Dating is an adventure. It evokes many emotions as you put on a brave face and put yourself out there: from hope, passion, and elation, to disappointment, frustration, and anxiety. The emotional roller coaster includes extra twists and turns if you’re a parent, whether you’re back in the game for the first time in a long time, or moving on after a recent divorce.
Here are ten quick tips to help you navigate dating as a single parent:
- Don’t start dating until you feel ready.
Dating challenges the confidence of everyone—even individuals with sky-high self-esteem. So, before you create a dating app profile or accept a dinner invitation, be sure you’re emotionally healthy enough to deal with possible setbacks, ghosting, and other negative behavior you may encounter.
This is especially true if you’ve recently been through a major transition, such as a long-distance move, a divorce, or a career change. Make sure you’re completely healed after a breakup, and that the decisions you’re making are coming from a place of self-love. Don’t start dating until you and your children are at peace with the decision.
- Tell prospective dates that you have kids.
Being a parent is such a crucial component of the person you are. So, don’t try to hide it. Add it to your online dating profile if you have one, or talk about it on your first date, if not sooner. Don’t wait too long, and definitely don’t lie about how many children you have. Disclosures like this introduce trust and honesty into a relationship.
Don’t fret about scaring off potential love interests with the news that you have children. The c-word is actually a great filter. It won’t let you get too attached to a partner who doesn’t want or like kids. You may be shrinking your list of potential dating candidates, but the quality of those on your list increases significantly.
- Thoroughly evaluate potential partners.
Single parents must screen their partners with caution and diligence. Your dates should definitely be aware of your kids, but don’t share photos and other personal details about your kids until your partner earns your trust. This is true no matter positive a vibe they’re giving off. Don’t be shy about thoroughly checking their background and taking their personality into consideration. It’s worth it to avoid putting your children, and yourself, at risk.
- As soon as you’re comfortable, tell your kids.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule regarding when and how you choose to tell your kids that you’re dating. It will vary depending on what you feel would be right for your family. However, it’s essential to take as much time as you need to maintain the happiness and security of your family. And tell your kids about your new partner before you introduce them, leaving enough time to address any issues or questions they may have.
- Be honest.
Kids are naturally curious. And if you’re acting secretive, they’ll only have more questions. You don’t have any reasons to hide the fact that you’ve started dating. So, be honest, and use it as a teaching moment. When you know the person you’re seeing is someone special, take some time to discuss your partner’s characteristics and qualities with your children, and tell them why those elements are important to you.
You know your children, the relationship they have with their other parent (if this applies), and your family’s circumstances, better than anybody else does. As long as your kids understand that their place in your life is safe and secure, they should be comfortable seeing you going out, enjoying yourself, and creating a new life.
- Be prepared for undeserved judgment.
The critical, snarky, and downright rude comments that people make about perceived parenting fails—otherwise known as “mom-shaming”—are all too rampant. People will also feel entitled to offer you their unsolicited thoughts regarding your dating choices. Your kids will always top your list of priorities. But don’t feel bad for also wanting to have a personal life apart from them. Brace yourself for judgment from friends or family whose opinions on the appropriateness of single parents dating may not match yours. Trust your instincts and process the input with a grain of salt.
- Indulge your sense of humor.
Enjoy this adventure and be ready to laugh. Dating as a single parent is a lot like dating as a teenager. You sneak out after your fall asleep (of course, with a sitter in the house!). You have hushed, intimate conversations on the phone. And you sure don’t want to get caught making out on the couch! It’s all in good fun. Keep a sense of humor about it!
- Be willing to adjust your plans.
Spontaneity can be challenging for single parents. And the younger your kids are, the truer this is. Schedule outings well ahead of time, but be patient if your plans go awry. All it takes is a toddler’s foundation-shaking diaper blowout to send even the best-laid plans right down the toilet. You and your date have to be okay with that.
- Keep your expectations flexible.
Single parents’ time is precious, and especially after a divorce, you may be on a journey of self-rediscovery. While you need grown-up fun, the definition of “fun” will vary widely from one couple to another. Some may simply desire a kids-free dinner and movie night in. But a fancy dinner out, where you’re not force-feeding vegetables to uncooperative little people, may actually be just what you need.
- Be open to different types of new relationships.
The dating process requires participants to keep an open mind. Things may not always go as you’d planned. If you meet someone you click with but neither of you feels that romantic spark, don’t be discouraged. You may not have met your new Mr. or Mrs. Right, but you may have just widened your social circle and made a great new friend.