Smart Dating Tips For Single Parents
Our experts weigh in with wise advice on how to find love, introduce your sweetie to the kids—and how to keep romance going strong.
t’s hard juggling a love life with raising kids—but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort! And to help all of you single parents out there cultivate new relationships, we hosted a live chat with Lisa Cohn and William Merkel, Ph.D., authors of the award-winning One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice For Stepfamilies. Here, they answer some questions and share their expert advice about finding love… and blending families.
When do you know the time is right to introduce a date to your children?
William: I think that it’s time to introduce your child to someone when you think it has a chance to become a serious relationship.
Lisa: I think it also depends on the age of the child. Younger children may not have a sense of what a date or a relationship is. I don’t think it would cause a lot of harm to just meet someone in the park and have him or her meet your kids there, and you get a chance to see how the person interacts with your children. But I don't think it’s a good idea to do that with a teenager.
William: I think, finally, that it’s important to keep it casual, particularly in the beginning. Casual and low-key.
Lisa: In other words, don’t introduce her as “This is the girl I want to marry.”
If you’re a single parent who’s looking to get married pretty quickly, how do you prevent scaring dates off?
Lisa: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with just saying it—just not on the first date. Bill actually asked me on the first date: “Do you want to get married?” And I think I surprised him when I said I did want to get married and have another child. You should make your intentions clear; there’s nothing wrong with that.
William: I do think it’s true that if you say it right away, you may scare someone off, but if you wait too long, the person might feel deceived or that you’re changing the rules mid-stream. It does put a tremendous amount of pressure on dating. Rather than dating to have fun or just to meet someone, you’re dating with a clear motive, which is a pretty heavy one.
As a single mom, I don't want to involve my kids in my dating life too soon, so this means I don't have much free time to date—just every other weekend. Any advice?
William: It does limit your availability. It puts more of a premium on things like Internet dating that you can use at odd moments of the day, and things like cell phones, and email. There are ways to establish that first step of a connection.
Lisa: And that’s important to do.
Once a single parent finds him or herself in a serious relationship, how can he or she get the ex to adjust?
Lisa: I think that you need to begin by having a frank conversation with your ex, and explain that you don’t want to hurt his or her feelings, but that you’re dating someone now. Your ex is naturally going to be concerned about how your dating will affect the kids.
William: I think it’s very important for that news of dating not to come through the child to the ex. That puts the child in a very difficult position; this should be between the grown-ups.
What’s the best way to handle things if the kids get angry about the fact that you’re dating?
William: Many kids harbor the illusion that their parents will reconcile. The fact that one parent is dating can bring a very quick and unhappy end to that illusion.
Lisa: On the other hand, it’s a balancing act! You have to attend to your needs, while at the same time listening to the kids and acknowledging their feelings. It’s not a situation of “Well, too bad, I’m going to date anyway.” You really have to listen to them.
William: A new date will never replace a parent. That sounds fundamental, and yet people worry about it. You’re a parent for life, for better or for worse. Beyond that, one of the things you do early is talk a little bit to the children about what they may be experiencing. I think it’s also very important to never give a message to a child that the child is responsible for your dating. While it is important to be respectful, it’s necessary that children understand that they can not derail or stop your dating.
How should single parents justify taking time away from their children to date?
Lisa: I believe you’re a better parent if you’re a happier parent. I use that to justify going swimming every day! If dating makes you happier, you’re going to be more attentive when you’re with your children.
What are the best ways for single parents to meet other single parents?
Lisa: There are places like the park, the children’s museum, the movies, the ice-skating rink. When I was a single mom, I didn’t have any trouble running into single dads.
If you’re dating a single parent, how do you deal with disiciplining his or her child if the kid is disrespectful of you?
Lisa: Generally you should not discipline your date’s child. That will get you in deep trouble and the child will resent you. If you don’t like your date’s parenting style, you can try to change it, but don’t necessarily expect it to work. If the child is disrespectful, again, talk with the parent, not the child. If you’re hurt and angry, the temptation is to lash out at the child. Don’t go there.
William: Many men say, “I'll teach her kids to be respectful to her, and she’ll be grateful.” This rarely happens. Research suggests that it takes five to seven years for a stepfamily to begin to gel to the point where you might be able to make direct disciplinary comments to your stepson or stepdaughter. It’s quite a long time. It sometimes requires the patience of a saint, which few of us are.
Lisa: If you really, really hate your date’s parenting style, you have to think about that, and realize that it’s probably not going to be easy to change them.
When’s the best time to inform your date that you have a kid?
Lisa: Right away.
William: No question, right away.
Lisa: Otherwise they’ll feel deceived after that month or so.
William: That’s a trust-killer.
How does one have the energy or time to find a new relationship when our lives are so busy with the children?
William: I’m ensconced in empathy with that! I had a one-year-old and a four-year-old who were with me half the time. And after making the dinner and doing the wash, reading three Golden Treasury books, and putting them to bed, I barely had the strength to find the bed myself.
Lisa: We had a babysitting sharing group that helped share the time and cost of babysitting. And there are tricks you can do, too—I’d put my son in the bathtub and watch him, while I was also on the phone with my date. I also spent a lot of time in parks with him, where he’d be busy and I’d be “kind of” dating. I think I felt more comfortable introducing him to people I was dating that way—he was fine with that. And if you’re meeting someone in the same situation, they know the position you’re in.
William: I think the kids’ demands and requirements change over time. I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’ll only be doing five loads of laundry a week for x number of years, or only so long warming bottles. It’s important to remember that in those exhausted moments, just before you go to sleep.
Lisa Cohn and William Merkel, Ph.D., are authors of the award-winning One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice For Stepfamilies.