Single Parent Dating

Did you know that there are about 14 million single parents here in the U.S. today? They are responsible for raising 21.6 million of our nation’s children. (Based on 2005 census statistics, released in 2007)

And within the last few years, I became part of that growing single parent population.

After my divorce was final, though I didn’t set out to surround myself by other single parents, somehow it just happened. Two of my best friends are single moms, and I even know my share of single dads that are being added to the mix. When we grab coffee or the occasional cocktail, invariably, our conversation turns to our children and the challenges of raising them alone, with only the first, third and fifth weekends to reclaim our own individual identities.

Of course, not everyone has the typical divorce or the standard visitation schedule. Unlike me, some of my friends actually get along with their exes. They take vacations together with their children, and split parenting up in such an agreeable manner, that you wonder why they even divorced. (Obviously the culture of “single parenting” is a varied and complicated one).  I, on the other hand, can’t even have a five-minute conversation with my ex-husband without needing mood-enhancing medication. (Kidding… kinda).

But, the challenges of single parenting go beyond just splitting visitation and obtaining effective communication with a former spouses. They encompass balancing full-time employment while still managing to get the laundry done, (mine usually gets clean, but doesn’t always make it into drawers or closets), cooking healthy meals (chicken nuggets have protein ─ that’s healthy right?), and finding time to actually interact with our children in between all the household chores and outside work. (In my little single-parent family, we like to play the Wii together, even if I get motion sickness half the time). But, at the end of the day, when you tuck them into their beds (which reminds me that I really need to wash their sheets this weekend while they are at their dad’s)… most of us in the situation take a deep breath, and remember that our children are worth all the balancing acts.

But let’s talk about those “free” weekends. If you are a single parent like me, you are emotionally torn between anxiety and sadness over those weekends apart, and guilt over the relief you feel, because you really need that time away from your children. When else can you grocery shop without grubby little hands throwing random junk into the cart? Those weekends are the only time I have to get the rare manicure or haircut, go out for lunch with adults and not have to remind someone about their table manners. (Although, when my kids are not around, I sometimes find myself actually reminding my adult friends to use their table manners. Yep – turning that “mom brain” off is harder than one might think. It usually takes me at least 2 glasses of wine.) And I will confess the hard fact is that I sometimes only make it through the week with the kids because I know my “free” weekend is coming up.

And as one gets used to one’s single parent state, eventually you feel the urge to begin dating again.  Maybe the stress of the divorce has allowed you to lose that 30 lbs of pregnancy fat you’ve still been carrying for the past five years. You begin to feel better about yourself, not only because you’ve lost that extra weight, but also because you’re losing the emotional baggage that you carried around with you during your marriage, a load you unknowingly starting dumping once that divorce decree was signed. You begin to have hope again, that you can reinvent yourself and your life, and that maybe the perfect person is out there somewhere, waiting for you.

Dating can be a confusing and exciting time in anyone’s life, but for the single parent, it is rife with second-guessing, self-depreciation, guilt, unrequited desire and personal agony. Sounds fun huh? Well, it can be, seriously. But it can also be complete misery.

I’ve had single parent friends who have traversed the myriad of mediums for modern dating, everything from and eHarmony, health club trysts, even stalking the health food aisle at the “Whole Earth” grocery store, to the more wholesome attending church functions aimed at matching up single adults.

For me, before I had my kids, back when I was single and in my twenties, I’d just grab a girlfriend, and we’d head to a local watering hole to check out all the eligible bachelors. It was fun. But, by the time I was in my thirties and divorced, I had no single girlfriends… and even if I had, I discovered that going to a bar and talking it up with strangers over drinks just made me feel depressed and old. So, one of the first challenges I faced after I divorce and was ready to start dating again, was actually meeting men worthy of dating. My entire social network was comprised of other married couples who use to attend dinner parties with my ex and me. Now I was the stereotypical “third wheel.” Ugh. Not fun.

One good friend did the whole on-line dating thing. It was great for her, because when her child wasn’t around, she really didn’t feel like cooking. So, she’d just arrange for a date, usually with a successful businessman, dress up, and head to a fancy restaurant for a free meal and some fun conversation. She rarely went out with anyone on a second date, because that’s when the pressure was put on for more, and that’s not what she wanted. She wanted no more than good food and good company. This worked for her. Occasionally her fabulousness would draw someone in, but once she made it clear that her daughter came first and always would, it seemed that the male ego repeatedly went screaming out of that restaurant, as though she announced she had a communicable disease, not just an adorable child at home. But she had the self-confidence to persevere, going into each potential relationship making clear what her priorities and expectations were. She weeded out the guys that weren’t in it for the same things she was, and it worked for her.

But this was a woman who knew from the get-go what she wanted, and where her priorities were. Not all of us are that certain or steadfast in our goals.

Another woman I know with two teenage sons, has basically been single since the youngest was a baby. Now that her children are nearly out of the house, she finds herself with an identity again, outside of “business woman” and “working mom.” She’d chosen a long ago to focus her time and energy on her career and her boys, and not let dating be a priority. Now that she is entering a new phase in her life, one that allows her to enjoy the possibility of finding love a second time, she feels as though she’s in training wheels again. How does one recognize Mr. Right, amidst of the overabundance of Mr. Right-Nows, especially when you’ve been out of the practice of dating for so long?

After being at this awhile, I’ve come up with some ground rules for single parents who are dating again that have worked for me:

1. Realize that there is much at stake when you date as a single parent. Think how a broken ego or heart is going to affect your parenting. Kids are very intuitive. So be smart about dating to protect the emotional security of not only yourself, but your children too.

2. Know what you want and what you are willing to give. Always make your children your number one priority. There are going to be those guys out there who will say, “Just get a sitter, come out with me for drinks on Wednesday.” Before you do, weight what you’re giving up. Time with your children. Money for the sitter. Is he worth it? If you think not, don’t compromise yourself or your ideals, just to have a man in your life, any man.

3. If you do meet someone with potential, decide what your plan will be in a way that considers your children’s needs responsibly. For example, how long will you have to date before he can (a) sleep over, (b) meet your children, (c) meet your family, (d) move in?  Think about these things now before you start dating anyone, so you aren’t caught off guard when the questions comes up.  And once you make those decisions, stick to your convictions about them. You know what is best for your family and when someone should be allowed into that inner sanctum. Don’t compromise that for anyone.

4. In the newness of your romantic relationship, don’t let your children get lost. It’s easy to take their love and presence for granted, and want to be a little selfish for once. Lord knows you’ve given up a lot for them throughout their lives. There should be time for you to focus on yourself and your happiness, but don’t forget that this can be a confusing and scary time for them too. Make sure they know that THEY are your first priority. Don’t break plans with them to go on a date. Try and limit your conversations with that significant other until after they are in bed, or while they’re doing something else, so they don’t feel like they have to compete for your attention. When it’s time for them to meet the special guy, sit them down and prepare them for it. Explain how special this person is, but remind them that you love them more than anything, and they will always come first.

5. Don’t confide in them about your relationship. Remember that they are your children, not your friends, and their job is to have fun, not to worry about mommy.

6. Despite all of the above to first consider, do have fun. Don’t rush into something deep and serious straight away. Pick someone to hang out with who shares your interests and basic values. Enjoy the conversation, do new things, be open to this new experience, but don’t jump into anything too quickly.

7. Be Careful and Trust your Instincts. Do your research. It may seem ultra paranoid to run a background check on someone you are dating, but do it anyway. That’s what Google is for. Look up your date’s address, and see who else lives there. Look them up on their social networking sites, like MySpace or Facebook. He could be married, he could be a registered sex offender, he could just be some unemployed loser looking for a meal ticket. I am not saying to be distrustful, just be aware. Be aware of the way they present themselves online and consider if it’s in line with what you want. The worst thing is to fall in love with someone only to discover they are not who they presented themselves to be. Remember ─ statistically, married men do not leave their wives for their mistresses. And even if they do─ again, statistically ─ it means they will probably cheat on you as well. It’s best that you don’t even find yourself on that path. Before you invest your heart into it, protect it and as a result, your children.

8. Establish your intimacy rules. Will you let your new paramour spend the night? Hold hands or kiss in front of your kids? These are the questions you need to ask yourself when you find someone that you want to get serious with. It should be clear to most of us that inviting someone to stay over is not something you’d want your children to be party to with someone you’re only casually dating. Nothing makes children feel more insecure than having a single parent with a revolving bedroom door. So think about those things first and make your rules firm before you find yourself compromising your own convictions in a moment of passion.

Believe me, handled well, if you find the right person to move forward with in a relationship, it can be fulfilling and exciting, for you and for your kids. Just know what you expect up front, communicate that to your potential partner, and reassure your children of your love for them at every possible moment.

Happy Dating!

Last 5 posts by Miranda Krebbs

Last 5 posts by Miranda Krebbs