Dear DIY Woman: Wrangling new partners and adolescent children

Love me, love my kids?

I am a recently separated sixty year old male with a sixteen year old daughter who lives partly with me and partly with her mother.  I have dipped my toes in the dating scene and found things going swimmingly until I mention my daughter and then suddenly found that things have gone frosty.

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

So my query is:  How do I present this dilemma to potential new partners?  What should I say and what should I expect?  Equally, if I find an attractive partner with kids how should I deal with the challenge of being their mum’s new partner?

It’s true that the idea of a school-aged child can be a deterrent to potential partners who are not similarly encumbered. They are looking forward to travelling, dinners out, quiet nights in à deux. You can’t blame them for being less than thrilled at the prospect of a third (young) person, no matter how adorable you think them. And that may be part of the problem. Parents are liable to dote on any offspring in the room. This can seriously reduce the chances of connection with new partners, who are rather hoping you will dote on them. I’ll tackle this interesting query line by line:

How do I present this dilemma to potential new partners?

Speaking for myself, I don’t like surprises. Omitting to give the full picture is tantamount to telling fibs, in my book. I rate honesty in a potential partner very highly and I suspect I’m not the only single woman to do so. I’d suggest you mention that you have a daughter in your dating profile (if you have one) and certainly on the first date (if you don’t).

I would also caution you against using the word ‘dilemma’ when referring to her existence. It pre-supposes a negative reaction and implies that your daughter is some kind of inconvenience. This doesn’t do justice to either you or her. Don’t automatically assume having a 16-year-old daughter is a problem.

What should I say and what should I expect?

Think about the ways in which your daughter enriches your life. Keep that uppermost in your mind before you begin negotiations. New partners will want to know how often she stays with you; is there any flexibility there? Can you take holidays? If so, for how long? It’s likely the presence of an adolescent daughter will reduce opportunities for intimacy between you and a new partner, and may prolong the time it takes to get to know each other. It might be a good idea to have an open discussion about this early on and see where it takes you.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you both think there’s enough goodwill and mutual attraction to start to build a relationship, here are a few suggestions to smooth the way:

Make some space for your new partner in your week. Busy schedules mean this won’t happen by accident so nominate certain times and try to stick to them. Both of you will need to be flexible – having a school-aged child adds to the chances of unexpected school commitments. Equally your daughter will need to understand that you will no longer come running whenever she snaps her fingers, if that’s been the pattern thus far. Your new partner needs to know she won’t be told to go home to her place after she’s packed her toothbrush for a sleepover. That sort of change of plans never ends well.

Discuss contingency plans with your daughter that don’t necessitate your participation. Set up a taxi account. Form car pool networks with other parents. (This is advice I’d give any parent of a 16-year-old. It pays to feel comfortable liaising with other parents if you’re concerned about the safety of your child.) Of course, if an emergency arises different rules apply. Just make sure your idea of what constitutes an emergency and your partner’s are more-or-less aligned.

Equally, if I find an attractive partner with kids how should I deal with the challenge of being their mum’s new partner?

Assume your partner’s children will come first with her, as yours will with you. Try not to put it to the test, and certainly refrain from saying it out loud. It’s a given in a healthy single-parent/child relationship.

If – as I understand from your question above -your new partner’s children are young adults, they are likely to feel protective of their mother. In my experience, oldest sons can be especially intimidating in this regard. My best tip is to assume they will be a part of your future and react to their strange ways accordingly. Make up your mind to construe their actions in the best possible light. I know this makes me sound like Pollyanna, but I believe we are our best selves when we feel liked. If you exude affection and warmth, your partner’s children will – with luck – eventually respond in kind.

For more on re-partnering, listen here to Radio National’s Life Matters (Thursday June 28) on ‘How long should you wait before starting a new relationship?’

This is the second ‘Dear DIY Woman’ advice column, written in response to your enthusiasm. If you have enjoyed reading it, I would love you to subscribe to DIY Woman: you will receive weekly email notification of the latest post. Nothing else. is a commercial-free zone. And please keep those questions coming.


2 thoughts on “Dear DIY Woman: Wrangling new partners and adolescent children

  1. Great advice. Common deal breakers (eg, kids, smoking etc) should be raised up front. And if someone is not up for you with these things in place, that’s cool because someone else will be.

  2. Thanks Carmen. I agree we need to be upfront and honest in our dealings with new partners. I’m not even keen on people who lie about their age. Add that to my list of deal breakers.

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