In your childless past, dating may have seemed like a ride on a classic carousel: few risks and many options. Enjoy a spin with a fine filly,
a stallion or a teddy bear. Whether or not you’ve grabbed that shiny ring when the music stops, you’re back on your feet and ready once more for another spin.
But dating after you’ve had kids? It can feel like a trip through a funhouse hall of mirrors: There are plenty of wrong turns and mistakes that can be made.
“Man, what mistakes haven’t I made?” says Mike Langley, 37, who has a 5-year-old son. “The biggest was going for the pretty faces, which is easy to do here in Miami, and not fully evaluating what I was looking for.” Looks are almost secondary to [certain] qualities.” Unlike dating before parenthood, Langley has also had to sort out the logistics of spending the night with someone.
Other parents, such as Quia Querisma, 35, of Dallas, can feel out of sync with other singles. “I had my daughter at 20 and my son at 22, so at this point of my life, I have zero interest in starting over. Eligible men my age who were interested in serious relationships wanted children.” The divorced mom, who says she was typically approached by married or attached men and “20-something boy toys,” eventually resolved to “stay single and travel.”
Don’t rely on experience from your childless past. Take our experts’ advice on maneuvering dating dilemmas and enhancing your love life.
Should I tell my child I’m dating or say I’m at book club? Don’t lie to your child about the fact that you are dating, but don’t share too much, either, warns marriage and family psychotherapist Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S. Palm Beach, Fla., psychotherapist Judi Cinéas, LCSW, Ph.D., advises: “It’s OK for children to know what is age appropriate. They don’t need details.” Keeping the details to yourself also spares your children the fallout of fielding any nosy questions from your ex. To help your child understand that you need time with other adults, reference his/her own need to be with friends.
Where do I go to find dates? “I’ve tried niche dating sites, being set up by friends and co-workers and the bar and club scenes, with varying levels of success,” says Langley. Instead of seeking a partner, seek a pastime or passion—through an investment class, volunteer activity, dining clubs, travel club, etc. “I tell my clients to ‘stop looking for IT, and IT will find you.’ Get out, be social and friendly with no expectations,” says Vancouver, Wash., divorce coach and single mom Debbie Burgin. Querisma busied herself by giving back to the community. She eventually met her prince, a divorced guy with two kids and no desire for more children, at a charity ball. “You know how you have your mental checklist of qualities you’d like to have in your ideal man? Not only did he best mine, but he’s won over my friends, family
and children,” she says of her steady.
How do I keep my sex life separate? Parents who have joint custody often wait until their ex has the kids. But even when they are at home, there are ways to make it work. “If bedtime is at 8, your date can arrive at 8:30,” says Cinéas. Many single parents prefer their guests leave before the kids wake up the next morning. Even if you’re not yet comfortable with the idea of a sleepover, consider locking your bedroom door. Your child will start to grasp the idea of privacy.
With little time, how do I meet people? Technology is a boon to the time-pressed. Target those with your interests using sites such as howaboutwe.com or one2one.com, which match pairs or groups based on shared interests and activities. Find other single parents in your area through parentswithoutpartners.org.
Can I get some privacy?
Louisville mom Natasha Carmon, 38, says, “My child felt like the person I was seeing was taking me away from her; there wasn’t any privacy. She would act out or do something to gain my attention. I would rather wait until she is a little older [to date again].” Stick with your family routines and plan dates around them, advises Cinéas. Make the most of when kids are in activities and when they spend time with Grandma and Grandpa, she adds.
How can I afford a sitter, let alone a grownup outing? “If you and two of your neighbors form a network to give each other a break on rotating Fridays, that gives you [each] two Friday nights off,” advises Cinéas. “To stretch cash, have a picnic date. Take a long walk. Make a romantic dinner at home,” says Kerri Zane,