I Really Want a Relationship…but My Kids Come First!

A continuing series on the ways people prevent themselves from finding the loving relationships they say they want.

I got this letter last week from a man named Murray in Georgia,

Here’s my dilemma. I started dating a wonderful woman about 3 weeks ago. It was one of those relationships that felt like magic from the first moment we saw each other. We’re not kids and are taking things at a reasonable pace, but it’s hard for me not to dream about a life with this woman.

Last week she said something that has weighed heavily on me ever since. We were having a serious discussion about what a future might be like for us.  She has two children, ages 7 and 9, and during our talk she said quite matter of factly, “Well of course, my children will always come first.”

I just nodded at the time, but since then I’ve begun to think about that phrase. I have no children. I really love her boys and would consider it a privilege to help raise them, but the idea that I will NEVER be first is something I can’t get past. Do I want to be in a relationship with a partner when I am always her third priority? I would be curious to hear your thoughts.


I must admit I typically hear this from men, although it applies to both genders. Of course, the knee jerk reaction tends to be, “How selfish! Of course, the kids come first!” But the more you sit with his concern, the more you understand that feeling like the least important person in the family puts a real damper on the enthusiasm for the relationship — and with good reason.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that announcing to your date that “MY KIDS COME FIRST” is a sure-fire way that people unknowingly sabotage a potential relationship. I think it usually comes from some kind of misguided attempt to be “honest” with this potential mate. But it’s one of those mistakes that is easy to fix.

The fix? Don’t say it. Ever. Here’s why:

1. It’s not always true.

It may be true that “your kids always come first,” but there are times when your kids don’t need you. There are times when your entire attention is focused on your partner, and that person is “Number One.” Your kids may be with their other parent. They may be at school or with their grandparents. You may be on a romantic weekend with your new love. When you say, “My kids come first,” it sounds like you’re saying, “You will never be my number one priority.” But that’s not true. There are many times when your partner can easily be your top priority.

2. It’s already assumed.

Every thinking person assumes that your children are already your top priority. Caring for children is life’s most demanding responsibility and it’s natural that you get the latitude to take care of them. Making a point of saying, “My kids come first” makes one wonder, “Just how low am I going to be on the priority list?”

3. It makes you sound like someone who needs a pair of helping hands more than a romantic partner.

The early stages of dating are a time when people are trying to make decisions with relatively little information. We are all trying to figure out, “What would it be like to be in a relationship with this person?” and, “Why does this person want to be with me?” It’s easy to see how Murray can wonder, “Does she want to be with me because she’s madly in love with me, or because I can help out with her top priority.”

Lastly, I would add the simple reminder that your children are “passing through.” It may seem far, far away when they are small, but if all goes well, they will walk out your front door some day and into a life of their own. You’ll need to have a new top priority. Be sure that you don’t lose a great partner by hammering home a point that needs no emphasis.

What do you think? Agree? Not?

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