A good friend of mine, “Amber,” started dating a guy six months ago. She’s pretty crazy about him — he treats her well, he’s kind and generous, thoughtful. The sex is fabulous. But she has children and he is only “average” with them. Mostly, he seems to put up with them and sometimes is visibly annoyed. But here’s the biggest warning sign: he has two daughters who he rarely sees. When he does, Amber notices that his interactions with them are distant and cold. He isn’t all that interested in spending a lot of time with them and Amber feels she has more of a connection with his children than he does. She is just about ready to end it because his daddy skills seem seriously lacking. She wanted to know my opinion.
“If he’s not into the whole kid and family thing, he’s not a keeper,” I said. “Can you imagine living with a guy who wants all the kids to go away? That’s not going to be comfortable for anyone. Not the kids, him or you. Besides, if he’s made children and yet this most important role in life isn’t a priority, well, he’s not a good partner. (or man, I wanted to add)
She agreed. I truly believe their relationship is on borrowed time. And it should be.
One of the best ways to know a man’s true character is to pay close attention to his relationship with his kids. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know.
It is really hard being a single mom in the dating trenches. Sometimes we must make really tough decisions about the men in our lives. Maybe it might be a perfect relationship if kids weren’t in the picture. But they are.
Our reality is that we are moms first and our children’s needs must be paramount above our own. And that means that sometimes we must walk away from a guy we are crazy about because it is in the best interest of our children. I have huge admiration for women who do the right thing. It isn’t easy, I’ve been there. But that’s what being a good mom requires of us.
Seriously, having children and watching how a man interacts with his and yours, can also help you determine if he really is the right one for you. So here are some traits to look for in a guy:
1. He spends time with his children (consistently)
First, does he have at least partial custody of his kids and unsupervised visits? If he doesn’t, that is a huge warning flag. I have heard of women dating men who are only allowed supervised visits with his children and having no legal custody. Why these women even attempt to date men like these escapes me. Perhaps his ex is really that lying bitch, but probably there was enough evidence to convince a judge that this man is bad news. And you should listen and run. Fast.
Assuming he does have access to his children, does he show up on time for his visits? Does he look forward to them? If not, that’s another huge warning flag for you.
2. He’s willing to be a dad (this means discipline, tough conversations and open conversations)
My ex loved his children but parenting was not something he had any interest in. He wanted to have fun with them (fishing, amusement parks, diving, going out to dinner, or taking a vacation), but when it came to the hard stuff? Forget it. It drove me crazy when he refused to address some really huge things with the children. “Be a parent,” I would often lament. A good dad doesn’t just play with his kids, he is willing to put in the time and effort in directing them in positive ways, talking openly and honestly, and disciplining when appropriate.
3. He leads by example
Watch him carefully around the kids. Is he leading by example? My ex drank liberally around the kids and got smashing drunk. It was horrible for them to see it and witness his explosive behavior. They all hated it and it was oftentimes humiliating. It was hard to teach the children that they shouldn’t drink in excess or rely on substances to have fun or cope with life because, hey, Daddy was doing it. It made parenting rather difficult because basic morals were lacking. Additionally, while he maintained his job, he often “worked” from home (wink, wink). In reality, on most every Friday by noon, he would pick up our youngest daughter from pre school and take her to his favorite bar with him, order her some pasta and give her quarters to play video games while he slugged beers and answered work emails from his phone. One day, Siena said “Daddy works in a bar drinking beer. I want a job like that.” Wow, this from a four-year-old. Nice concepts to teach kids early on.
It is imperative that your guy show children proper, good, positive behavior because they are watching more than we realize. If he’s doing some pretty stupid things around the children, you need to rethink why you’re with this guy. It’s probably time to cut it off.
4. He connects with the children
Does your guy make an effort to connect with the children in his life (including yours)? Is he emotionally available? Does he talk to them, ask open-ended questions, and listen to them?
5. He is thoughtful of the children’s needs
How often is he anticipated the children’s needs. For example, let’s say the two of you are at a grocery store. Does he think of the kids when purchasing groceries? Or when vacations are planned, is he thinking about how the trip can incorporate things for them? Does he purchase birthday and Christmas gifts for them? These all matter immensely.
6. He’s generous with his time and money
A stingy man is bad news. Frugal is fine, stingy speaks to character. If he is unwilling to part with money, that’s a big warning sign. I’m not saying that he needs to be overly generous (in fact, that’s not being a good father, in my opinion) or spend outside what his budget allows. But it is important that he meets the needs of his children. Does he pay his child support on time and without hassle? What about his time? Is he willing to put aside things he may love to do, like a day on the golf course, in favor of, perhaps, teaching the kids to golf? If not, you are dating one very selfish man. Sound good? Of course not.
7. He’s willing to say no
A good dad needs to know when to say no to his children. Divorce guilt sometimes overrules good judgment, but if this is consistent, then you are going to be around a bunch of unruly, misbehaved, obnoxious children that will put enormous amounts of stress in the home. If this sounds like your guy, the chances of having a positive, happy home are about zero.
While you are dating a new guy, it is imperative that we put in the time and energy in watching how he treats the children in his life. There are not shortcuts. And few things are more important.
Martha Chan says
I cannot agree with you more.
Jenny D says
That’s great advice. Back when I was dating, I don’t think I met many great guys who weren’t also a great dads. Where I live, 50/50 parenting time is almost automatic. I was a little leary of the guys who didn’t have equal custody at first, but what I found was that there were great dads who didn’t (like the guy I married) and there we lots of reasons for it. My husbands ex was a stay at home mom who refused to share custody and was willing to fight to the death to get what she wanted, but I also dated a great guy who wasn’t able to stop his ex from relocating and another who traveled a lot on an unpredictable schedule and felt it was better for his kids to spend most of their time with their mom, who could provide a more stable environment. What you want to look for is how they deal with it. Do they cherish the time and take opportunities to have more or are they expecting you to parent their kid?
You might need to have a sliding scale for #2. The guys that had less time with their kids were not in a great position to be the big disciplinarian. The ones with more secure positions could aford to be the bad guy for a while. It’s tough to be that guy if you only see them twice a month. I expect them to make it up with #3 lead by example.
Bberry Wine says
AGREED! One of the very first questions I ask a man – tell me about your kids. You can tell so much by the way he answers. It is a very easy way to decide whether or not someone is dating material.
This isn’t only true for single moms, if anyone is considering dating someone with children they should ask about their children and pay attention to the way the question is answered.
I am shocked by the number of people who transfer their negative feelings about a spouse (former) to their children. This simply isn’t acceptable. Our kids will always be our children, our heart and soul. I don’t Live for my kids, they are not my “life” yet they are a significant part of my life.
Your criteria is pretty good when applied to finding good women as well. How do they treat their children’s father? Can they separate what’s good for the kids from what’s good for them or the issues they had with that guy as a spouse? Do they push their kid ahead of yours? How do they deal with it when you cancel plans with them to spend time with your kids. Do they resent time you spend co-parenting with the mother of your children. None of these things get easier or less important as things progress.