Dating as a single mom presents so many challenges, the first of which is whether you want to deal with the challenges in the first place! After I was divorced, my sister told me about some of her friends who decided against dating and relationships until after their children were raised and out of the house. In theory this sounds great, in practice it makes for some long, lonely nights.
BUT . . .
What I learned from my marriage – and you may have learned from yours – is that I would rather be alone and lonely than to be in a relationship that just doesn’t WORK. So jumping into any relationship isn’t the answer either.
Being a single mom, it may feel as if you’re at a disadvantage, but most men (and women) understand that when you reach a certain age, there are likely children involved. In fact, some psychologists warn if a man or woman hasn’t married by their mid-30s it may signal commitment issues, or other baggage that is best left alone.
There are some authors who advise you to put yourself and your future relationships first, before your children, but I would beg to differ on this point. While I do believe it is important to put your own health – mental, physical and emotional – before your children, it should also not be at the expense of your time and energy with your children.
The argument is that a happy well-adjusted marriage leads to happy, well-adjusted children. However, the second time around comes with more challenges than being married to the children’s father, so this is the time to take it slow and encourage your children to verbalize their own fears and desires.
There is a balance you must strike where you are healthy enough to care for your children – and care for yourself – against putting your own needs first all the time. The fact of the matter is that you’ll likely feel a little guilty caring for your own needs, but it’s important you do it anyway, while ensuring your children are healthy and well cared for.
It’s the age old problem women have had for centuries. It has been the lot in life of women who bent toward care giving to think first of the people for whom they are giving care and second for themselves. This often leads to burnout, anxiety, frustration and sometimes anger at the people under their care.
There is a mental transition you must undergo between being a parent and being your own person; but with some creative organization you can achieve exactly that. Be honest with yourself and your future partner about how much time and energy you have to devote to dating. This isn’t a first date conversation, but it should be something you’ve ironed out for yourself before saying yes to the first date.
In essence you’ve moved from dating between two people to dating in a crowd – your children, his children and maybe even more extended family. Suddenly you’re trying to work out whether you and he should stay together while under pressure from all sides. It may feel almost impossible – but it IS possible when you create boundaries for yourself and your partner that you both respect AND you insist that others respect as well.
Step Out in Self-Confidence
You might have thought you were “doomed” to singledom until your children have left the nest, but that would be your choice and not something that is expected, unless you believe that it is where God would have you. That said, it’s time to recognize you are a valuable and very lovable individual who comes with a package of children. In point of fact, there are men who are looking for a ready-made, already-started family, stepping past the up-all-night, diaper-changing years.
What are YOU Looking for?
Know whether you are looking for a partner for yourself or a father for your children. AND recognize that once the children have left the house, you are left with a man you may not have chosen as partner material. You may want to consider other strong male figures in your life to help support your parenthood, while looking for a partner you can stick with as the children leave home.
Before you go on one more date, set about making a few rules for yourself. You ARE valuable, lovable and have quite a bit to offer another person. Be sure you believe that yourself before parading through a list of men. Set rules for yourself and your future dates that include how you expect to be treated, how much time you want to spend with someone, your expectations of the relationship and when/how you want your children or his children involved.
Don’t Jump Too Soon
Don’t get the new guy involved in a parenting role too soon – even if it’s more convenient for him to pick up your son on his way over for dinner. This only blurs the lines for your children and your new guy. Wait until both your son and your new guy think it’s silly that he ISN’T involved.
Children Do What They See, Not What You Tell Them
Behave in the same way you want your teens to act. In other words, if you believe premarital sex is fine, then expect your teen will as well. You can’t hide what you’re doing no matter how hard you try. Those little darlings have radar that works as well as yours. So, while you might think they don’t know what you’re doing – they do. And if you don’t want them doing the same thing, then it’s time to think that maybe you might want to wait as well.
When It’s Time, Leave
We have a tendency to think of the children first, and that includes breaking off a relationship that isn’t working because you don’t want to hurt the children. Change and loss is a part of life for everyone. It’s better that your children see you respecting yourself, experiencing loss while you can support them and love them, than to watch you stay in a relationship where the guy doesn’t honor or respect you, or that may not be going in the direction that is best for your family.
Don’t Force Your Children
Before you start dating and during the relationship, start a few “what if” conversations to elicit their feelings and ideas. “What if I start dating?” “What if Roger’s kids come over on Saturday?” Give your children time to work out how they feel and express it to you – each of us needs time to process information, and sometimes that process happens well when you’re talking it out with them. It’s wise not to force your children to have a relationship with this new man. They may resent him for taking their father’s place, or just be wary of the role this guy may play in your life and theirs. Instead, offer invitations without expectations – “We’re going to the zoo on Saturday, want to come along?”
Falling in love is such a delicious feeling – and totally intoxicating. You may be tempted to spend all your free time with your new love, but don’t. This only taps into spoken or unspoken fears your children have that they are losing you – and may make it appear that you are totally available to him. Neither of these scenarios end well. Maintain balance with your children and your new guy and revel in the fact that there are so many people who love you and want to spend time with YOU.