In India, parents typically help select spouses for their children. While love-marriages are on the rise, an overwhelming 88 percent of marriages are still arranged there. Now, kids are getting in on the action. Adult children are using matchmaking sites to find new spouses for their single parents.
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The Delicate Art of Dating While a Single Parent
Sometimes, it seems like the arranged marriages of India would be a relief compared to the complicated world of dating U.S. parents have to juggle. Safety comes first, but then you have to find someone you like who also likes kids, right? That’s not easy. There’s a reason “dating a single dad” is such a popular search term. Some single dads and moms completely avoid dating until their children are older. Others hop from one partner to the next in search of a co-parent rather than a partner with whom they can build a lasting relationship.
Maybe we can simplify things a bit by tagging along on India’s new trend and letting our children lead the way? What do children want in a step-figure? Research says this role is a delicate balance that is neither parent nor peer. Different from a co-parent, an effective step-parent is more a co-parent support system than a parental figure.
Unfortunately, maintaining that balance doesn’t come naturally to a whole lot of people. There’s a reason so many stepparents struggle to be accepted by their partners’ children and why kids often have such a tough time dealing with new authority figures in their homes.
A telling statistic uncovered by sociologist Dr. Nicholas H. Wolfinger is that children of divorce are 45% more likely to get divorced than their peers whose families remained intact. For children whose parents remarried? 91%.
According to Dr.Robert E. Emery, attitudes have changed significantly from the days when stepparents entered the picture after a mother or father’s untimely death. Stepparents are no longer considered new moms or dads in the family, and those who can’t appreciate the difference do real harm to kids and to their relationships.
So, what is right?
For that, one of the best sources of inspiration is a nine-year study on stepfamilies conducted by Dr. James Bray, during which he was able to categorize most stepfamilies into three groups:
- The first type of stepfamily, the neo-traditional family, recognized the adults as authority figures but did away with traditional family roles. (Stepmothers weren’t responsible for childcare. Stepfathers weren’t responsible for discipline.)
- In the second type, the biological parent was the only parental authority. Their partner was an emotional support person to the parent but had relatively little to do with the kids.
- In the third group, dubbed “romantic families,” children were expected to accept step-parents as parental figures. Stepparents were expected to act like traditional moms and dads.
Can you guess which group fared the best?
Bray’s research found that romantic families fail quickly and profoundly. They have the highest divorce rates by far. Homes with one parental authority did okay … for a while. It’s hard to sustain that arrangement for long. It was the neo-traditional families that had the longest-lasting relationships and the strongest family bonds.
What does this mean for single dads in relationships?
- Fight against sexist social pressures. If your partner feels pressure to be more involved, let her know you appreciate the help but you’re capable of providing appropriate care and setting the best limits for your child. If she’s relying on you to take over discipline or sports responsibilities for her bio children, empower her to find her own solutions.
- Set respectful boundaries for everyone. Discipline is one of the biggest issues for blended families because different people often have different views on respect. Your partner should always feel safe in her home, but your children should also feel welcome. Also, your co-parent should feel comfortable with your partner’s involvement – and vice versa. A family therapist can help create rules that maintain mutual respect.
- Create opportunities for shared family time. Sometimes, you have to tempt your partner and kids to spend time together in ways you’ll all enjoy. Science tells us that bonds are formed by sharing a mix of new, exciting activities and old, familiar favorites. So, what does each member of your family enjoy? What are some relevant activities you could try out together? Put some extra thought into family time so you all get closer.
We might never embrace arranged marriages in the U.S. If we did, most of us wouldn’t leave that decision in the hands of our kids. Still, it’s important to consider their wants and needs whenever you establish a new relationship. While it’s harder to set the right expectations, a healthy foundation offers everyone benefits.