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She wants kids... I have them

You've raised your kids and (though you love being a parent) you don't want to do it again. For some women in the dating pool, that decision is a deal-breaker. “I raised three great kids and I’m proud of them,” says Marty Bolton of Rockford, Illinois. “A lot of women I date want kids and it’s a drag when they lose interest in me because I’m not interested in reprising that role.”

Short of wearing a sign that says, “I don’t want kids,” how’s a dating dad supposed to avoid this situation? Easy:

Three screening steps

  1. Gently address your feelings in your online profile and do check prospective dates’ profiles carefully for clues about whether or not they want kids of their own.
  2. When out on a date, mention that you enjoy being at your current parenting stage—and aren’t looking to revisit the early days.
  3. Tell friends who are trying to fix you up that you’re honestly not interested in dating women who want to start a new family.

Doing this should reduce the chance of your getting involved with someone whose desires are different from yours.

Don’t ignore the warning signs

Unfortunately, simply getting the word out isn’t enough. People hear what they want to, and there’s no guarantee that your words will be heeded. Bob Vessey of Columbia, S.C., learned the hard way. “I mentioned how I felt about having more kids when this woman and I started going out, but she kept dropping hints,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to hurt her, so I didn’t shut her down. I kind of felt like I was leading her on. She finally got frustrated and broke up with me.” Lesson to be learned: Any time you don’t act because you don’t want to hurt someone, you usually end up hurting them more.

What to say, how to say it

That’s why you have to tell her early and often. “Men usually know if they want to have more children, and it is important — even if it means losing the relationship — for them to care enough to tell the truth to the one they care about,” says Warren Berland, Ph.D., author of Out of the Box for Life. Here’s how:

  • Tell her you care about her.
  • Restate that you’re certain you don’t want more children.
  • Mention that this is no reflection on her ability to be a great mother.
  • Explain that it’s not about your feelings for her; it’s about your feelings about family.

Remember that you’re not saying this to change her mind. (She won’t—any more than you will). Rather, you’re explaining your feelings so she can make an informed decision about whether to stay with you anyway or make the choice to find someone else who shares her vision of family life.

Handling her reaction

No matter what she decides to do, she’s probably going to be upset. “Women may feel this as rejection,” Berland notes. “‘If he really loved me he would want to have a family with me’, but this has nothing to do with someone not wanting to take on this additional responsibility for the rest of his life.” Berland’s advice: “Listen to her pain and disappointment and be sure that she knows, in the strongest terms, that this is not a reflection of your feelings about her, or even your desire to have the relationship continue if she wants to.”

Starting a family — or not — is a highly emotional subject, Berland concludes. “It should be dealt with early on in the relationship and with a great deal of love, patience, understanding, and concern for the loss a woman will feel, especially about giving up a great relationship, which is so hard to find.”

North Carolina-based writer Margot Carmichael Lester has encountered many tricky dating situations—though not this particular one.

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