One of the most stressful situations many people experience in the mature dating scene is the prospect of meeting a date’s adult children. Talking to an older teen or a college-age child can be a lot more difficult than dealing with even the most recalcitrant grade-schooler, in part because adult children have a lot more background knowledge. They have a better understanding of what dating means and are more likely to see you as a “replacement” for their absent parent.
This problem doesn’t get much better if your date’s kids are in their 20s and 30s; they have to deal with you both as adults and as their parent’s children. The good news is that there are a few ways to make this process a little more comfortable, both for you and for your date’s adult children.
- Think about your expectations – If your mental image of meeting your date’s children looks something like “The Brady Bunch,” you may need to reconsider. In real life, no one gets a perfectly loving family instantly, especially when there are exes and other relatives involved. Remember that the goal isn’t to be welcomed right away; if you’re being tolerated and can get along civilly in the beginning, you’re doing well.
- Approach with care – It’s easy to assume that since your date’s children are technically adults, you can treat them like a friend, co-worker or other grown-up. This assumption leaves out that fact that everyone is still a child at heart, however. When it comes to a parent, every adult is still a kid inside, and there’s a good chance that even a 30 year old child will feel as though you represent a threat or disloyalty on the part of his or her parent. If the kids seem less than accepting, it may be worth asking your date to talk to them about how he or she feels about the absent parent.
- Pay attention to tone – There’s a strong impulse to be friendly with your date’s adult children, but it can be hard to maintain the balance between honest enthusiasm and condescension. If you make a very strong effort to be friends, you may seem desperate. Remember that you’re competing for the attention of one parent and potentially replacing another. Don’t be surprised if your date’s adult children don’t feel interested in including you in their day-to-day lives.
- Work to be accepted – You may be surprised by the fact that it’s harder for adult children to deal with their parents’ dating lives than it is for younger kids. These children intellectually understand the dating process, but they may not be emotionally comfortable with it. They also have no reason to involve you in their lives. It’s important to give them a reason to accept you outside of your involvement with their parent, such as a genuine mutual interest, as well as to avoid creating reasons for rejection.
- Don’t try to parent – Even resistant younger kids will accept you as an authority after a few years of family involvement, but the same isn’t true for older children. An adult has no need to grant you status as a parent. This is true even if you and his parent get married and move in together. Avoid sharing advice, giving orders or engaging in other parenting behaviors unless specifically invited. Try to avoid referring to yourself as “mom” or “dad,” and never say anything unkind about the absent parent, no matter how true you believe it to be. Doing so just leads to setting yourself up as an adversary.
- Avoid blame and guilt – There’s a good chance that adult children will never fully accept you, no matter how carefully you behave. If you feel like you aren’t going to “click” with your date’s adult children, don’t blame yourself. It’s possible that your date and his or her kids don’t have the kind of relationship that would make accepting you possible. If things seem a little rough at first, be patient, take it easy, and don’t let yourself think that you’re the sole source of the problem.
Meeting a date’s adult children can be difficult, especially if you’re planning on a long-term relationship with their parent. If you take your time, have realistic expectations, and understand where they’re coming from, however, it can be significantly less painful. In fact, having a good relationship with adult children can even be a gratifying part of the mature dating experience. It’s all in how you approach the situation.