The Single Mom's Survival Guide

Dating

The dishes are done, the kids are asleep, and the toys are put away. Wouldn't it be nice to curl up in bed with a good...man? As fulfilling as being a mom is, we all need a grown-up playdate once in a while. But finding a nice guy can sometimes feel like climbing Mount Everest, and you need more than a compass to find your way through the duds and dorks of the dating world.

Are You There Yet?

"You're ready to be back in the dating game when you don't feel like you need a man, but you feel like you want one," says Sharon McKenna, author of Sex and the Single Mom. When you're done obsessing about your relationship with your ex, you're generally ready to get on with your life.

Where Is He?

Now that you're ready to meet Mr. Right, how do you find him? He could be at your PTA meeting, in the supermarket, on the sidelines of your kid's soccer game, or in the bookstore -- but you'll never know if you don't approach him. Though it sounds totally retro, "men like to feel needed," says Jill Spiegel, author of The Flirtologist's Guide to Dating. Ask him for help reaching cereal on the top shelf or whether he knows the score of the game. If he's interested, he'll keep the conversation going.

Your dream guy could also be on the Internet dating sites like Match.com or Perfectmatch.com. But though your computer might seem like the ideal meet market because you can flirt it up in your pj's and there are so many men to choose from, all that back-and-forth can be a full-time job. And with kids at home, you need to be extra careful about the kind of person you let into your life (even if it's just a date). With Classmates.com, you can reconnect with people you used to know in high school. There are also sites just for single parents, like Singleparentsmingle.com. But the best route of all is to let people know you're interested in being fixed up. And don't ask just your closest friends -- tell your pediatrician, your yoga teacher, or even the person who cuts your hair.

Who's Your Daddy?

It would be great to find a father figure for your child, but not every guy you date is qualified to play that role. Never introduce your child to anyone on the first date, even if you're excited about his potential -- it will only compromise her sense of security.

"It's important to tell your child the truth about your social life, but give her a version she can understand and that won't worry her," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Tell her you're going to see a new friend or you're going out to dinner. At the beginning, that's really all you're doing. You might hope it'll turn into something more, but don't get your kids wrapped up in that until it happens. Once you've been steadily dating someone for at least three months, and you feel he has staying power, you can consider introducing him to your child, says McKenna. Arrange for him to join you at the bowling alley or at your picnic in the park so he doesn't feel like it's all about him. And if it doesn't go well, he can make a graceful exit.

Yes, YES, YES!

It's only natural to worry that no one wants to date a mom, but you need to pump up your positivity. Think about it: Your married friends are surely jealous and dying to hear every detail of your swingin' single life, a "call from the babysitter" is the perfect excuse to bail on a dreadful date, and no matter whom you go out with, you'll always come home to someone who loves you unconditionally. Who cares if McDreamy never calls you again? Your kids are calling you from the living room, and they think you rock.

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