What If Their Child Doesn't Like You

In theory, dating is simple. Dating should be a way for two people to get to know each other and develop a relationship. But everyone in the dating pool knows that it's much more complicated than that. People are complicated, and many people have baggage from past relationships that affect the next one. Some people have children who may or may not be interested in their parent's entering a new relationship, and anyone dating someone with a child needs to know what to expect, especially if the child is upset by the new relationship.

When you are dating a person with a child, the number-one thing to know is you are not dating only one person. The child is a permanent part of the relationship; you are not. It doesn't have to adapt to you; you have to adapt to it. A child is a non-negotiable. Start with acceptance of the child's place in the person you are dating's life. While you don't have to win the child's immediate love, don't expect the relationship to succeed if there is constant animosity between you and the child. Relationships take work, and this one is no exception. Animosity between you and the child will result in a dating issue that will need to be resolved as soon as possible.

If things get off to a rocky start between you and your date's child, try to maintain empathy for the child. The child may have lingering resentments, anger or sadness, and all are normal. The child may be afraid of getting hurt again. This, too, is easy to understand. Try to imagine that you are the child, and think of what that child would want in terms of another person coming into the picture.

Depending on the age of the child, you may be met with different reactions and attitudes. A child under ten years may not even understand the extent of his or her feelings, but those feelings are just as valid. A pre-teen or teen may display outright hostility, sarcasm or wary skepticism. Don't take it personally. It isn't about you as much as it is about the idea of you in their parent's life. Here are some suggestions to smooth the way, even if you had a bad start:

Get advance information. Before meeting the child, ask the person you are dating about him or her. Find out their likes, dislikes, hobbies and interests. Also try to find out how the child typically reacts to people who date their parent. First, showing an interest in the child shows the person you are dating that you understand the importance of the child's place in his or her life. Second, it gives you some ideas of what to talk about with the child when you meet him or her, and even may give you an idea of a gift you could bring that the child would like. Third, this information will help you prepare emotionally for the big meeting.

Be laid-back and genuine. Avoid fake enthusiasm because kids are sensitive to insincerity. Be warm, but don't expect a hug. Be nice. Don't push yourself on anyone. Accept whatever reaction you are given, and let the child know that it's ok. If the child doesn't want to talk, don't force a conversation. Tell the child that you like their parent, and you hope to get to know the child, too.

It takes time. Just as developing a relationship takes time, so too does developing a relationship with the person's child. In fact, a relationship with the child may take more time and work to develop, because the child may be wrestling with feelings related to why their parent is single. Give it time, and take it slow.

Sharing. After you've met the child, one of the next times you get together, bring something to show them that would be of interest. It is not necessary to buy expensive gifts for the child. Doing so may seem insincere, like a bribe, and be taken as such. Instead, bring something to show the child that could help them get to know you better and shows something you have in common. For instance, a baseball card or program from a game, or a picture of you playing sports when you were their age can spark a conversation. Think show and tell, and try to find something that complements the child's interests. If you have a special talent, such as magic or drawing, share that. Do a trick; draw a picture. Maybe you can offer to teach the child something he wants to learn. If the child is young, bring a book to read to them, or a small game you could play together. Even if the child doesn't accept your attempts to have a conversation, keep trying.

Meet the child on the right turf. Try to offer to do something the child likes. If they like video games, challenge them to a game. If they like sports, see if you could all go to a game. If they like princesses, watch a Disney DVD together, or have a tea party together. Be genuinely interested in the child, and show it by planning an appropriate activity. If you are getting to know a teen, adjust the activity accordingly. Maybe just listening to music that they like together and talking about the musicians would be a good plan. Or, find out their favorite author, read one of the books and talk about it. This shows effort, and, even if the teen doesn't show appreciation outright, your actions will be noted.

Communicate. If you got off to a rocky start, talk about it with the person you're dating and keep them in the loop. Apologize if you need to. Acknowledge that it didn't go well, but you'd like to start over. Then let the bad start go, and really start fresh. Try the suggestions above, and come in with a genuine and sincere attitude.

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