Kids Hamper Mom's-But Not Dad's-New Relationship
Mon February 24, 2003 03:05 PM ET
By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - While having children from a previous relationship tends to reduce a Mom's chance of a new relationship, new research suggests these children can be a bonus for Dad's.

Investigators found that men who say they regularly visit children from another relationship are more likely than other men to report living with a new mate within a few years.

These findings suggest that new mates believe a man invested in his children bodes well for the future of the relationship, study author Dr. Susan D. Stewart of the University of Richmond in Virginia told Reuters Health.

"We think having prior children is attractive to potential partners," she said.

It shows that the men are "invested in parenting, and women like that," Stewart added.

In terms of why the opposite might be true with women, Stewart said that men don't need special signals to inform them whether a single woman will be a good mother. "Men assume women will be good mothers, whether or not they have kids," she noted.

In addition, when parents break up, children are much more likely to live with their mothers than their fathers, Stewart said, and live-in kids are more likely to be dependent on parents and drain them of their emotional energy. This situation may limit a mother's ability to meet new people, and render her less attractive to potential mates when she does.

An absent father may also play a limited role in his children's lives, the researcher suggested, and filling the emotional gap left by an absent parent may be too daunting a task for prospective mates.

Stewart and her colleagues obtained their findings from a review of information collected on 1,226 single men from surveys conducted between 1987 and 1988 and then again between 1992 and 1994. One hundred sixty nine of the men initially surveyed said they had children who were not living with them at the time.

At the time of the next survey, 101, or 60%, of the previously single fathers not living with their children said they were no longer single, but were either married or living with a mate, with the majority reporting the former.

Analyzing the results, Stewart and her team report in the Journal of Marriage and Family that men with children who lived elsewhere were about 30% more likely to have moved in with another mate by the time of the next survey than childless single men.

Looking closer at the results, the authors discovered that the increased chance of a new relationship among single fathers was only apparent among fathers who either gave child support or visited their children.

This indicates that it may be the involvement of the father with his children, rather than the existence of children themselves, that is attractive, Stewart said.

"The more visits, the higher his odds of cohabitation," she said in an interview.

SOURCE: Journal of Marriage and Family 2003;65:90-104.