What it’s like dating a woman with children

MSN's relationship expert Dr Pam Spurr helps you negotiate the hurdles when you like her and she has children.

Shane Warne's notorious private life has been splashed across the news again with ex-wife Simone Callahan reportedly devastated her children call Liz Hurley 'Mummy Two'. The truth of their tussles can't be known but the mix of an ex-wife, new girlfriend and children is explosive.

As step-mum to two sons in my first marriage plus my second husband being step-dad to my children, I've seen both sides. Here are some top tips if you're in a new relationship where children are involved:

Her children are important to her

Suzie Hayman, counsellor and author of Be A Great Step-Parent, says: "It's a major mistake thinking you can cherry pick - have a relationship with her, ignoring the kids. Her kids will always be foremost in her concerns. If you can't accept they come as a package deal, you should walk away."

Communication is key

Sweep things under the carpet and normal worries fester, so personally I found discussing my situation right from the start when dating was a positive. You get to know how she manages juggling being a single mum. Listen carefully so you fully understand the ins-and-outs of her life. If still interested, proceed with care and caution.

Compromise over sharing time

Relationship Expert Jo Hemmings advises: "Accept that childcare plans are probably set in stone and for the relationship to stand a chance, you need to learn how to work around them from the outset. This prevents resentment from either partner on your time together being limited."

Be mindful of jealous feelings

Jealous feelings are almost universal as Hayman explains: "Her children are living proof she loved someone before you. You're also in competition with them for her time and attention. How to cope? Accept jealousy is natural but that how you behave about it is in your power. You're the adult so don't feel negatively towards the children instead."

You'll never be their dad

Over time you will get closer to her children, even feel part of the family. That's fantastic but never let unexpected motivations like wanting to be loved/adored by them drive your behaviour. Become a role model, be like an uncle, but accept you'll never be their dad. If reports are true about Shane Warne's situation, even adopting a nickname like 'Dad Two' is a bad idea.

Feelings can get complicated for you, her and the children

You may have the best intentions but it's not that simple. Hayman explains, "Understand that while your relationship may be an exciting beginning for you and her, for the kids it's an ending - of the hope their parents get back together. They have a right to feel unhappy at this loss. If you can accept their feelings are understandable, sooner or later they'll come round to accepting you.

A checklist of top tips if you want this relationship to last the distance

1. Take dating slowly - Don't plunge into this situation. And don't expect to see her frequently at first. And certainly don't expect to spend the night with her straight away.

2. Meet the children - Undoubtedly she'll guide when this happens but it's savvy of you to suggest keeping it low-key. Don't expect, eg to spend a whole Saturday when you first meet. Suggesting meeting somewhere casual for an ice-cream is preferable.

3. Be confident - I experienced lots of anxiety becoming a step-mum in my first marriage especially as I was very young. I combated that by expecting the best to happen for all of us. Keeping positive and confident definitely helped my step-sons when they felt unsure of things.

4. Respect their past - Children have their own ways of doing things. Instead of sweeping in and trying to create everything from scratch, respect the things they enjoy doing. Show you're coming along for the ride - you're not trying to be the driver!

If you also have children

Shane Warne and Liz Hurley both have children. This sort of situation, where you're both bringing something to the party, can be a very difficult juggling act.

1. Protective parents - It's natural for you both to be protective of your children. If there are rows between your children it's hard to resist defending your child's side. Resist! Early on you two should form 'Team Adults', presenting an excellent example of not taking sides but trying to ensure all are treated fairly.

2. Parental love doesn't happen overnight - You love your child/children, she loves hers - but loving each other's takes time. Think of how a friendship grows - that's what you can expect from your feelings for your stepchildren-to-be.

3. Regular relationship MOT - This might seem a challenge too far but it can work wonders for everyone to sit around the dinner table and check how they're all feeling. If you encourage a supportive atmosphere it can have enormous benefits.

4. The family that plays together - It helps you to bond by finding a new activity to do together. From swimming to cycling, or whatever you all enjoy, start forming your own traditions.

Dating a woman with children can have its difficulties, but like anything, work at it, follow our advice if it suits you and you'll find a fulfilling relationship is your reward.


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