Being a parent is one of the most meaningful roles a person can fill in life. The relationship between a parent and a child, at any stage of growth from cradle to college and beyond, is unique, beautiful, challenging, rewarding, and of inestimable value.
Last tiem I talked about being newly single and back in the dating scene. This time, we’re looking at single dating with kids in the picture. When divorce or loss of a loved one turns you into a single parent, you have an entirely new set of challenges—and potential rewards—that await you. Single parenting is fraught with tough decisions. It is also fertile ground for you to discover inner strength and resourcefulness you may not have known you had. Moving forward from the end of a significant relationship and recreating a life for you and your children is a process that you don’t want to shortchange. While sometimes you might feel the need to get out there and date right away, it’s always a good idea to step back and take stock of the situation. Are you and your family ready?
When the time is right, realize that you can do both—be a parent and date, nurture a child and nurture a relationship. As a multifaceted person you can tend to the needs of your children while tending to your own. In fact, it is a good idea to get back into the dating world eventually. It is best to seek nurturing and support from an adult partner rather than falling into the comfort zone of getting that stuff from your kids… which is easy to do and can cause hiccups in the parent-child relationship down the line.
Although dating while being a parent can be tough (I’m not going to lie), it also offers many unique opportunities to stretch outside your comfort zone and grow in ways you had not even imagined. Combining the right attitude with creative ingenuity you can enjoy your dating journey.
Here are some stepping stones to guide you on that journey.
- Have a good talk (as many as needed) with your kids. When you are confident that you are ready to date again, communicate that decision with your children and allow them to express their thoughts. You are not asking their permission. You do not need their permission (as an adult, you make that decision for yourself), and asking for it would skew the balance between you and your children, no matter their age. But what if the idea upsets them? That could happen, but it only means it’s all the more important to have the conversation. Don’t let fear stop you from talking to your children. Answer any questions they have, but keep personal details to yourself. Do not let their possibly strong emotions get to you. Keep it simple: “I’m going to spend time with someone I like. It will be a date.” Express that you understand: “I know this might be hard for you at first. How can I help you feel okay about it?” Explain: “I am a grown up. Going on dates is totally normal.” Reassure them: “I am still your mom (or dad) and that will never change. This is part of my grown up life and you do not have to worry.” Avoid saying things that play on their guilt or fear like, “Don’t you want me to be happy too?”
- Be emotionally present with your children. Spend quality time with your kids. Keep the connection between you strong. When you are with them, look in their eyes, speak directly to them, and show them your unconditional love. They may need repeated reassurance that things will be okay, that your relationship with them is still paramount, and that nothing can change how much you love them. While you are spending time with your children, avoid texting or talking on the phone with the person you are dating. If your attention is divided, they are likely to feel insecure. And realize they are as concerned about you as you are about them. It’s really important to assure them that you are okay—that they do not need to worry or take care of you. That’s your job.
- Maintain your support group. As you continue taking care of your kids, manage daily life as a single person, and explore dating again, it is important that you have a group of friends and family around you. A strong support network will benefit not only you, but also your children. Your children are going to do only as well as you are doing. Do not feel guilty for taking time for yourself, whether it’s a date or a night out with friends. When you feel rejuvenated and recharged you will have so much more energy and the positive outlook needed to be the great parent you are.
These steps will enable you to get back into the dating scene in a way that is healthy for you, secure for your children, and less stressful for all of you. Next week I will write about the next stage in this process – introducing your children to someone you are dating, which can surely be a delicate situation.
Until then, remember to take your time. Enjoy meeting new people and having new experiences. As your children grow, so will you. As you grow, so will your relationships—all of them.