’re not trying to be their mother. They have one of those already. What they really want to know is whether you’re going to love and care for their dad. All you have to do is show them.

Dating a Divorced Dad: Patience and Bravery Required

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a sixth grade teacher and one of my students became very attached to me during the school year. Her parents divorced eight years ago and I began emailing with her dad a couple months ago. We started seeing each other but didn’t let many people know because we wanted to wait until school was out. The daughter got wind that something was going on and told her dad it was wrong for him to date her teacher and begged him to date anyone but me. I wasn’t expecting this reaction and we stopped seeing each other. He said he had to do what was in his daughter’s best interest. I completely disagree with this, because the girl has not liked any of the past girlfriends either. I’m absolutely devastated. He thinks she’ll come around now that school is over but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Is there any hope? What should I do?

A: Being a single dad myself, I can assure you that dating a divorced father is never easy (that’s what women I’ve dated have said and I know I’m not the only one…). We come with plenty of baggage and there are always unforeseen complications. Plus, children tend to be very protective of their dads (interestingly, they’re often more protective of dads than moms—perhaps because they see that moms already enjoy much more social support than dads).

Part of problem may be that the girl feels betrayed by you. Because the two of you had such a strong bond during the year, chances are good that she looked at you with admiration and respect and even considered you a friend. To have you suddenly dating her father might have made her feel that you were just using her to get to her dad.

It’s also possible that the girl is worried about betraying her mother. Most kids with divorced parents secretly hope that mom and dad will get back together—even if the divorce happened long, long ago. And there’s nothing like having dad start dating someone else to show a child that (a) she has no control over the situation, and (b) that her fantasy of a reunited family might never happen. So the fact that the girl really likes you muddles things even more by making her feel that she’s actually helping shatter he own dream.

As far as the dad goes, you need to understand that his first responsibility (and loyalty) will always be to his child—as it should be. And while it’s certainly worth trying to convince him to give things another go, his primary motivation will be to do what’s right for his daughter, whatever that looks like to him.

One thing you can do to help both dad and daughter come to grips with the situation is to slow the relationship down. In other words, be friends instead of dating each other. While it would have been better to have started the relationship from this angle, going the friend route now might work by giving everyone a little extra time to get used to the new dynamic.

At the same time, be sure to give dad and daughter some space to talk things over alone. I know you want to be there to give your side of the story and try to show them that you’ve got the best of intentions, but don’t.

Dating a divorced dad can be frustrating and infuriating, and the key to success is being very, very patient. Rushing things will only backfire.

Evil Stepmother No More

Dear Mr. Dad: I recently married a man who has a 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He and I met long after his divorced, so it’s not like I caused the breakup. Still, the girl has never liked me and, whenever she visits, she is arrogant and rude. I’m trying hard to be pleasant and establish a good relationship with her, and my husband has tried to smooth the way, but to no avail. What should I do?

A: Would it make you feel better to know that pre-teens and teens are insolent towards their biological parents as well? And that in some twisted way, your stepdaughter is giving you a complement by treating you just like a “real” parent ? No, probably not …

As painful as it is, what you’re describing is pretty much the standard in blended families. And while it’s entirely possible that you and your stepdaughter may never be best friends, there’s no reason why the two of you can’t at least get along.
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Protecting yourself from paternity fraud

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are about to get a divorce. We have a one-year old boy and she’s pregnant with our second. Here’s the problem: She’s been having an affair for the past two years and I’m concerned that the children aren’t actually mine. What can I do to protect myself?

A: I’m sorry about your situation. Divorce is never easy, and it’s even tougher when you’ve been cheated on and children are involved.

Hire a lawyer immediately. Then get DNA tests for you and the children. Expect to pay upwards of $400 for the testing, but given the horror stories I’ve heard from men in your situation, it’s a worthwhile expense.

Your goal is to avoid becoming a victim of “Paternity Fraud.” This is when a mother lies about who a child’s father is for the purposes of monetary gain. In your case, you could be on the hook for 18 or more years of child support for a child or children who aren’t yours.
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