Welcome to ask a child-free person, the blog where I, a child-free person who studies motherhood for a living, negotiate common conflicts that arise between the parented and the child-free.

So you’re a parent and you’re dating. Maybe you’re single and looking, or maybe you’re in a poly or open relationship. Whatever the case, having a kid can make the whole process of playing the field more complicated.

So, let’s get down to business: When do you tell someone you’re dating that you have a child? Is the onus on you to do so RIGHT AWAY? My answer is the rules change depending on the kind of dating you’re doing.

If you’re looking for hookups you have no intention of committing to, then who cares about whether or not they know you have a kid? Of course, having a kid isn’t a dirty secret. Many parents love talking about their kids and tell everyone they meet about them, from random people on the bus, to people they bump genitals with after meeting at a bar. So if you wanna show baby pictures to a one-night stand, that’s your prerogative entirely.

If you’re hooking up, it’s up to you whether to tell your sex partner that you’re a parent. And if you NEVER do so, that’s completely okay. If you’re not considering being serious with someone– and if they know and are fine with everything being casual – you have no obligation to tell them everything about your life. Does your casual hookup know who your best friend is or your middle name? Probably not, so why do they need to know you have a tiny human for whom you’re legally responsible?

So, what happens when you’re dating with your eye on a serious commitment? In that case, you can tell the person right away. Lots of people put the fact that they have kids in their online dating profiles, or even join sites specifically catering to single parents. This can make things easier because it’s all out there from the get-go. No awkward conversations to worry about down the line! However, are you obligated to take this immediate full disclosure approach when looking for a long-term mate? I say no.

On a first or second date, you’re basically trying to figure out whether you can stomach the person at all. You have no idea if you’ll ever have a joint mortgage or be attending their niece’s graduation. You’re not there yet. You may decide after date number two that they are totally boring and you’d rather hear nails scrape a chalkboard than see them again. If that happens, it will never matter you didn’t mention having a baby.

However, like anything important in your life, once you start to flirt with the idea of maybe getting serious with someone, you should tell them about your child. Once you know you like someone, then you really should start figuring out if you have shared values. This is why you should probably discuss things like your politics, your approach to work/life balance, and of course, your families.

You need to know whether the person you’re dating likes children, or really, what’s the potential for a serious future? Having said that, just because someone likes kids doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to work out between you. It is, however, guaranteed not to work if they aren’t yet ready for kids, or if they’ve made the commitment to being permanently child-free.

In light of this, I recommend telling the person you are dating that you have a kid no later than the beginning of the third date. If things start getting serious faster than this, then tell them as soon as they do. Either way, it should be on the table before you have any talks about a potential long-term commitment. Why? Because a kid is an important part of your lifestyle. Just like I would probably want to know whether the person I’m with works nights or days, because that will affect our lifestyle, you want to know if they have a tiny human for the same reason. It’s info that needs to be on the table so everyone can make an informed decision.

I know it can probably be scary to bring up the subject of having a child, even when you personally believe your kid is the coolest person ever. Having a child is a source of great source of joy and pride for many, but it’s not for everybody. Because of that, you and your love interest might end up parting ways if they decide their life is a child-free zone. It is important to note that doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means they are not the person for you. I mean, ultimately, don’t you deserve someone who prepared to love everything about you, including your kid?

There are plenty of child-loving people out there. If it doesn’t work out with one, you can get back on the dating horse and see where the next ride takes you.
Sarah Sahagian is a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York U, where her academic specialty is motherhood. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington PostxoJane, &  The Beaverton. When she’s not writing her dissertation, Sarah reads a lot of novels about other angsty young women, streams a lot of Netflix, and tweets about topics ranging from reproductive rights to who’s going to win The Bachelor.