Dating is hard, whatever your circumstances. But dating as a newly single mom can suck the most. I say this as someone who’s been there and still has the emotional battle scars as a permanent reminder of how blind dates, swiping right and juggling mom life and dating life can take its toll.
But of course, it can also be brilliant. Putting yourself back in the dating game has the potential to teach you unexpected life lessons and bring interesting people and new experiences into your life. You might meet your soulmate, or a new best friend. Hopefully, at the very least, you’ll figure out what you want from a future relationship — and what you don’t.
Dating is different for everyone. Some of us are dating after divorce, after loss, or after becoming a single parent by choice. We all have different needs and priorities. Our past relationships affect our future ones. But in general terms, every single mom can benefit from the experiences and perspectives of others. So we spoke to psychologists, therapists and dating coaches, as well as a posse of badass single moms, to establish what every newly single mom needs to know about the big, bad — but potentially brilliant — world of dating.
It’s a choice you don’t have to make right now (or ever)
First of all, you don’t have to date, just because that’s what society, TV shows and glossy magazines expect of you. When I was newly single after separating from the dad of my two kids, so many people asked me when I was going to “put myself out there” that I felt like getting a T-shirt printed that read, “Single mom: no desire (or time) to date.”
Lots of other moms are single by choice, and wouldn’t have it any other way. “My life as a single person is pretty great — it takes a lot for me to try to make room for a romantic relationship,” said Megan G., who lives with her 9-year-old son in Richmond, VA and has been single for six years. “I think that’s an important point — you don’t fail if you just don’t have it in you to date.”
“I love my single life,” agreed Isa D., who lives with her 4-year-old daughter in Boulder, CO and has been single for four years. “It’s full and happy and good and you have to be a pretty phenomenal partner to make me want to make room for you in what I have created.”
Your mom status is a cause for celebration, not secrecy
If you’re ready to start dating, your first big issue may be when to bring up the “C” word (children). For psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today, telling your date that you’re a mom from the get-go is a no-brainer. You’re proud of your kids, so don’t keep them a secret. “If someone drops you because you have kids, that’s good news — you’re avoiding getting used by someone who’s not worthy of you,” said Tessina. Complete honesty about your situation also makes it easier to establish your availability and priorities — and identify the people who can work with them, not against them. “It may be tempting to not discuss these things right away but in the long run you will save yourself a lot of time by filtering out the people who can’t accommodate your needs,” said licensed marriage and family therapist Irene Schreiner.
Keep mom life and dating life separate in the beginning
This often involves a level of strategic planning rarely seen outside the boardroom of a Fortune 500 company (“I’ve taken vacation days from work to go on day dates while daughter is at school: self-care,” said mom-of-one Lisa S., whose husband died in early 2018; other tried-and-tested tips include dating while the kids are with their other parent, and relying on a roster of dedicated, trusted babysitters a lot). But it’s worth it — something mom-of-three Amber D. found out the hard way.
“I don’t hide the fact that I’m dating from my kids, I even girl-talk a little with my 15-year-old daughter, but I keep my dating life pretty separate from my family life,” said Amber, who lives in Los Angeles, CA and has been single for six years. “When I first started dating again (about six months post-divorce) I made the mistake of letting new guy meet the kids about two months in. It was too soon. Their father was almost completely absent by that point so they attached to new guy quickly and then it ended a month later. I waited a little longer with the next guy, but the same thing happened. After that, I finally got smart (and we all got some therapy).” Amber now has a hard rule: “if we haven’t been serious and exclusive for six months or more, you don’t meet my kids.”
Integrate your kids into your dating life with care
Dating with very young kids is different than dating with older kids or teens. Besides their age, other factors that affect how you integrate your kids into your dating life are their ability to accept that dating, love and romance are positive aspects of adult life, and your general approach to parenting and how open you are with your kids, says dating expert Trish McDermott, who was on the founding team of Match. When you think your kids are old and/or mature enough — and only you can make that call — keep it casual by simply mentioning you have a date you’re looking forward to. This isn’t a time to call a family meeting to discuss the merits of having a stepparent.
“As your children become aware of your dating life, be prepared for some natural pushback,” said McDermott. “They may be harboring the belief that you will get back with their other parent, or even embarrassed to have to think about their mom being romantic with someone new.” The answer? Again, keep it simple. Just talk to them about it. Watch a movie with them where a single mom starts dating again and see what conversation it sparks. “This is a great way for your kids to see that a desire you have for adult love and romance is actually quite common,” added McDermott.
And it’s OK to show your kids that dating isn’t always easy. “You can laugh with them about an awkward moment on a date, or share with them that you liked someone who wasn’t able to return the feeling, or that someone really liked you but you didn’t feel the same way,” said McDermott. “Model healthy dating choices and your own ability to roll with the punches and move on.”
Remember, you’re dating for yourself, not your kids…
Sure, you don’t want anyone in your child’s life who won’t be a positive influence, but don’t start worrying about stepparent potential until you’ve established whether that person is a good fit for you.
“My sister and her husband have stepped in as World’s Best Aunt and Uncle, so I have parent partners and the kids have a positive male role model, and now I can date without worrying about whether the guy is ‘stepfather material.’ That role is filled,” said Amber. “So dating can just be for me. It can just be conversation and sex (never at my place) and fun and I gotta say… it’s a pretty nice place to be.”
Finally, there’s no point telling you not to feel guilty, because it’s a natural part of being a mom, and who needs to feel guilty about feeling guilty? You might always have a fleeting pang of shame when you leave your kids with the babysitter to go out for the night. Acknowledge it, then tell yourself that your kids are safe and happy, and that you deserve a life outside the home. “Giving yourself permission to do something for yourself in the now has benefits for both you and your kids in the long run,” said Schreiner.
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