It’s 10:53 on a hot and humid summer night and you’re in a cab riding home with your not-so-new-ish boyfriend after a wonderful date. Warm air is steadily blowing through the window as you hold hands and the city skyline recedes as you ride down the expressway. It feels like a scene straight out of the movie “Love Jones” and there is nothing more that you want than for as Luther Vandross would say “the night to stay.”
As you look into each others eyes, you become painfully aware of the dizzying heat between you. The tension is undeniable. He’s feeling it. You're feeling it too as you hold your breath when he leans in for a gentle, lingering kiss.
You’ve pulled up in front of your building and as the cab’s engine idles, your blood begins to race. Suddenly your mutual hypnosis is interrupted when the driver impatiently asks "Where’s the next stop?" Heart pounding, you pull away from each other and your man asks the inevitable question "Do you want me to come inside?"
The woman in you is wants to exclaim “Yes!” but the mother in you wrestles with the bigger picture. So as much as it pains you to do so, you exit the cab with a longing glance backward as your beloved heads off into the night. You head into your apartment. Alone. For as much as you want him to come upstairs, as a mother you know your children's emotional well-being first.
Almost every single parent has experienced some variation of the scenario just described. Many of us are struggling with how to integrate our sexuality into a lifestyle that is by its nature antithetical to free sexual expression. As a single mom I’ve done my share of dating and one thing’s for sure: navigating a new intimate relationship ain’t an easy thing to do while raising kids.
Being a parent is more than providing food, shelter, clothing and access to education. It also means instilling a foundation of self-love and healthy values. As parents we are responsible for teaching our children about all aspects of life, including what it means to be a sexual being. The last thing anyone wants is for their child to develop their outlook on sexuality through forces outside of their control such as online porn, reality TV or little girl lost musings on Twitter and Facebook. And while we can’t control all of the information they consume, we do have control over what they see in our actions as their role model.
Make no bones about it. Having children doesn't mean you don't deserve/can't have a healthy, committed sexual relationship; however, that need has to be balanced with the responsibility for shaping children's burgeoning sexual value system. Healthy sexuality is an integration of mind, body, and spirit. Over the years I’ve gained a huge respect for its capacity to heal and for creating long-term trauma when expressed thoughtlessly or destructively. It’s important that you show through your behaviors that sex more is than a physical experience…it’s also one of the ultimate expressions of our emotional and spiritual being.
There are many different approaches one can take towards dating as a single parent. Some will make the choice to not date at all, while others will explore relationships while keeping it a secret from their children. Others will postpone any involvement until their children are out of the house. I believe in taking an open approach to dating. So what does that mean in practical terms?
- Be honest. Not with all the details of your intimate life but definitely with the headlines. Children know more than they let on. If you’re not being straight with them you’re increasing the likelihood they won’t be straight with you about what they’re doing when their time comes.
- Be selective. It doesn’t matter if you’re practicing physically safe sex, it’s not emotionally healthy for kids to go through a stream of short-term “uncles” or “aunties”. Until it’s serious, keep a separation between church and state.
- Be open. Research shows that parents who communicate their views on sexuality with their kids have greater influence on their children’s sexual behavior. Make sure your kids know your philosophy and give them the freedom to ask questions or challenge your views-respectfully, of course.
Even though they are often at odds, conscious parenting and sexuality don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Single parents can have a healthy romantic life while raising children, but like anything of value it takes consideration, dedication and work. The reality is that some potential mates may lose interest because you take being a sexual role model for your kids seriously, but what you’ll gain will far outweigh any loss, perceived or otherwise.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Got relationship questions? Email her at SilLai@ebony.com