Dating…with Children PART 2: The Childless Other Person

So, you’re smitten with a parent…but half of those kids’ chromosomes are not from you. Yikes.

Wait…

Not yikes! Shame on you! We’re awesome!

OK, no shame, really. It’s totally acceptable. In my opinion, any aversion to dating a single parent is just as superficial as being primarily attracted to a certain skin color or body type. And the stigma of single parenthood is just as archaic as Jim Crow laws. Unfortunately, the philosophies still prevail today; they simply lurk under different headings  <ahem bathroom & gender ahem> [don’t get me started]  or are introduced with false acceptance such as, I’m fine with it, BUT...

Save your big but.

Abstaining from single parents is simply your preference. It’s also something you can get over – if you want to. But the cool thing about dating is that you get to date who you want. So if you’re likely to avoid dating a parent, that’s OK. This article is not for you. You can also jump onto chats like these and connect with your fellow brethren.

Ok ok ok, maybe I’m a little bitter. But still. I’ve been burned. I’ll venture to average about 90% of men I’ve dated since my divorce that either went ghost or ended things because I’m a mom have come back, regretting their judgmental rush to rule me out. Well, as I’ve said before: 1. I’m awesome (along with many other single parents) and 2. I will not be back-burnered while you look for something better. Because when you come back feeling silly and want another try, this is what I’ll say: Nope.

And I might sing this song.

And I might make this face.

comeback

On the other hand, if you are brave enough to think about entering into a relationship with a single parent or if you are already in a relationship with a single parent, here are some things to consider:

  1. It’s OK to say you’re not ready. So, yes, you are head over heels for a single parent. Praise Baby J. But you’re terrified to meet the kids. What if they don’t like you? What if you don’t like them? What if they’re naughtier than you expected? What if xn?

Remember, you have a voice. If things are moving too fast for you, just speak up. Slow does not mean no. No means no. Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids. The same way kids deserve two happy and healthy parents, they deserve the happiest and healthiest version of YOU as the significant other. If you’re really with your Best Match, they’ll understand and respect your pace.

Asking to slow down isn’t rude or rejecting; it’s valid and healthy – especially for the kids.

  1. Acknowledge what you’re in for. I’m reading this incredible book right now called Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortnberg. A section in the very beginning stood out to me and will stay with me forever:

A friend of mine was ordering breakfast during a recent trip in the South. He saw grits on the menu, and being a Dutchman who spent most of his life in Michigan, he had never been very clear on the nature of this item. So he asked the waitress, “What exactly is a grit?”

Her response was a classic. “Honey,” she said (in the South, waitresses are required by law to address all customers as “honey”), “Honey, they don’t come by themselves.”

Grits don’t exist in isolation. No grit is an island, entire unto itself. Every grit is a part of the mainland, a piece of the whole. You can’t order a single grit. They’re a package deal.

“Call it a clan, call it a tribe, call it a network, call it a family,” says Jane Howard. “Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” It is not good for man to be alone. Dallas Willard says, “The natural condition of life for human beings is reciprocal rootedness in others.” Honey, you don’t come by yourself.

 

None of us come by ourselves. Even if you’re an anti-single-parent dater, you still have to deal with your lover’s mother(s), father(s), sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, best friends, work friends, kinda-friends, dogs, cats, lizards, fish…germs. Everyone comes with an arsenal of people and connections and microorganisms that you’re going to have to navigate anyway. So kids aren’t going to be that much more added to the circus for which you’ve already bought non-refundable tickets.

Kids are a lot of work. They’re needy. They’re loud. They’re rude. They’re dirty. They’re messy. But they’re also hilarious. Compassionate. Honest. Adorable. Gentle. Affectionate. And they’ll teach you more about life than any fancy professor with a ton of letters after their name. You’ll feel drained, overwhelmed, terrified, uncertain, and you’ll probably doubt your decision at least three times a day.

But children are, unfortunately (or fortunately?), temporary; just like any season, phase, and quite frankly, all of life. So enjoy the ride. Savor the moments. Take pictures. Smell the rain. Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.

As I mentioned in PART 1, the kids will grow up, move out, chase their own dreams and start their own families. At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together? It will be worth it.

Remember how tiny their hands are in yours. Remember how soft their fingertips are as they touch your face. Remember that joyful giggle.

  1. Remember what we’re NOT. Single parents are not charity cases. We don’t want your pity. We don’t want favors. We are strong, resilient and dedicated. We are fierce and driven. We’re survivors. We don’t need you to be our hero because we’ve already become our own heroes –for ourselves and for our children. Please don’t date us thinking we need you or that karma is going to come rain goodies on you because you’ve taken in what others have kicked out. Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person. If you think you’re doing some noble deed by dating a single parent, please leave us alone.

Remember that we’re just souls hoping for passionate unconditional human love like any other single person.

  1. Know your role and know your value. You are engaging in a partnership with someone that could be – or is – your Best Match. Your role in their life and family is their Best Match. You are not a substitute parent (and PLEASE don’t even entertain the temptation to compete with or one-up the other parent). You are not a babysitter. You are not a disciplinarian. If you feel a lot of pressure to fill roles outside of significant other, speak up. Of course, joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world. It’s better to slow down and limit your time with the kids than to impose and confuse them. Remember that your presence might make them feel guilty; like they’re cheating on their other parent by enjoying your company. More on the kids point of view in Part 3…

Your role to the children varies, depending on their age and developmental stage when you enter the scene, but you are always meaningful. As your relationship with the kids grows, you can be a huge asset – especially to older children. For teens in particular, you might be their preferred adult confidant and listening ear; they might open up to you more than they would their biological parent, trusting that you will guide them without shaming them. You can be a very powerful positive influence for them when they need a consistent and reliable presence the most; something really meaningful, filling a unique space between friend and parent.

Joining in a lasting partnership involves sharing some responsibilities, but take a step back and consider how your presence lands in the kids’ world.

  1. Communicate – comfort level and expectations. I personally hold to the One Year Rule. When you have kids and you’re dissolving a marriage in the state of Illinois, you’re required to take an online course and pass an exam on successful co-parenting. It was actually very practical! (High Five, State of IL!) When it comes to significant others, the course recommends the One Year Rule; that you and your significant other have been consistently and officially dating for at least one year before making introductions to the kids. This is to protect the children – from confusion, from having too many inconsistent people coming in and out of their home, from getting attached and then getting heartbroken when you break up, from setting their relationship norm to a standard of “shallow” and “temporary,” and so forth.

If one year is too long – or not long enough – speak up. As I mentioned in another article on starting a relationship off right, holding back your fears or reservations only plants seeds of resentment. Communication is the foundation to any relationship, no matter how intimate or minuscule. So speak up. Discuss. If you’re not comfortable sleeping over, say so. If you don’t want to watch the kids, don’t. If you’re not ready to be alone with the children, let it be known! Your successful and loving relationship with your significant other’s kids revolves around you being comfortable enough to be your Best Self. Those adorable kids deserve to receive the best version of you when you’re together.

At the end of the day, you’ve just completed one of the grandest adventures with your Best Match and Life Partner. Isn’t it amazing what you two can accomplish together?

So talk about the big things with your partner and check in to make sure you’re still on the same page. Coordinate schedules, make sure you have date nights, make sure your interactions with the kiddies are balanced – neither imposing nor scant – and if the other parent is in the picture, you’d better figure out how to cooperate with them, too! Grits, man. Amirite?

 

Check back soon for PART 3: The Kids.

~OR

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Dating …With Children PART 1: The Single Parent

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

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

 

~OR