What to Expect When You’re Dating a Single Parent

There are a lot of misconceptions about single parents in the dating world, and it’s really irritating having to dispel them over and over again. If you’re considering dating a single parent, there are some things you might want to know ahead of time. Here are few, though admittedly many apply to single moms. If any of you single dads have something to add, please let me know!

Myth: single parents are “easy” or irresponsible
The truth is, we’re no “easier” than the average person. Just because we’ve had a kid doesn’t mean we don’t keep our legs crossed. If anything, we tend to be a bit more reserved because we know what a HUGE responsibility children are and to many of us, sex = children (didn’t we all learn that in Health Class?). Yes, there’s birth control, but that’s never 100%. So don’t just expect us to go home with you on the first (or second, or third) date. And if the single parent is young, don’t assume that they had the child illegitimately. Thanks to Tom Leykis, many times I’ve received notes from people on internet dating sites criticizing me and telling me there’s no chance in hell they’d date someone who will open their legs for anyone and get pregnant just to get child support from the father. Yeah, thanks for that. Just because I’m 27 with a 6 year old doesn’t mean I was a slut. I was married for a year before my now-ex-husband and I decided to have kids.

Myth: we love to spend hours away from our children
We had kids for a reason: to love another human being and help raise them in this crazy world. Yes, we do enjoy our time away from our children, but lengthy dates or spending the night are costly in more than one way.
1. We are either paying for a babysitter or having family watch our kids. Babysitters aren’t cheap these days, so going to a dinner, a movie and then drinks can sometimes cost us a lot. And if it’s family watching our kids, we have to be careful not to abuse that, otherwise they may not be willing to watch them again.
2. Spending the night before the relationship has progressed very far can have a negative effect on our children. While we may not tell our kids everything we did the night before, we will have to tell them something. And aside from the seasonal visitors (think the jolly man in winter and bouncing cotton-tail-donning animal in the spring), most of us don’t like lying to our children. And having to pay for a sitter or have our family watch the kids for that length of time can make for one heck of a walk-of-shame. Personally, I can’t imagine asking my mom to watch my daughter so I can spend the night with a guy. You know how moms can raise that one eyebrow up to their hairline and frown at you so hard you feel your innards turn to sludge? Yeah, no thanks.
3. While we want to date and spend time out of the house, we need notice. Getting a text asking us to “meet me in 30″ will almost always guarantee a “no” in reply. Being responsible for another human being means just that. We can’t just drop everything for an impromptu date. Be respectful and plan ahead. Just as most singles have their own busy lives, so do single parents, only we have another person’s schedule to consider. Sorry, but helping my daughter build her project for school takes precedence over catching a movie at the last minute.

Myth: single parents are on the hunt for the next mommy/daddy for their child
With the exception of some “hunters” out there, most of us are just looking for an adult companion for ourselves. Yes, it would be nice (sometime in the waaaaay future) for you to have a great relationship with my kid. But for now I’m just dating for myself. It’s insulting to read that statement over and over in online dating profiles: “No baby-mamma drama please” or “I want my own kids, not yours.” Yes, we are single parents, but we are still human beings looking for love. My daughter, as it is with many other children of single parents, has a steady relationship with her father. She’s not looking for another one, and neither am I. We’re all dating for the same reason: to love someone and spend our lives with them. Getting to know our kids will happen after the relationship has hit a certain milestone. Speaking of which…

Myth: single parents bring their kids on their dates/make their dates meet their kids before the first date
This is a weird one. I’ve heard this myth, but I’ve never met a single parent who actually did this. This is such a bad one on so many levels, two of which are the most important:
1. Even as a single parent, if I went on a date with another single parent and he brought his kid to the bar/coffee house/restaurant/first-date-location-of-choice, I’d be a little freaked and annoyed. So much for “grown-up” conversations, and it would make me wonder if this person has a) no support system to watch his kid (meaning I’d be his only contact to the outside world), b) is so desperate to go on a date that he brought his kid because all of their babysitters were busy, and c) would make me think he is untrustworthy because he didn’t tell me he was bringing his kid, leaving me in an awkward state of mind. It’s like meeting your date’s mom on the first date: intimidating.
2. Kid are impressionable and very much more aware of what’s going on than we’d like to admit. While I have explained the dating process to my kid, I don’t tell her who I’m dating or introduce her to him until it seems it’s going to last. As a matter of fact, the only person she ever knew who I was dating was someone who’d been a great friend of mine ever since my childhood, and he had been hanging out with us for years before. Most kids form instant friendships with people their parents know, and to allow a child to meet a date is just asking for trouble down the road. The child will constantly ask about that person, wanting to see them again (making it super hard for the kid to learn that you are no longer dating that person and they’ll never see them again), or the child may begin to resent that person for taking up too much of their parent’s time and misbehave so that mommy or daddy can’t go out.
The only time I can see this might happen is if both the man and woman are single parents and they each bring along their respective children for a “play date.” But even that doesn’t usually happen until a few dates down the road. Most parents would want to establish a solid relationship with their date before bringing their kids together. ‘Cuz what happens if Bobby accidentally kicks Suzie while he’s on the swing? That could be a relationship breaker if both parents get defensive and don’t know each other well enough to handle the situation.

Those are all of the myths I can think of right now. But here are some other tips:

  • Putting a statement in your online dating profile that says you’re looking for single moms is kinda creepy. Yes, I love that there are people out there who are willing to accept me for the parent that I am, but telling me that you prefer dating single moms makes the alarm bells ring in my head. I will always assume the worst (I know, hypocritical, considering my opening statement to this post): that you have a thing for little kids. Just gives me the willies. Stating that you don’t mind dating someone who has kids is totally fine, but saying that you prefer it is not fine. It’s creepy.
  • As a single mom, I usually prefer to drive myself to our meeting place. This way you won’t have to meet my daughter and I can leave on short notice if need be; kids get sick or hurt. I’m not about to make you drive me to a hospital if I get a call from the sitter saying my daughter fell and should get stitches. And (here’s the paranoid girl in me speaking out) if the date’s not going well, I need to be able to get away. I have a child at home I need to think about, and having to spend the next hour with a guy who creeps me out, then have him drive me home is not something I want to think about. I don’t naturally assume every guy I meet is a crazy stalker/child abductor, but you can never be too careful. If you don’t pick me up for our date, you don’t know where I (and my child) live. As a woman, and a single mom, it’s just an extra safety measure.
  • Yes, our kids come first. Welcome to parenthood. If you need to be the center of attention, you might want to avoid single parents. If our child has homework, a soccer game, dance recital, the flu or something else that impedes on our time together, the child will always win. Sorry. That’s just the way it is.
  • Dating a single parent takes patience. As long as we’ve given you clear signals (or a flat-out statement) that we want to continue dating you, just keep asking us out, even if it seems that we say “no” everytime because of prior commitments. We’ll find a day that works for both of us. If you got mad at your friends because you always wanted to hang out with them while they were at work, you wouldn’t be friends for very long. Same goes for single parents. If we say we can’t do Thursday nights because we (or our kids) have a standing committment, don’t keep asking us to go to dinner and a movie on Thursdays. It goes back to the 2nd myth: we need to plan. If you want to go out this weekend, but I’m busy, work with me to find a day next week or weekend to hang out. Yes, dating a single parent takes work, but so do most other relationships.
  • We don’t always talk about our kids. Yes, they are likely to come up in the conversation because they are a major part of our lives. But we have other aspects to our personalities too. We work, we have friends and family, we listen to music other than Silly Songs, we watch “grown-up” movies, we don’t have our TV tuned to Barney 24/7, and we have interests that we most likely picked up before we became parents. So don’t get upset if I relate to something you said by replying with an anecdote about my kid. It’s like you telling me a story about a baseball game you went to; if it’s part of your life, it’s something you’re likely to talk about.
  • Single moms are not likely to be in the best shape of their lives. Unlike movie stars and supermodels, we didn’t have personal trainers to kick our asses back into shape while our nanny watched our children 3 days after giving birth. So if you’re expecting us to be a size 0, good luck. About 2% of us will be due to genetics. The rest of us have curves. Curves that our little blessings (kids) gave us. And being a single parent makes it harder to get back into shape because of the demands on our time. So, please be a bit understanding if we don’t have 6-pack abs. The free time you have to exercise is the time we’re spending with our children.

I think the most important thing about dating a single parent is deciding if dating a single parent is right for you. I hold nothing against men who only want to date non-parents; they know what they want. But if you know I’m a parent and we decide to meet at a bar/coffee house/bowling alley and you tell me you don’t date single parents, then what gives? Why waste our time?

I hope this helps a bit. Between dating-horror-story-hearsay and movies and television shows, single parents in the dating world have been trashed a bit. And, please: feel free to ask us single parents questions if you’re unsure about what we need in order to make dating easier and more enjoyable for the both of us.

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