In the last 30 years or so, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in how society views single, unmarried parents. While stigma and perceptions vary by cultural group, and changes in acceptance have occurred at different paces, it’s now commonly accepted that there are unmarried people who have children seeking love and companionship.
Single mothers, particularly in Black communities, have been viewed both as strong heroines who are the backbones of their families as well as vicious destroyers of the traditional family structure. Single fathers are often demonized as deadbeat dads or heralded for their involvement in their children’s lives. Whatever the perception, the majority of single mothers and single fathers want to date, find loving happiness with a great partner and build a solid companionship that makes them and their children happiest.
Anthony, a single father of three, says that being a man with children by multiple women carries a stigma of him being irresponsible and incapable of fidelity and commitment. He asserts that it’s not true (in all cases). For a man, he says, dating with children is often easier when the woman of interest has a child too. There’s a parental understanding that seldom needs explanation; she gets it.
Of course he doesn’t dismiss that women with no kids won’t understand; just that dating a woman with children provides an additional level of commonality, one in which you are both similarly situated—this being an optimal position for establishing a relationship. Anthony believes in being honest in the beginning about his status as a single father of three by two different moms. The woman of interest has the choice of accepting his parameters and working within them, or rejecting them.
Marie, a single mother of one, says that dating with a son is challenging because she’s not only dating for herself, but to find someone suitable to help raise him and set a good example as a man. She acknowledges that there’s always the fear a man won’t be welcoming when she tells him she has a child, but that just lets her know she needs to keep it moving. She also has a personal rule of waiting a year before introducing someone she’s dating to her child, because she believes children are impressionable and she wants to avoid hurting her son as much as possible.
Kevin, a single man with no children, says he has no problem dating women with children and has had various experiences. One woman kept him and her child separate because their “friends with benefits” situation didn’t call for that level of connection. Another wanted her child to call him “Daddy” after only four months of dating, so he had to fall back from that situation. Kevin says that, for the most part, he’s had good experiences dating women with children. He never receives any negative feedback from his friends, and doesn’t discriminate against single mothers though he has no children of his own.
Melanie, a divorced mother of two teenagers, says that she vets the guys she’s interested in pretty thoroughly early on. Even if he’s not at the “meet the kids” stage, she needs to know that when the time comes, she’ll be comfortable with the intro. She acknowledges challenges in getting used to teenagers, and understands that even if a man is a parent himself, it doesn’t guarantee he’s going to be interested in dealing with her kids. She feels it’s best to gauge if that’ll be an issue before she even invests time. With one man, she spent six “temporary months” dating him before deciding he wouldn’t meet her children. She wasn’t crazy about him herself, so she knew he’d never meet her kids.
Single parents should feel comfortable dating for dating’s sake, if casual fun is all they’re after. There are no rules stating that every person you date should be viewed as a future stepparent. Sometimes people just want to have fun adult time away from their children without feeling pressure to be anything more.
When dating someone with children, don’t assume there is drama with the other parent or that you’ll be expected to play a parental role; everyone’s different. But I’d caution people against having a revolving door of romantic interests in their children’s lives. Similarly, I’d advise against completely shielding children from the fact that you have an active dating life. Each parent has to find the happy medium and make it work best for all parties involved.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.