Parenting • Jan 12, 2012

The Single Mom’s Guide to Getting Started Dating

It is a new year and you’ve decided to get out there and begin dating. Now what? What do you need to know before you start, and what do you need to know about dating with kids to do it well?

Be Ready

The romantic poet, Shelley, wrote: “Fear not the future, weep not the past.”
In getting ready to date, look briefly at the past, present, and future.

  1.  The future: take time to figure out now what kind of person you want in the future. This is your “must have’s” list. It will be easier to reach your destination if you know where you are aiming. If you meet someone who you find to be very physically attractive but that person lacks all your “must haves”, he isn’t right for your long term.
  2. The past: Don’t dwell in the past, but do take time to look at it. Be honest with yourself. How did you contribute to the relationship ending? If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently? Owning the role you played will help you avoid repeating the same mistakes. Similarly, when you begin dating, if the person you are dating blames his x-wife or x-girlfriend for all that went wrong in the relationship, walk away very fast.
  3. The present: Do you look like you are living in the present or do you still dress like you did in high school? Before you begin to date, assess your physical appearance. Men are very visual; you want to “be the belle of the ball”. Has it been ages since you updated your hairstyle, bought new clothes?  Ask your friends (the ones with good taste!) for honest feedback. If you haven’t been taking care of yourself with sleep and exercise, begin now. You deserve it. You will feel better and more confident about yourself.

What do you tell your kids when you begin dating someone new? Nothing! Here’s how and why:

There are 20 million children in the US living in single-parent households. Most are the result of divorce. Those children have experienced the emotional loss of no longer having both parents in the same home as well as many other possible losses. It isn’t best for them to experience a “revolving door” of men coming into and out of their lives. Bonding with someone you are dating and then losing him in their life is really hard on them emotionally. Waiting until you have dated someone for 6 months is what experts recommend. Why? Because that is the length of time it takes in most relationships to be sure this person is someone who may be in your life long-term and thus gets the amazing opportunity to meet the most important people in your life, your children.

Similarly, don’t rush into marriage. Marriages occurring after one year of dating or less have a higher failure rate. Why? Because the “honeymoon” period of dating is still occurring, these couples don’t know each other to the depth they should to make the lifetime commitment of marriage. Often, couples marrying this quickly also marry for the wrong reasons. Running back and forth between two households with kids can be stressful and expensive, it is tempting to marry sooner and “solve that problem.”  Don’t give in. You will just create many more problems if you don’t take the time to allow both families to really get to know one another.

Set Limits

  1. If your children are old enough to read and see the name “Paul Smith” popping up on your phone all the time, they will begin to ask about that person. Consider setting limits in regard to when you accept calls from your dates. “I’m sorry; I can’t talk on the phone between 5:30 and 8:30. That is the time I devote to my kids.” If he truly likes you, he will support that commitment.
  2. Consider not putting his name into your phone contacts until after 6 months when he has met the kids. If a number shows repeatedly on your phone instead of a name, your children are less likely to notice and ask questions.
  3. Don’t have your date pick you up at your home in the very beginning, and later only when the children are not home. Unlike dating, before you were a parent, with children in the home, letting someone come to your home and know where you live can be dangerous. Also, if the children see him, they will ask questions. Best to wait until you have dated 6 months and are ready to answer questions. Make sure to communicate this idea to your date so he doesn’t think you are homeless or secretly married!

Realize that if the person truly likes you, he will find a way to fit his life into your schedule.

When he asks, “When can I see you again?” give times that work for you and your family. Don’t stress yourself out by saying, “Oh anytime,” then struggling to find childcare or transportation for your children. If you need to check your calendar before committing say, “I would love to go out again; can I check a couple things and get back to you?” No further explanation needed. When someone really likes you, he will respect this. If he is only willing to see you on his schedule, he isn’t likely to respect other healthy limits you set.

Work Hard to Have Fun!

Two houses, two full-time jobs, two sets of kids…dating when you both have kids is tough. In the beginning, you go out to dinner, take walks together in the park and play. However, too quickly you can fall into the routine of “just hanging out at home”, and then the spark can die before the relationship truly gets established. To build and maintain a healthy relationship, it is very important to plan fun times together. Start your dating relationship with this mindset. As you get to know him, set a common goal, like learning to cook Italian food or training for a marathon together, or plan a trip. Buy tickets to concerts or plays that are weeks away. Yes, bills need to get paid, broken faucets fixed, but it is important to model good behavior for your kids and life shouldn’t be just work. Work hard to keep the “fun” in your relationship.

This article is from the perspective of a single mother. There are many obvious gender and culture differences in dating from the father’s perspective. If you are a single father, what are your thoughts? Do you find this advice helpful?