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You’re freshly single and decide it’s time for you to start dating again. Exciting huh? Maybe not if you’re a single parent! I’ve been there, done that – so here’s my dating tips for single parents!
When we’re young and dating, it’s fun to meet new people and experience new things. As a single parent it’s still exciting, but your children add a whole new dimension to it that you’ve never had to deal with before.
I’ve been divorced for 5 years now, and dating with children has definitely been one of the challenges I’ve faced as a single parent. I did eventually meet a man who was not only perfect for me but also for my kids! But for 3 long years I “dated”! I went on many, many dates (Don’t judge! I’m picky!) and some were good, some… errr…. not so good!
Dating Tips for Single Parents
So you’ve survived your divorce (don’t worry if you’re still struggling – check out my tips on Surviving Divorce), and ready to start dating. Now what?
This is some advice that I learned the hard way. Some will seem obvious, and some not so much! So here is my Dating Tips for Single Parents!
1. Think of the Children
To tell them or not to tell them… that is the question!
Once you’ve decided to start dating again you will need to decide if you tell your children or not. When I first started dating mine were very young and so it wasn’t necessary to tell them anything.
I strongly recommend NOT telling young children that you are dating. They won’t understand and they really don’t need to know as it won’t affect them (to start with anyway – see Tip 7)
However, if your children are older or teenagers, then you need to think carefully about what and how you will tell them.
If the divorce is relatively recent then your children may feel like your are betraying the memory of their father/mother. They could become very hostile towards you and make it difficult for you to enjoy your evenings out.
Please think very carefully, once you’ve told them, you can’t “un-tell” them. You have to be very aware of their feelings, as much as your own. Make sure they know they can talk to you about it any time. Keep the lines of communication open, so they can talk to you if they are worried.
2. The Dating World has Changed
The way you dated before, probably isn’t the way you will date now!
A while after my divorce I decided it was time to start dating again – the trouble is it had been 15 years since my last “first date”! My ex-husband and I had met at a friend’s party at college and before that I had dated a few guys in high school and college. It had always been easy to meet new people as there was always parties and events to attend.
But now I was an adult with children and a 9-5 job in a small office! All my friends have children so there wasn’t anyone to hang out in bars or clubs with (not that I really wanted to do that anyway!). I I wondered how on earth I was going to meet new people? I was also older and my taste in men had changed (hopefully for the better!).
Is it them or me?
The realization that the dating world had changed and I was still firmly stuck in the past was a bit of a shocker! Or maybe the dating world hadn’t changed, so much as MY world had changed? Either way it was time to look at dating in a new way and not cling onto the past.
3. Online Dating
It’s doesn’t have to be all “Swipe Right”!
So if I couldn’t (or didn’t want to!) hang out in bars anymore, how was I to meet new people? To the internet! Yes, online dating!
Online dating isn’t the only way to meet new people. Here are some other way to meet new people:
- Having a mutual friend introduce you
- Meeting at work or a work function
- Going to a class or workshop
- At the gym (hmmm… be careful you don’t seem sleazy!)
- Through a Meet-Up group or hobby group
- At a party
- At a BDSM party (not judging!)
- At the grocery store (OK… I’m not sure if this one ever really happens!)
But these ways are harder in the modern world with our hectic lives (and children!), so online dating is the easiest way to dip your toe in the proverbial water!
Now stop right there. Yes, I know you’ve heard a lot of bad things about online dating but it’s really not as bad as you imagine. Although it is also 10 times worse than you imagine! Huh? I know, I’m not making any sense!
What I’m trying to say is online dating can be an amazing way to meet great people and it can also be a surefire way to meet creeps and weirdos!
It’s not all bad!
The difference is – you get what you pay for! The cheaper and easier the site is to join the dating website, the more weirdos on it! Harsh, but true!
I found that the paid dating sites had more people interested in serious dating (or at least potentially serious dating). The free sites have a LOT of guys (and girls!) looking for quick hook-ups or a fun night or 2. That’s not to say that the free sites ONLY have those kind of people, but you have to wade through a lot of them before you find someone who’s actually wants to, well… you know, DATE!
(You might not be looking for anything serious, and if that’s the case then you have a world of online dating sites available to you! Go for it, have fun, enjoy… be safe!)
If you are looking for something serious (or at least something that might lead somewhere serious) then I suggest you look at the “premium” dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com. If you’re not sure – sign up for one month and see what happens. What have you got to lose?
4. The First Date!
Ready for the first date? Now what?
You’ve browsed the dating website, foundd someone you like the look of, messaged with them and now you’re ready for the first date! Ekkk!
Any time you are meeting someone for the first time, you want to pick somewhere busy and public. You also don’t want to commit to dinner – just in case they turn into the most boring person on earth, you don’t want to be stuck with them for 2 hours!
I always liked to meet at a Starbucks or somewhere similar – busy, public and easy to find. If we didn’t hit it off, then I could leave after 15 minutes and not seem rude. I actually used to pick a Starbucks which was across the road from a nice casual restaurant, so if we DID hit it off, then I could suggest going across the road for dinner.
Time to put on your Glad Rags!
Now ladies, I’m mainly talking to you now. Yes, you want to impress your date, so be presentable and neat, but please… don’t try too hard! Pick a casual outfit that you feel comfortable in (not your PJs!) and that gives you confidence. You don’t want to stroll up to a coffee date in a cocktail dress… no matter how hot you look in it!
Guys – I feel I have to say the opposite advice to you! The number of times a guy would show up in old jeans or jogging pants with a stained t-shirt – yuck! Show your date that you’ve put in a bit of effort and are actually looking forward to meeting them!
5. What about the children?
Word of advice… don’t take them with you on the first date!
OK, I’m being a little sarcastic! Of course, you know that you can’t take the kids along on the first date with you! So what ARE you going to do with them while you’re out?
I’m fortunate that I have 50/50 custody of my children, so I would just schedule dates for the evenings and weekends that my kids were with their father. I would make it very clear once I started dating someone that I would only be available half the time. Most guys actually liked this, as it gave them a chance to hang out with their friends or play video games!
But if you have sole custody or the kids are with you the majority of the time then you are going to need to find a sitter. Hopefully you already have a network of friends and family that you can ask to babysit. But having to find a sitter can make it more difficult to schedule dates. One of my friends used Care.com to find 3 or 4 reliable (and background checked!) babysitters, so she would always have someone she could call on.
6. Getting to Know You
Take it slow and go with your gut!
It’s important in any new relationship to take it slow and learn about the other person. But it’s even more important to do that as a single parent. You are not only trying to decide if they will be a good partner for you, but also if they will be a good (potential) parent to your children.
If something doesn’t feel quite right, then it probably isn’t! Make sure you listen to your gut.
Do as I say, not as I do!
Oh wow, I wish I had taken my own advice back when I was single! I dated a guy for about 9 months and I was so determined that he should be “The One” that I completely ignored my instincts! He as a doctor, well educated and well traveled – of course it would work out! I ignored the great big red flags there were being waved in front of my face! He never introduced me to any of his friends or family, he won’t change his “Relationship” status on Facebook (in fact, for month he wouldn’t even accept my friend request!), he had no interest in meeting my children, family or friends… 9 months of this! Yeah, I know, I was blind!
I’m not sure why he behaved like that (commitment-phobe?), but very slowly I realized that the relationship was going nowhere and I cut and run. BUT it took me months to see that and an awful lot of heartache.
So please… be realistic! Don’t get caught up in a fantasy in your head. Make sure your eyes are open to the real world!
7. The Introductions?
Is it time for the kids to meet your new Bae?
That’s teen talk for paramour!
Now this is where some people might disagree with me. I decided to wait at least 6 months before introducing my children to someone I was dating. In fact, this is a rule that my ex-husband and I both agreed on.
I realized early on that it was much harder to date and find someone that you connect with when you are in your thirties (or forties or fifties… or sixties!). And the last thing I wanted was for my children to have a parade of men in and out of their lives. So I decided to wait until I was 100% sure.
This did raise the difficulty of not knowing if my children and my beau would get along. After 6 months I’d be pretty attached to the guy, what if my children hated him? Or he hated them? It’s a gamble!
You know your children better than anyone else in the world. You need to decide what is best for them. Just remember that they are learning from you about relationships, just the same as they learn to tie their shoes or cook dinner. Set a good example of how you would want THEIR relationships to be in the future. (Respect, love and trust anyone?!)
You can also spend that 6 months really getting to know the other person. Learning about their background, upbringing, beliefs. It could turn out that you have polar opposite views on an issue that is extremely important to you. Better to learn these things BEFORE they meet and interact with your children.
8. The Meet and Greet
Another type of “First Date” – your Beau and the Kids!
So you’ve waited long enough to know that your partner is “The One” (it might not be 6 months, but you’re sure) and it’s time to meet the kids! Yikes!
A few weeks before the meeting you want to start dropping their name into conversation with the kids. Tell the kids about fun things you’ve done together or a funny joke they told you. Get them used to the idea of Mommy or Daddy seeing someone new.
You want to pick something casual, but fun for the first meeting. Maybe a movie or a round of mini-golf? When my kids first met my partner, he came over to hang out at the house for the afternoon and play in the pool. The second time we went to the beach. This meant that they had a positive first impression of him.
I’d advise against taking them over to his/her house. The kids will be on unfamiliar territory and there’s a pressure on them to “behave”. Keep it relaxed and upbeat.
The “Other” Children
Now my partner didn’t have children on his own, so I didn’t have to worry about that. But your new guy/girl might have their own children to consider too. Then it’s even MORE important to pick a neutral territory for the first few meetings. The last thing you want is a fight between the children because someone played with a special toy.
And once again… take it slow! By now you might be desperate to move in together (as a single parent, the thought of sharing all the bills is very enticing!), but it’s important the your kids have time to get used to the idea of Mommy or Daddy’s new boyfriend/girlfriend. The pace of dating and commitment is often dictated by the kids!
We took it slowly. First my partner would spend an afternoon with us, then a day, maybe join us on a fun day out. He would then be around in the evenings and eventually stayed over on nights when the kids were here. He would stay one or 2 nights a week, then 3 or 4. Eventually he was staying with us more than he wasn’t. The kids were used to him being a regular part of their day and routine, so when I told them that he was going to move in with us, they didn’t mind at all!
9. Patience and Time
What if they don’t get along?
Of course, no matter how slowly you take it. No matter how carefully you prepare yourself, your partner and your kids, there is still a chance that they won’t get along. This is more likely with older children, so look out for it!
Well, I’m going to sound like a broken record… but take it slow!
Firstly you want to try and figure out WHY they don’t get along. Is it something that you can fix? Like your boyfriend likes to watch football all the time and the kids don’t get to watch their cartoons at all? Easy, compromise on who gets to watch TV at different times (or get a second TV?!).
If there’s no obvious reason, then you need to play psychologist and try and see it from your child’s (or partner’s) point of view. Maybe your child feels like you are ignoring them? Or they are worried about getting too close to the new person in case they leave (like their other parent did)?
Did I mention – TAKE IT SLOWLY?
My eldest son was 9 years old when I introduced him to my new partner. My son has always had difficultly getting used to new people or new routines and he is also a bit on the quiet side. It’s not that my son disliked my guy, he just didn’t love him the way the other 2 kids did. But that was quite normal for him, so we knew we had to take it slow.
It took a long time (about a year) and concerted effort, but now they are the best of friends and do lots of things together (and I get left out.. hmmmm!). They found common interests (comic books and superhero movies!) and bonded over those things. By taking it slowly and not “forcing” the friendship on him, my son was able to adjust to this new person in his life and learn to love him the way the rest of us did. Space, time and patience.
Life will Never Quite be the Same!
Dating as a single parent doesn’t need to be difficult. It’s just DIFFERENT to how you dated when you were single without children.
Dating is fun! I met some great people, OK, maybe they weren’t “boyfriend” material, but they were still fun to hang out with. Some I’m even still friends with! Enjoy having that time when you can not be just “mom” or “dad” and be yourself again! Rediscover what it means to be YOU!
Patience and awareness are all you need. By taking the time to be aware of your, your partner’s and your children’s feelings, you will be able to form a new family unit that everyone feels safe and secure in.