May 2011, by Katherin Scott
As a single parent, the dating game has just gotten more complicated. In addition to the usual difficulty of meeting people, dealing with rejection, and dealing with jerks, you have the kids. You also have the ghost of your past relationship to deal with—which, thanks to your kids, keeps coming back.
It’s easy to say I’m too busy for all that and just snuggle in with your children for some wholesome family movies. But the desire for romance and companionship is just as real as it was before you had kids, and you are no less deserving. It’s worth getting out there, once you’re ready and to try again. All it takes is a little planning and a little care.
Your kids always come first. You know it’s true, and you have to make sure your kids know it, too. You also have to make sure your dates know it. Remember that your kids are dealing with relationship changes, too. You don’t want to have them attach to a revolving door of role models.
Don’t introduce your kids and your date until the relationship is serious. Go meet your date instead of being picked up at your home. Let the kids have their space. If your kids are older, you can let them know you’re dating—a fifteen-year-old is just going to be annoyed if you introduce someone you’ve been out with three times as your “friend.”
The key is to let the kids know that your dating life doesn’t infringe on or threaten their stability or their relationship with you. You go to work; you talk with friends; you go on dates. Keep it simple and separate.
Portion your time so your kids get enough focused one-on-one time. Don’t let your dating life take much time away from your kids. If at all possible, schedule your dates for weekends when your kids are away. If you’re dating another single parent, find out right away what your custody schedules are. If they conflict, you’ll have a problem.
Remember that you’re your kids’ role model. You don’t have to kill your sex life, but you have to be more careful than when you were single. You have to stay healthy, and you have to behave the way you’d want your children to. Don’t subject your kids to a parade of strangers coming out of your room in the mornings. Make sure your dates understand your need for discretion.
If you’re dating another single parent, they’ll probably understand, but an adult without children may need to have things explained. Dating as a parent is different from what they’ll be used to. Talk to them about behavior around your kids and about what to expect from your ex. When you’re a single parent, you have to interact more with an ex than non-parents do. Your current relationship will need to understand and accept that.
When it’s time to introduce your kids, talk with your kids first. Explicitly affirm your commitment to them. Make sure they understand who it is they’re meeting. Solicit their thoughts and feelings, but do not ask for their permission or approval. You are dating, but you are still the parent. Your kids need to know they are first, and they also need to know you’re still in charge.
Keeping your kids a secret will waste your time. You can’t end up with someone who has a problem with children. Be careful not to date someone who’ll use your children to get good with you. Date someone who is genuinely comfortable with kids.
As for yourself, you do deserve to be in a healthy, loving relationship. Don’t let your past experiences trip you up. Also, don’t tell your dates about them. Obviously, if you tell them you’re a parent, it may come up you’re divorced. But you don’t have to subject your date to long stories of your ex’s misdeeds. It’s always in bad taste to complain about past relationships, and that still holds true when your past relationship was ten years long.
Finally, go for it! If it’s been awhile since you joined the dating game, don’t worry. Some things have changed. The essentials haven’t. Look out for your kids, look out for yourself, and have fun.