The rules have changed. You might look back with a bit of nostalgia on those days when you didn’t have to tell anyone where you were going, or when you were coming back. When you didn’t have to be back at home at any particular time. Now you have to think about unromantic things like babysitters, bottle warming instructions, school pick-ups and snack times – and that’s even before you think about going out on a date, much less bringing someone back into your home.
How do you get through the new dating environment as a single mom? How can you make sure your kids are okay with the fact that you’re dating? What are the things to look for in their behavior that will give you clues about how they feel? And what will happen when you want to introduce a new man to your family? There are lots of questions out there that single moms ask themselves when they start dating again. Here are some of the answers.
1. How do I know if I’m ready to start dating again?
Do you feel ready? Then you probably are. There’s no “right” time to start, and there’s no one standing by with a calendar, ready to say that you’re getting back into the dating game too early, or waiting too long to start. You might have been in a relationship that gave you nothing but hassles. Whether that makes you want to go out sooner to get some enjoyable and authentic romance in your life, or more likely to wait longer to avoid being burned again, is entirely up to you.
However, one thing common to all single moms is the fact that you’ve got to work with a new and busier schedule. Before you think about dating, take a look at what you’re already committed to and doing with your time each week. You’ll want to make some time in your schedule for this new activity in a way that helps you also keep up with your responsibilities, and keep enough time for being with your kids.
Finally, do your best to make sure that you’ve gotten past as many of the negative emotions caused by your divorce or separation before you go. You need to be able to look at new potential partners for who and what they are, without assuming (or fearing) that they’re like your ex. When you’re ready, you’ll know.
2. Why do I feel like I’m abandoning my kids to go out and have fun?
Many single moms feel like they have twice the responsibility to make sure their kids are safe and happy and healthy. It’s a mistake to take that too far, however. Your children depend on you, but they also need to learn to depend on themselves and be independent. You might not have noticed whether your kids have gotten too “clingy” over time, but you’ll definitely notice it the first time you try to leave them with a babysitter, whether you’re going out on a date or just getting some time away on your own.
While your kids might be the center of your life, and you’re certainly a main part of theirs, they need to learn to be on their own, no matter how old they are. Encourage your children to develop their own networks of friends, and to be comfortable spending time without you. If this is causing problems, try going out for simple one-hour walks by yourself at first. If nothing else, this will help you get some exercise and relax.
3. What do I do if my kids won’t stop acting out when I’m going out?
Here’s where all that time you spent keeping an open line of communication with your kids pays off. (And if you didn’t, see tip #6 in this article)
Even young children will understand that you need a little time away, if you talk to them about it. When your kids are completely confident in your love for them and your concern for their well-being, they’ll return that love and concern. They’ll want the best for you, just like you want the best for them. The worst thing to do is to try to hide the truth. Don’t pretend that you’re just going shopping, or that you’re going out with friends instead of out on a date. The more kids know about the situation, the more comfortable they’ll be with it. If they know you’re dating, they won’t be surprised when you introduce them to someone new, down the line.
Of course, you might need to sweeten the deal with something, like taking the time to set up a game for them to play with the babysitter before you leave. However, don’t start the habit of “bribing” your kids with promises of a gift when you get back, or a treat just so you can leave the house. That sets up a routine that you’ll regret later.
4. I’ve met someone I really like. When should I introduce him to my kids?
This is a tricky question. Children are usually uncomfortable with change, especially if it happens a lot, so if they have to deal with meeting new people every few weeks, they might get upset. Many single parents have found that it’s best to not involve kids in a relationship until much later. In general, it’s probably a good idea to wait until you’ve been on multiple dates over a few months, so that you can be sure that this is a person that you want to have in your life for more than a short-term affair.
When you do bring your date and your kids together, it’s best to do it on neutral ground. Your kids will see someone new in the house as an invasion of “their” space at first, so plan the meeting for someplace else away from the home. (You can get more tips on making this first meeting smoother at the end of this article.)
If you have teenagers, you need to be particularly careful about dating, because they’re at the age when they’re thinking about (or already) dating, too – and they’ll follow your example. What’s more, teenagers can be even more territorial than younger children, and even more resistant to change. With all of the ups and downs that puberty is causing them, they want stability somewhere in their lives. That’s another reason to make sure that anyone you bring home to your family is someone you think would like to stay home with your family, someday.
5. I’ve met someone I really like. What if he wants to introduce me to HIS kids?
Don’t worry about that issue until it comes up. Just like it’s your decision about when to introduce someone new to your family, it’s his decision to do the same.
On the other hand, watching how he acts as a parent to his children will give you very good information about who he is as a person, and how he might be as a co-parent to your own children. With that in mind, be careful that it doesn’t seem to be taking too long before the topic comes up.
When your relationship is getting to the point where you’re talking about meeting the other’s children, you’ll also have to start thinking about how you’re going to eventually introduce those children to each other. While it’s nice to think about just being another episode of “The Brady Bunch” there are bound to be difficulties on both sides. There’s nothing you can really do to be prepared for this, other than simply being prepared.
6. What do I do if my kids don’t like him?
One of the main reasons that a child reacts negatively to a new person in your life is because they’re afraid that this new person will take the place of the old person – in other words, the child themselves. If you’ve already been talking to your kids about the fact that you’re dating (and you should) then it won’t be a surprise when you bring someone home or introduce him at the park. But that doesn’t mean children will like the fact that he’s there.
It’s especially important to keep communicating during the first weeks and months when you’re bringing someone into your family circle that you think will stay. This communication needs to go in every direction, as well: between you and your kids, between you and your new partner, and between that person and your kids.
- Always make sure that your children know that your love is infinite, and that no matter how many new people there are in your life, you will always love your kids the same as before, and even more. Let them know that they will always be your first priority.
- If a child is showing anger or negativity, let them be honest about their feelings, but make sure that they’re not just acting up to get your attention or to trying to break up your relationship out of fear. Let them know that you’re listening, and that you understand, and don’t get angry in return.
- Let each child decide how he or she is going to interact with the new person in your life. Some kids are naturally more open, and they’ll start talking right away. Others (especially teenagers) might be closed off and unwilling to be friendly. Let them set the pace in the conversations and the relationship, and don’t get angry if they’re not participating. On the other hand, make sure that they’re not getting away with talking back or being rude.
- Be sure that you set boundaries for the relationship, and that your new partner knows what’s appropriate. For example, think about the situation where your teenager is being deliberately rude to him. It’s entirely appropriate for you to speak to the teen about this, and even to do something like send them to their room. But do you think it would be appropriate for your new partner to do the same thing, and tell your teenager to go to their room until they can be polite? Not only is this a place you need to be careful when it comes to building new relationships, it’s a way to see what sort of person this new partner is, and how they handle conflict.
7. What if the relationship doesn’t work out?
If you’ve followed all of the advice above, then everything should be fine. Your kids will still know that you’re there for them, and if you’ve been talking honestly they’ll know why you’re not dating that person any more. For longer-term relationships, treat the situation like a divorce or separation. Unfortunately, you and your kids have already been through that, so you all know what to expect!
If your kids have a good relationship with their father, make sure that this stays strong, whether you’re simply dating, or starting a new partnership (or ending one). If your kids really like your new partner, they might feel guilty, as if they are “betraying” their father. Like your love, that expands as much as required to embrace everyone, show them that their love for their father isn’t diminished by any love or positive feelings they have for someone new. If they really liked your potential new partner, and he leaves, they might feel like their love wasn’t “good enough” to keep him around.
Here’s a fact worth repeating: kids don’t like change. If they’ve gotten used to a new person in their lives, and he leaves, the children will feel unsettled, whether they show it or not. Make sure you keep talking to them throughout the entire process so that you can solve any problems before they get worse.
And if this relationship didn’t work out, take some time to think about why. All of the information about what went wrong this time will help you to make as much as possible go right the next time. When you’re ready, you can head out into the world of dating again – and here are some places to start.