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.

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