Getting back into the dating game as a single parent can seem daunting. Where do you look? How do you find the time to go out? How much should you tell your kids -- or the cutie across the table? Our relationship experts help you navigate the single-parent dating scene.
Whether you're six months post-divorce or six years, there is no "right" time to start dating. "Perhaps a better question than when is why," says Christine Baumgartner, relationship coach at The Perfect Catch. "Why do you want to start dating? What are you looking to find? What needs are you looking to fill?" Sometimes, Baumgartner says, the voids in your life may be better filled in ways other than dating. If you're dying to get out of the house, call your girlfriends for a night out. If you want to feel wanted, volunteer. If you're looking to get your heart pounding, try some cardio. Expecting dating to fulfill all your needs is unrealistic and might attract (or cause you to accept) people who aren't right for you. "In my coaching practice, I suggest that single moms do the inside work to get really clear about their wants, needs, values and beliefs and get in touch with their intuition," says Kerri Zane, single-mom lifestyle expert and author of It Takes All 5: A Single Mom's Guide to Finding the Real One.
Once you've decided that you're ready to date, it might feel impossible to find the time. And Baumgartner says that single parents need to consider that this may be true. "I tell clients that having some time for 'just themselves' is important," she says. "Time with friends, time spent on activities that don't include kids or work, and time alone are all important." If you don't have time for these, your schedule may be too busy to fit dating in -- for now. If you want to date, you'll have to make time in your life for it. "It's important to engage your village, friends, family who can support you with time-sharing and babysitting," Zane says. Parents who have a shared custody agreement may have evenings without the kids that they can use to schedule dates. Don't have shared custody or family or friends in the area? Zane directs her clients to MomMeetMom.com. "It functions like a dating site for moms. You fill out a profile and it matches you with other like-minded mothers in your area." A potential friend and someone to swap babysitting with? We call that a win-win.
Dating has changed since you were single, and so have you. You're older now, hopefully wiser, and have kids to consider. You can't date the same way now as you did in your twenties, Baumgartner says. Since hitting the bars is out, start by "dating" for friends, Baumgartner suggests. Look for people who like to do the same things as you do. She recommends MeetUp.com as a great starting place. They offer a casual group setting and regularly scheduled meet-ups, and allow you to do something while you're getting to know the other person. If activities seem too hard on your schedule or psyche right now, Zane says to look into the Internet dating scene. "They are fun, flirty, and super ego boosters," says Zane. For the timid or busy, it's a great way to get used to the idea of looking for love without the pressure.
Whether you're looking for a fling, a ring, or something in between, remember that dating is part of the journey, not a means to an end, Zane says. "I always remind my clients: You've already had your kids and white dress moment, so there should be no rush to the altar again." Don't focus on finding the one; concentrate on meeting new people, developing new friendships, and having fun.
It's worth being upfront about the fact you have kids, Zane says. No date likes to be surprised by that info later on. Other than that, she says, save the details about your children, your custody arrangements, your divorce, and your ex for when you know the person better. Instead, focus on topics that are easy to discuss and help you learn about each other.
Though you may be excited about a new relationship, be extra cautious about sharing this information with your kids. The children may already feel they lost one parent in the divorce, Baumgartner says, you don't want to put them through another loss if this relationship ends. It's also important to consider the age and personality of your children. "As kids get older, you may choose to share more casual details about your new boyfriend," says Esther Boykin, a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship coach outside of Washington, D.C. "But for younger kids it's often best to start by introducing the idea that you have a new friend who you like to spend time with." When you're finally ready for the first meeting, start with a casual group activity your kids enjoy, like a picnic at a park with friends who have kids.
If you do break up with someone your kids have already gotten to know, try to explain it to younger children in terms they'll understand. Baumgartner recommends relating it to friendships your child may have had. Talk about how we meet people we like and as we get to know each other better we get to decide if we still want to be friends, she says. No matter what the age of the child, avoid a detailed account of why you broke up. Your kids deserve an explanation, but shouldn't be your confidants.
"This is big nay for me when children are in the house," Zane says. "Not to say that one should abstain from this kind of activity, but it's best to do it when the kids are not in your custody or [are] at a friend's house." Still thinking of having your new love spend the night when the kids are home? "A good rule of thumb is to do a 'morning after' gut check," Boykin says. "How would you feel if your kids came into your bedroom in the middle of the night with this person sleeping over? If you can comfortably answer your child's questions and tend to their needs with that person lying in bed next to you, then maybe you're on the way to some slumber parties." If not, you can find other creative ways to make time for intimacy.