Oh, you have kids? How interesting
August 18, 2002

It's hard to date someone with kids. Don't get me wrong. I love  kids, even want to have one or two. But dating a parent with  children deserves a whole how-to book they don't have Cliffs Notes  for yet.

Kids aren't even really the main issue. Dating a person with  kids involves an ex.

That's where the mental game of Twister gets really fun.  Sometimes the exes are on amicable terms with each other. But just  exactly how friendly are they, I always wonder, especially if they  ever happen to reminisce over a bottle of Cuervo?

Usually the former partners don't get along anymore, however.  A friend of mine nicknamed his former bride "Queenzilla." During  the frequently overheard battles, ex-antics and non-friendly fire  aren't so pleasant for the bystander, let me tell you.

I have now racked up almost enough of those ex-situations to  write my own "Dating Men With Kids for Idiots" books.  Unfortunately, I'd be writing it from the idiot's point of view,  since I haven't yet mastered any successes in those situations.  Nor have I learned to steer clear of the post-divorce crash sites.

But I have garnered a few insights about dating a  kid-attached person. You may find these useful if you are going to  venture into the kiddie viper pit yourse, despite the "beware"  signs.

One. Bring a small gift on your first meeting with the  offspring. It usually impresses no one but yourself, and may even  come off as a feeble attempt to buy their love. But I think it's  just a nice effort. P.S. You should also buy a gift for yourself  for getting through this introductory phase.

Two. The ex will probably not like you. Deal with it.  She/He/It may make you think you're all right. You may even get  lulled into this illusion. Don't believe it.

I spent one whole Sunday cleaning and cooking a great dinner  that I had (yes, mutually) planned with a very sweet, romantic,  handsome dad. I made a turkey. (A turkey, for the record, takes  several days of preparation: buying, rearranging the refrigerator  contents so it can be stored, thawing and cooking, plus creating  side dishes.)

I called to reconfirm my 6 p.m. date at 3 p.m. To my shock,  his ex told him she was picking up their son much later than  expected. He canceled dinner with me.

Infuriating? Oh yes. But not just because of the expense,  prep time and migraine. Worst of all was the fact that he didn't  call me when he first knew about the plan change. Then he took out  his frustration on me, even though he was mad at his ex!

Only after months of eating leftover turkey from my freezer  could I let the canceled dinner memory go.

Three. The children always come first. Always. It doesn't  matter how expensive, how big, how far in advance or how lovingly  you have made special plans. If a Little League game comes up,  look out for sad puppy-dog eyes, guilt trips and ex-calls on cue.  Kiss goodbye the scalped tickets for the big event you spent a  week's worth of work on.

Four. Don't fall for the kids. This, of course, is impossible  unless you have a stone heart. They may annoy you, spill  non-removable items on you, talk your ear off or crawl on you like  a jungle gym. But if that little one (even if she is 23) comes up  to hug you voluntarily, your resolve is toast.

Unfortunately, this bond usually means little to your love  partnership and can be especially awkward if you break up with the  parent. A friend of mine didn't have kids of her own, but was  intertwined in the evolution of her boyfriend's girls, seeing them  blossom into beautiful young women. Long after the relationship  with their dad ended, their picture remained on her dresser. She  longed for a glimpse of their life progress.

There is an upside to keeping up relationships with another's  kids, if you can. I'm an unofficial stepchild to two people who  aren't recognized as part of my family (they divorced out). But I  still consider my stepmom and my stepdad to be part of my  collective family. They each had a difficult time earning my  respect. Divorce didn't break that connection. I appreciate their  positive thoughts, cards, calls and visits.

Family is such a diluted and branched commodity these days  that it is important to hold on to those we cherish. As it turns  out, my mom and stepmom get along Ab-Fab now, and we three can all  sit and laugh together like the "Sex and the City" girls.

You want more insight into the complicated role of paramour  in training for a stepparent position? Notorious skirt-chasing  singer Rod Stewart, married three times to beautiful blond models  and father to five of their children, said something funny about  the experience.

Rachel Hunter, the last of his ex-parade, organized a  Thanksgiving gathering of all the past spouses, their children  and, by two degrees of separation, Rod. He titled the event,  "Three blondes and a turkey."

Now that was a good way to use a big bird. And I'll bet there  weren't any leftovers to freeze.