Whether you got divorced or were widowed, becoming a single parent often means dating again after having been in a long-term relationship. And while it might not seem like it would be that difficult to do something you’ve done before, dating after parenthood is a different situation than dating before kids.
There are some very common mistakes that single moms make when it comes to dating. These mistakes can make your dating life anything from mildly unpleasant to downright miserable. But if you know what to look for, you can avoid making these mistakes and have a much better dating life — and a better chance at finding what you really want.
Feeling guilty about dating
Time with your kids is already limited so it’s not fair to take more time from them to go on dates. The kids aren’t ready for you to date again yet. They need you too much for you to give your attention to a date. There are lots of reasons you can give yourself that can make you feel guilty about dating.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Dating isn’t about your kids. It’s about you.
Consider that your guilt is not actually guilt about dating but an excuse because you aren’t ready to date again yet — and that’s okay. But if you know you’re ready to date, ditch the guilt. You and your dates deserve for you to be fully present on your dates and that only happens if you’re not feeling guilty about being there.
Dating too soon
There’s no hard and fast line before which it’s too soon to date. But we can all agree that you need to take some time to heal. This time might be weeks or it might be months or even years.
Sometimes you won’t even know it’s too soon until you go on that first date and realize that you’re just not ready yet. If that happens, it’s okay. It’s a problem if you acknowledge that realization and try to keep dating anyway.
Be honest with yourself. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready. Dating too soon isn’t going to help you heal faster, find love sooner, or get any other good results. It’s just going to end in disaster.
Getting exclusive too quickly
The thing about being a single parent is that typically, you ended up here because a long-term relationship ended. So you’re used to the family dynamic. The couple dynamic. And it’s something so familiar that you might want it back right now.
But getting exclusive with someone too quickly can mean you have to break up with someone who is totally great but just not right for you — or you’re not ready for yet. It can also mean getting your kids involved too soon.
Take your time. Get to know the people you’re dating. Make sure you know what you want in a partner and a relationship. And know that when the right person comes along, you won’t need to lock them down instantly.
Introducing the kids too soon
It might happen because you went exclusive too soon. Or it might be because you run into a date at the grocery store or a school function. Whatever it is, you introduce your kids way too soon.
This can lead to so many problems. Kids who are upset you’re dating, jealous you’re spending time with someone else, or worried about a new person in their life. Kids who get attached to someone who ultimately disappears soon because you and your date just weren’t a good match. A date who turns and walks away because even though they knew you were a single parent, the reality was more than they wanted to deal with.
Just as you should take your time before getting exclusive, take your time introducing someone to your kids. Remember that dating exclusively doesn’t have to mean they meet your kids. You can wait a few more weeks or even months. You might not want to wait until you’re planning to get married or live together but allowing a little more time to pass isn’t a bad thing.
Having sex too soon
The caveat to this is that if all you’re looking for is a sexual relationship, then there might not be such a thing as too soon. But if you’re looking for something more than just sex, the feelings that come with sex are all too easy to confuse with love and emotional connection.
If you want more than a physical relationship, hold off on sex until you feel ready. Don’t let a date pressure you but don’t pressure yourself either. Take the time to build the connection and see what else there is between you before you take that step.
Giving single dads a free pass
Ah, the single dad. Somehow they seem a little more attractive than the average guy just for being a dad. But this can sometimes lead to giving them a free pass that they don’t really deserve.
Being a single dad doesn’t automatically mean he’s a great guy. He can still be a jerk and raise kids. He can use his single dad status to convince women he’s a great guy and get them to date him. Evaluate single dads as you would any other guy you date — if there are red flags, dump him.
Of course, don’t rule single dads out as a whole either. Dating another single parent can be great because they understand the same challenges you face.
Lowering your expectations
Many single moms somehow get the message that being a single mom means they’re damaged goods. Less worthy of love. Less deserving of a relationship. And this can lead you to lower your expectations.
But you aren’t damaged goods. You deserve love and a relationship as much as anyone else and you shouldn’t settle for someone who isn’t up to standard. Be realistic in your expectations but do not lower them.
If you feel like you struggle with setting realistic expectations, work with a coach or therapist to figure out why and set some. But in general, whatever you expected pre-kids, you should continue to expect now.
Expecting the kids to be totally accepting
If you think your kids are going to be pushing you out the door to go on a date and immediately accept a new partner and call them Mom or Dad, you will be seriously disappointed. While some kids are more accepting than others, most kids struggle a bit when their parent starts dating again after divorce or the death of the other parent.
Realize that your kids do want you to be happy but they are kids. They’re struggling to accept that the family they once had is over. In the case of divorce, they might still be hoping you’ll get back together. Whatever they’re thinking, they’re not trying to stop you from being happy but they do need time to adjust.
Be patient and allow them to come to terms with you dating, or even getting into a new relationship, in their own time. Don’t try to force it or rush it. Not only will it not work but it will likely damage your relationship with them.
Looking for someone to save you
Becoming a single parent is a huge adjustment. Lower income, smaller home, and mistakes you’ve made along the way. And in some cases, life as a single parent can really feel awful. It can be really easy to start fantasizing about a Prince Charming who will save you from the discomfort.
When you do this, though, you don’t date someone because you actually like them and enjoy being with them. You date them because you see them as a savior, a way out of whatever misery you’re dealing with. And not only is that not fair to them but it sets you up to be trapped in an unhappy relationship because you think it’s better than the alternative.
The hard truth is you need to save yourself. It’s up to you to right your own wrongs and be the hero(ine) who makes things better. And there may be big challenges to overcome in order to do that, but you won’t overcome them by dating someone solely so they can save you.
Dating as a single parent can be fun. And it can lead to beautiful love and relationships. You just need to watch your step.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She wants to help other single moms find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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