Well, we made it. I made it. Another Father’s Day in the books. It’s true. Father’s Day is tough for me. It’s my annual trip down Agony Lane. But as I think about fathers and mothers and parenting and parenting solo, I think it’s time I dissect this whole single-parent-dating thing.
Can I be blunt? Great. Dating is hard work. It’s exhausting. It’s depleting. It’s frustrating. It’s confusing. It’s dangerous. But, assuming folks are open about our goals, desires, and expectations, it can be fun, exciting, and empowering.
But that’s just the dating adults. What happens when you’re a single parent and you have to juggle parenting as well as being open to finding your own Best Match? There are many critical players involved; for example, Parent No 1, Parent No 2, child/children, Significant Other No 1, Significant Other No 2, just to name a few. If there are multiple children with multiple parents, we’ll need an entire cast list to keep on-hand just for clarity.
How each person acts and reacts and how that lands in each person’s world is one of the most delicate and crucial dances we can play as single-and-dating-parents. I have learned that it’s easier dating other single parents. We get each other. We get scheduling, we get priorities, we get boundaries. We’re on the same page…for the most part. Dating non-parents is not impossible. It is, however, complicated because those above issues are completely foreign. They usually don’t understand schedule conflicts, the never-ending exhaustion, the waking up at 3:24am just because someone wanted a snuggle; the perpetual barrage of stuff that can’t just stay put-away, the parenting priorities, etc. Even though some might be mature enough to empathize and offer patience and space as your relationship develops, non-parents will never understand until they join the club.
[Tangent: I’m also curious about why women are more open to dating a single father than men are to dating a single mother… single fathers are seen as tender, selfless saints whereas single mothers are usually…not seen this way…something about sperm ego, I’m sure… ((eye roll)) men and their territories ((smh)) [tangent over]
So over the next few days, I’m going to deliver a three-part break-down of Dating with Children; one from The Single Parent’s point of view, one from The Childless Other Person’s point of view, and one from The Kid’s point of view.
Let’s start from The Single Parent, my present role and the role I know best.
PART 1: The Single Parent
- Do Take Your Time. Translation: don’t rush into something led by infatuation and begin introductions (especially to children!) prematurely. I had to lead with that one. It is the most raw for me mostly because I lose a lot of dates this way; when non-parents get freaked out about meeting the kids or trying to picture themselves as a step parent before I’m even ready to acknowledge a second date. Stop it. Slow your roll. Pump the brakes. Calm your nipples.
Unfortunately, a lot of relationships start out hot and heavy; two people that have been desperately aching for something – anything – meaningful find each other and before you know it you’ve crammed three years of dating into three weeks, your relationship escalates to super nova status and implodes before you know each other’s middle names.
Take your time to make sure you are ready to give your Best Self to your Best Match.
You rushed it. They rushed it. Now you’re back to being lonely and looking, a little depressed, and probably picking up tiny pieces of your dignity somewhere. So take your time. I personally want to fall in love with a best friend. Someone I know can cheer me on at my best and still manage to cherish me at my worst. And that kind of closeness doesn’t blossom over a few texts. That kind of closeness is fundamental to a healthy and lasting relationship; the kind you will probably want to start thinking about introducing to your children. I’ll touch on the dangers of premature introductions in PART 3: The Kids. Stay tuned there.
You also want to give yourself the time and space to not only grieve your previous relationship, but to also be introspective; look at your own contributions to its demise. Are you bringing some negative habits or misplaced bitterness into your next relationship? Take your time to make sure you are ready to give your Best Self to your Best Match.
- Don’t Parent Shop. For the love of all things holy, DON’T. PARENT. SHOP. As a parent, you should NOT be looking for a substitute or replacement parent. I cringe when I hear people say they’re looking for a father or a mother for their kids. No. You had the kids, not them. Your babes are your responsibility; not theirs…yet. Your kids already have a father or a mother or they wouldn’t be here. That original parent, whether divorced, deceased or just a delinquent, is still the child’s parent. Plus, they have you and you’re awesome.
Because one day you’ll be old and wrinkly and have little left to offer each other besides unconditional love and never-ending companionship.
When looking for your Best Match, it is imperative that you resist profiling them for step-parenthood.
Why? Because one day you’ll be old and wrinkly and have little left to offer each other besides unconditional love and never-ending companionship. Look at how many marriages fail after the kids move out. During college, I knew at least 10 friends that were confused, crushed and betrayed as their family homes were sold and their parents remedied empty nest syndrome with two separate apartments in two separate states. Where do they go for Christmas? For spring break? Is anything really “home” anymore? AARP says:
While the overall divorce rate in the United States has decreased since 1990, it has doubled for those over age 50.
So while, yes, you must screen your potential suitor for suitability with some parental duties, don’t look for a step parent. Look for your life partner. The kids will grow up. They kids will leave home. The kids will follow their own dreams, start their own careers, find their own Best Match, and begin a family of their own. When the kids move out and move on, what will be left of your relationship? Your bond must be rooted in something deeper and stronger than the kids.
- Don’t Use the Kids as an Excuse. Don’t use them as an excuse to date and don’t use them as an excuse not to Your children deserve to have a healthy example of a relationship. If the model you show them isn’t going to set a positive image of a life partnership, then don’t show it to them. Don’t date to find a replacement parent (See above; No. 2), and don’t abstain from dating saying that your kids come first. Date because you want to and you’re ready.
Ok, backtrack. The kids do come first. But so does your happiness. You will offer your children your best parenting when you yourself are fulfilled. Insisting on isolating yourself from trying to find a relationship – if you want one – isn’t fair to the kids. They’ll internalize your loneliness as being their fault.
If you don’t want to date, that is perfectly fine. Just don’t do it.
If you don’t want to date, that is perfectly fine. Just don’t do it. But if your kids ask about why you chose to be single, don’t say it’s because of them.
If you’re longing for companionship, it isn’t noble to martyr your own happiness and say it’s for the kids. Because it’s not about the kids. It’s about your own pain, shame, fear, whatever, that is preventing you from getting out there. If this is the case, it’s time to start that inward reflection on why you want to be in a relationship but are too terrified to take the first step. If you want to date, date for yourself and your own relationship goals.
- Do Consider Your Kids. Ok, with all this self-reflective thinking, don’t forget about your babies! They absolutely do count and do matter in your quest for love. Be mindful of red flags, especially with other parents. Non-parents are clean slates and can adapt to being around the children. They can assimilate into your “normal” and learn about how their role can blend into your existing family situation. They will most likely struggle with issues like sharing space, time, prioritizing, delegating, a huge increase in acquiring stuff and how to respectfully discipline or correct your children. But if you choose wisely and everyone is ready to try, a non-parent could beautifully blend into your family as you being to make it your own, together.
On the other hand, red flags from another dating parent can be really frightening. How does the person talk about their own kids? Do they enjoy doing similar activities with their kiddies as you do with yours? Have you seen this person angry? Frustrated? Tired? How do you think your children will receive him or her? How do you think your children will receive their children? While your partner is your partner, your primary job as a parent is to protect and provide for your children. If this person interferes with your rhythm or your parental spidey sense tingles, listen to your inner voice. Don’t risk it.
- Don’t limit yourself. Don’t limit yourself with a timeline or a profile. If you do, you’ll just get in your own way. You’ll miss subtle cues, impulsively rule out a winner, flock to the lowest hanging fruit, start something before you’re ready, start something before they’re ready, or doom yourself to complete solitude for the rest of your natural mortal life because you’re looking for someone that doesn’t exist. Remember, no one is perfect (read more about starting a new relationship here).
So if you’re ready to start dating as a single parent, be open and be receptive. Your Best Match might not seem like your Best Match at first. But to truly connect with someone on the most intimate of levels requires some measure of vulnerability and allowing someone to see you and love you.
Check back soon for Dating with Children PART 2: The Childless Other Person