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, author of It Takes All 5: A Single Mom’s Guide to Finding the REAL One.
Isn’t it selfish to date? “Release all guilt about having a social life. Happy mommy means happy household,” says Zane. It’s our first date. Is it safe to meet with a stranger? Follow these precautions from dating site Zoosk.com: Meet in a public place when people are around. Arrive using your own transportation. Don’t allow someone to pick you up from your home or office. Tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you will return. Arrange a time to check in. Bring your cell phone. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t leave your personal belongings (phone, purse, wallet) unattended. Above all, trust your gut.
My companion won’t want to hear about playdates and school lunches. What will we talk about? Your child is a big part of your life, so the topic is hard to avoid. Don’t. But stay current on pop culture and current events to boost your confidence—and pick up on conversational cues from your date. “I try to let [a new lady friend] do most of the talking,” says Langley.
Things are serious between us. When’s the right time for my child to meet my partner? “Definitely not in the first months,” says O’Neill. This is a time to compartmentalize your needs and your child’s needs.” When you feel the time is right, speak with your child when you have plenty of time alone to talk—not when you’re about to make introductions, she says. “[You might wait until your] child is curious and asks when he or she will be meeting this person. Let [the idea] settle in for some days or weeks and allow for further discussion before a meeting occurs.”
How can I pay more attention to my partner? Your calendar is your best friend,” says Date Out of Your League author April Massini. “Schedule time for romance, companionship and sex. Changing diapers isn’t sexy, either, but if you don’t do it, you’ve got bigger problems! Make your relationship a priority, and enlist the help of babysitters and family. Embrace the quickie to get you through [busy] periods in your schedule. It will keep you from feeling unfamiliar to each other.”
6 Misconceptions About Dating A Single Parent
1 (S)he must have messed up. “[The assumption is] that it was our fault the relationship with the mother didn’t work. It’s infuriating, says Mike Langley. “Society thinks that single mothers are loose women who just have babies out of wedlock. I don’t think they consider mothers who are single as a result of divorce, death of a spouse or those whose long-term relationship ended,” says Ty Knighten, 40, of Corona, Calif., who has a 10-year-old son.
2 Our first date will be at Chuck E. Cheese’s. “That happens in sitcoms, not real life,” says Eric Resnick, founder of profilehelper.com. “A single mother [will make] time for herself and her date.”
3 (S)he’s holding auditions for a new mom or dad. “This is just not how any single father I’ve ever helped has approached dating,” says Resnick. “And single moms are strong, self-sufficient women. Chances are, you won’t even meet her kids until she knows you are going to be around long term.”
4 Single moms aren’t interested in sex. Actually, emerging from an unhappy relationship and experiencing others’ attraction toward her can stir a sensual reawakening.
5 Get ready for baby daddy/mama drama. “Thankfully, life isn’t an episode of Maury. There is always the possibility of issues, but in most cases, they should not get in the way of dating,” says Resnick.
6 (S)he’ll want more kids. If you have your heart set on having children, put your cards on
the table early.