Dating A Mom On Mother’s Day

You’re her boyfriend. She has a kid. And you’re wondering what to do — or even whether you should do anything — for that special holiday coming up this Sunday, May 13. Where do you fit in?

By Virginia Sole-Smith

enny Benz and her son, Ian, have their Mother’s Day routine down pat: “We’ll have dinner with my mom, and the day ends with Ian falling asleep in my bed while I watch a single-mom movie like Jerry Maguire,” says Benz, a health-policy analyst in Washington, D.C. Benz says they’ll follow the same routine this year, but with a key addition — Brian Spendolini, her boyfriend. “Holidays can be awkward at first,” admits Spendolini, a senior consultant in Sterling, VA. “We’re finding a comfort level that works for all three of us.”

If you, like Spendolini, are dating a single mom, you know Mother’s Day can be challenging. “It’s one of the most difficult holidays for
Remember: It’s not Valentine’s Day.
single moms,” says Linda Carter, Ph.D., director of the Family Studies Program at the NYU Child Study Center in New York. “There can be sadness because it’s connected to the original family.” To help you navigate this day and make it a memorable one, we asked psychologists, family therapists and the real experts — single moms — for the dos and don’ts of Mother’s Day. Here’s what they had to say:

DO check with your girlfriend before you just show up
“Single mothers need to feel in control of their families because they are the decision-makers,” explains Marion Llindblad-Goldberg, Ph.D., director of the Philadelphia Child and Family Therapy Center. Surprises aren’t always welcome when you risk intruding on traditions or misreading what her children want. “The biological parent is always the expert on her kids,” adds Goldberg. So ask your girlfriend how she would like to spend the day before you make those dinner reservations.

DON’T overwhelm her if it’s a new relationship
“You should be a significant and stable person in a woman’s life before you join in family activities,” says Carter. Cindy Jennes, a homemaker in Fairfield, CT, recalls that before she and her new husband were married, he didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day with her and her daughter, Lindsay. “Mother’s Day was my day to be with Lindsay,” explains Cindy. The timing is different for every couple, but all of our experts agreed that if the relationship is new, don’t expect to be included in the whole day. An hour in the park together post-brunch is a realistic plan. And if it’s too soon for that, “let them have their day as a family, then just send a card,” recommends Carter.

DON’T panic if the kids don’t want you around
Even if your relationship is serious, her children need to know that they aren’t losing their mother, so be prepared for them to get territorial around this
You never want to rob the kids of their time with mom.
holiday. “My sons would have been hurt if I invited anyone along on the day that they thought of as theirs,” says Dennise Meeks, of Richardson, TX. “They always took me to lunch at the same Mexican restaurant where the waiter knew to give the check to my oldest, since he saved his allowance to pay for it.” Says Carter: “You never want to rob the kids of their time with mom. It’s common for them to say, ‘I don’t want your new boyfriend at dinner.’ The more slowly and thoughtfully you approach this, the more open they’ll become.”

DO avoid breakfast in bed
Maybe you’ve slept over at your girlfriend’s house before. You may not want to do so the night before Mother’s Day, advises Goldberg: “This can be too close to what children have experienced with their parents.” Unless you’re a fixture in their household, it can be awkward for the kids to race into the bedroom in the morning with gifts for mom and find you there. Proceed with caution.

DON’T mess with the ex
Don’t be surprised if your girlfriend’s former husband plays a role in the day’s festivities. “It’s wonderful when two people realize they don’t want to be married but they do want to co-parent and even share holidays,” says Carter. You’re not trying to be their new dad, so don’t take it personally if you take a backseat to the children’s father on Mother’s Day.

DO let the kids pick their own gifts
Sure, you want her to have a perfect day, but don’t push your present agenda too hard. “Let the kids take initiative and help them be creative,” says Goldberg. Moms love what their kids give them, no matter how wacky: “Ian says this year he wants to get Jenny some LEGOs, and I think that’s a fine idea,” says Spendolini.

DON’T get confused about what makes this holiday tick
“It’s not Valentine’s Day, it’s not your anniversary,” says Goldberg. “This is a day to honor what an amazing job she does as a mother.” If you’ve been dating for a while, Goldberg suggests collecting photos or making a video of her with the children, and “present it as her best moments as a mom.” This is a great way to show that you respect them as a family and recognize just what a great mom she is.

Virginia Sole-Smith writes frequently on lifestyle and relationship issues.
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