What Do Single Parents Want?

Are they dying to settle down or reluctant to make the leap? And how do they find time to date anyway? Answers to these and other questions ahead.

By Julie Taylor

hen it comes to dating, few groups are more misunderstood than single parents. Many assume they’re dying to settle down for the sake of their kids; still others wonder whether they have time to date in the first place. But are any of these things true? What, exactly, are single parents looking for when they decide to meet someone for a cup of coffee or dinner and a movie? What challenges do they face, and how do they cope? To find the answers, we sat down with some single parents as well as experts in the field to get a true take on what it’s like.

Nancy Vogl, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul
Tammy Jones, founder of the single parents’ support group
Robyn, 43, mother of 2 girls, ages 16 and 14
Steve, 34, father of one 12-year-old boy
Heidi, 28, mother of one 9-year-old boy
Jack, 35, father of 3-year-old twin girls

Q: As a single parent, what are your dating goals—are you eager to settle down or reluctant to make that commitment with kids?
Steve: I’d love to get married again, but I’m not going to settle this time or repeat past mistakes. I’m really picky—after all, I have to look at any woman as a potential
“When you take that time to date, you’re actually doing your kids a favor—because you’ll be a happier, better parent as a result.”
stepmother to my son. The problem is, I’m attracted to really young women, and most of them are still out partying, getting drunk, and cussing like sailors, which are things I just don’t want around my son.

Nancy Vogl: This shift in thinking is common. Before, a cute face or good body might have been all someone cared about. As a single parent, though, they might find themselves more interested in things like character and values.

Heidi: I have a serious boyfriend I’ve been dating since the summer, and I’d love to settle down and get married to the right guy. It would be nice to have a decent father figure for my son.

Tammy Jones: Once you start dating as a single parent, there’s a definite shift. It’s not ‘me, me, me’ anymore—you’ve got kids who come first, and they’re your heart and your soul and your priority. Therefore, dating takes on a whole new perspective.

Q: When do you introduce your kids to the people you’re dating?
Heidi: I don’t want my child to get attached to someone who’s not going to be around for long. That’s one big reason I didn’t introduce my current boyfriend to my son for over two months.

Jack: I never introduce my kids to my dates. I only have my kids on weekends, so I do all my dating during the week. I don’t want those two worlds to collide.

Nancy Vogl: One good way to handle it is to simply introduce your dates as your “friends.” Since you have a lot of other friends that your kids have likely met, meeting one more won’t set off any alarm bells.

Steve: When I make the introduction really depends on if they have children or not. If they do, we might do a family outing fairly early on to get our kids together. It’s just
“Sometimes my date will say, ‘I’m not ready to be a dad,’ and I’m like, ‘Hello—it’s our first date!’ Guys tend to overreact that way.”
easier to schedule dates that way. But I’ve dated many women without kids who never met my son.

Q: How do you find time to date?
Robyn: As my kids have gotten older, it’s become a lot easier. My daughters both have their own lives now, and when the weekend comes around, I barely even see them.

Jack: I work 70 hours a week, so the only time I have for dating is either lunch dates or really late dinners on nights I don’t have my kids.

Heidi: I rely a lot on my sister and close friends to watch my son on the rare occasions my boyfriend and I get to go out on our own. I really can’t afford fifty or sixty dollars for child care on top of the price of the date, so I’m lucky I have people close to me who volunteer their babysitting services.

Steve: I have primary custody, so it’s tough. My son is in a lot of sports, so his games keep me busy several nights a week. If you’re serious with someone, you can ask them to come along to sporting events and things like that, so finding time to date is easier. You can incorporate that person into your life. But when you’re dating around like I am right now, it’s harder to juggle it all.

Q: How do the people you date feel about the fact you have a kid?
Robyn: There are so many single mothers in their forties out there, it’s really not an issue.

Steve: There have definitely been women who wanted to go out with me until I told them I had a kid and then changed their mind. I really can’t judge them for that, because I might have felt the same way before I had children. I’ve also dated women who said they were cool with me having a kid, but once we got more serious, it became an issue.

Heidi: Most guys are OK with it. But sometimes a guy will be like, “I’m not ready to marry you or be a dad” and I’m like, “Hello—it’s our first date! We’re just going to the movies, not getting married!” Guys tend to overreact that way.

Jack: I don’t tell most of the women I date that I have kids. Is that bad?

Tammy Jones: If you are clear upfront that your kids come first and that you’re a package deal, you’ll weed out the people who can’t handle that from the get-go.

Q: What’s the hardest part about dating as a single parent?
Heidi: For me, it’s finding the time to devote to my boyfriend and finding the time to devote to my son. Before my boyfriend came along, all of my attention was on my son. Now that I have someone in my life, I have to divide that focus, and it’s hard. It’s worth it, but it’s a very big challenge.

Nancy Vogl: Most single parents say the biggest challenge is time. It feels like there’s just not enough time in the day to devote to your kids, your job, yourself, and your dating life. For many, guilt creeps in, too. But it’s important not to think of that time you spend on dating as time you’re stealing away from your kids. When you take that time to date, you’re actually doing your kids a favor—because you’ll be a happier, better parent as a result.

Steve: My son sometimes gets jealous of the time I’m spending with the women I’m dating. I just try to include him as much as possible—going to the lake to ride jet skis, that sort of thing. I never want him to feel left out.

Robyn: For me, it’s finding someone who is worth dating. I just want to find a decent guy. Are there any left out there? I have my doubts, but I keep looking. And looking. And looking.

Julie Taylor has written for Redbook and other publications.
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