Pick-Up Tips For Parents At The Playground

Want to make your next play date with the kids extra-productive? Try putting these flirting tricks to work on that sexy someone you’ve been staring at across the swings and see what happens!

By Amy Keyishian

f you’re a parent who’s single and dating — or hoping to, at least — you already know that you’re not alone. But what you might not realize is just how much good company you’re in these days. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 13 million single parents in country today,
Sometimes other single parents aren’t naturally social.
raising about a quarter of all American kids. The number of custodial single fathers has risen by 60% in the last 10 years, says So you’ve got better odds than ever of finding love with another parent. That’s the good news.

The bad news is... well, now that children are in the picture, you have to be more mature than you ever were during the misty, long-ago era before you became a parent. Imagine your college roommate collapsing into a heap of tears on the bed — or punching the wall in frustration — because of an exasperating evening spent with a bad date or after getting a volley of disastrous mixed-signal texts from a new love interest.

Now imagine that you’re seven years old, and that roommate is your parent. Ugh! That’s definitely not a good situation. So when you spot a cute kiddo with an equally appealing mom or dad working the teeter-totter with one foot on a sunny afternoon, you might feel totally at a loss as to what to do next. Is it OK to flirt while you’re at the playground with your kids? And are other single parents fair game? If so, what are the rules? Never fear; experts are here to answer your questions.

Chatting about your kids is a great way to break the ice
Meeting someone while you’re at the playground — or in the waiting room of the ballet studio, on the sidelines at the batting cages, or at a birthday party — probably seems quite natural. After all, you know you both already share common ground — and not just parenthood, but whatever activity you (or your kids) are engaged in, too. And you’re surrounded by icebreakers (hint: they’re short, they might have freckles, and they are likely more charming than either of you).

But first, you’ve got to establish whether there’s any potential at all for a mutual connection. Clued-in friends are sure to be on point, letting you know about any single parents traveling in your social sphere. Beyond that, you’ve got to rely on talking, because in these days of messy diaper changes, parent-teacher conferences, and hormone-based body changes, even the absence of a wedding ring isn’t a sure sign of someone’s romantic availability.

Asking the kids, however, is “a giant no-no,” says Ellie Slott Fisher, author of Mom, There’s a Man in the Kitchen and He’s Wearing Your Robe: The Single Mom’s Guide to Dating Well without Parenting Poorly (Da Capo Press) and co-author of Dating for Dads (Bantam). Even if they don’t quite understand why, your question will make them uncomfortable — and may even be painful, especially if there’s been a contentious or recent separation between mom and dad. Instead, ask the person you’re interested in some probing questions, like: “Evan is so tall, is that from his dad’s side?” or “Do you always do practice duty, or do you switch off?” You might find yourself — as I once did — getting a whole lot of interesting information about egg donation and domestic partnerships… or you might just be able to confirm that this person is, indeed, single.

Then next challenge is finding out if this person’s interested in you. To do that, you simply have to continue the conversation. It’ll be easy if he or she is also interested in you — in fact, a long, friendly chat could be a sign in and of itself.

Use compliments and humor to keep the conversation flowing
“Sometimes other single parents aren’t naturally social, but you can always talk about the one thing you already have in common,” says Amy Spencer, relationship optimism expert and author of Meeting Your Half-Orange: An Utterly Upbeat Guide to Using Dating Optimism to Find Your Perfect Match (Running Press). And of course, a compliment’s going to be the way to that parent’s heart — provided it’s about his or her kid. “Lily is
Some parents loathe the idea of getting involved with someone for months.
so enthusiastic,” you can say, or “What a great arm Huck has,” you can cheer enthusiastically.

Or, you could open up your treasure chest of things you’d want to know anyway. “What are you wondering about, as a parent?” says Spencer. “For example: What do you do if the tooth fairy forgets to come — what are some ideas for explaining that to the kids?” Suggestions for goodie bags are another great conversation-starter, because you can trade stories about the best and worst ones you’ve seen while wondering how this trend ever got started in the first place. “Just say you’re trying to collect some ideas to fall back on, and give [the other person] an idea of your sense of humor and your life approach,” suggests Spencer. Bonus: You might get some useful advice in the bargain!

“Real” dates vs. play dates: What are the rules?
A play date, says Spencer, can be a great “preview for a real date,” but Fisher urges using caution if you decide to go this route. Arranging more than one play date before going on a real date (and really, she would prefer there’d be none) can be confusing for the kids. What if they hit it off, but you two don’t? You could be in for some awkward get-togethers in the future. “If you think you’re going to tell your kid that this is just mommy/daddy’s friend... well, don’t think you’re pulling the wool over your child’s eyes,” cautions Fisher, who adds that “the kids don’t need to be swept up in this until you know it’s going to continue for a while.”

Obviously, though, you’re the best person to judge this situation. Some parents loathe the idea of getting involved with someone for months, finally introducing that person to the children, and realizing there’s a disastrous mismatch of personalities. For that reason, you might find yourself sharing a few play dates here and there — but keep the kids out of it.

This means that at some point, you’ve got to be bold. Rather than peering over the tops of your children’s heads, wondering if your flirting signals are being received, you have to shore up your nerve and ask this person out. “Do you ever get to see non-Disney movies?” Fisher suggests. “Would you ever want to go to one sometime — with me?”

Keep a positive outlook when you’re flirting with someone
As for actual flirting tips, well, that’s something that varies by the individual, so no universal approach can guarantee success. “Keep it positive,” Spencer advises. “No gossiping, and no complaining about the tough things about being a parent. This is your chance to make the other person see what joy you can bring into his or her life, not negativity.” If negativity’s all you encounter in the person you’re flirting with — well, that might be a red flag. As cute as this person may be, he or she might not be ready for a new relationship just yet.

But even if things fizzle with one prospect, it’s important to get yourself out there and start dating again whenever you feel comfortable doing so. “I’m very supportive of single parents, having been one myself,” says Fisher. “People can be very judgmental of single parents who date, and it drives me crazy! They can have a child who acts up and it’s no big deal, but let a single parent have a kid who acts up, and it’s ‘well, of course — he doesn’t have a father.’ Everybody’s an expert.” Ignore those people, Fisher says; you’re ready to date again when you feel ready, and as long as you can keep your head on straight, you’ve got every right to search for love (or whatever it is you’ve got in mind).

Amy Keyishian has written for Cosmopolitan and other national magazines.
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