Single moms have a lot going on, but that doesn’t mean they can’t handle dating and romance. Whether you’re a single mom looking to get back out into the dating pool, or someone who is trying to find the right way to ask out a single mom, these expert tips will make post-divorce dating life easier — on you, and your kids.
1. Make sure the time is right.
It’s hard to carve out the time and mental space for dating, but thinking it through might help you achieve clarity. “It’s important to figure out where dating falls on your priority list,” says Amy Morin, LCSW, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do. “When you’ve determined how important it is to you, your decisions about dating will become clearer. Whether you want to set aside two evenings per week or one morning each month for dating, it’s up to you.”
2. Ditch the guilt.
“If you are ready to date, remind yourself that in addition to being a mother, you are first and foremost a woman with a wide variety of wants and needs,” says Jaclyn Friedenthal, Psy.D, of the Thrive Psychology Group. “Desiring a fulfilling romantic life does not mean you’re selfish; it means you are a thriving, healthy woman. Though finding time as a single parent can be challenging, remind yourself that you deserve to have your wants and needs met. Plus, your happiness may allow you to be a more attentive, present, and loving parent.”
3. Don’t keep your kids a secret.
You’ll want any potential dates to know up front that you have kids — obscuring the fact will only waste your time in the long run. “Don’t apologize or feel the need to explain why you are a single parent,” Dr. Friedenthal says. “You want people to like you for you, not a fabricated version of yourself. You are enough!”
4. Consider your dealbreakers.
This helps you save some effort, automatically weeding out people who will be unsuitable for your life. “Know your values and be aware of the type of person you are hoping to attract,” Morin says. “How important is someone’s schedule, income, or family?” Then if you’re planning on dating online, make sure it works for you to find people by these criteria. “Use a site or app that has a reputation in your city for what you are looking for, or where you can filter your matches by your ‘non-negotiables,'” Dr. Friedenthal says.
5. Focus on those first few dates.
It might be hard to push away thoughts of the kids at home or the work you still have to do during your date, but it helps if you want to make a connection. “Try to be present,” Dr. Friedenthal says. “If you get caught in your own thoughts or worries, try to bring your focus back to the person in front of you. Embrace the opportunity to learn about this new person and his or her interests, work, passions, and dreams — and see if this person’s values match your own.”
6. Be thoughtful about introducing a new partner to your kids.
Only introduce your kids to someone you think is serious, and, even then, do it gradually. “Start by telling your kids about your partner and that you would like to introduce them,” Dr. Friedenthal says. “Ask them if they have any questions. Let them know in advance about an upcoming meeting, listen to their fears, then reassure them as needed. When setting up an initial meeting, it can be helpful to all engage in a short activity in a neutral setting, so the focus is on the activity, rather than pressure to get to know your partner.
Exercise patience if your children react unfavorably and keep the lines of communication open. Children may view you dating as a threat to their time and relationship with you. Ask your kids about their feelings, truly listen to what they express verbally and nonverbally, and validate that it’s okay to feel however they feel. That said, their feelings do not need to dictate your love life. Remind your kids that they are still a top priority and that you love them unconditionally. It may be helpful to carve out special time with your kids without your partner, just as you may carve out time with your partner without your kids.”
7. Keep the kids’ feelings first and foremost.
No matter what, it’s going to be a big change when the kids see their mom with someone new, but there are things you can do to minimize how upsetting that might be. “Limit displays of affection with your partner,” Dr. Friedenthal says, “and when interacting with the child, avoid things like using nicknames the child doesn’t like, teasing, or entering the child’s room without permission.”
8. Make sure everyone understands their role in the kids’ lives.
When a new person enters the family, is it as a friend, or a figure of authority? “Work on building a relationship with the children before attempting to step into any type of parenting role,” Morin says. She also says to be wary about letting someone new change the way the family does things — maintain a consistency, at least in the beginning.
9. Keep expectations in check.
Life is complicated, life is messy, and it isn’t always going to go smoothly — and that’s doesn’t mean it’s not going to work out. “Don’t expect things to be perfect, like on The Brady Bunch,” Morin says. “There will be some bumps in the road when you’re dating, and that’s fine. Adjusting to new situations and new people can be a bit of a process.” Let it unfold naturally.
10. Be careful about the ex.
“Don’t get caught up in any type of drama with the ex-partner,” says Morin. “Stay out of it altogether and focus on the things you can control — like bonding with the children.” Nobody has the time to get sucked into needless drama.
11. And, if you’re planning on dating a single mom, don’t waste her time.
If you’re wondering how to ask out a single mom, remember that they have to do a lot of juggling. “Ask her out in advance so she can make arrangements for someone to watch the kids,” Dr. Friedenthal says. Then, keep your commitments, since making that time for you probably took a lot of arranging on her end.
12. Make it easy.
A single mom doesn’t need extra difficulty in her life. “The best thing you can do when dating a single mom is support her relationship with her children,” Morin says. “You don’t want to add more stress by making her feel guilty for not giving you enough time.”
13. Understand the kids come first.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you. “Her kids are a priority, so the amount of time and energy she is able to put into your relationship does not necessarily reflect how she feels about you,” Dr. Friedenthal says. “Look for other expressions of interest and affection.”
14. But also that there is more to her than just the kids.
She does have a part of her identity that’s not wrapped up in raising children, and that’s probably what she wants to explore with you. “Remember that while her children play a big role in her life, there are many aspects to her in addition to being a mother,” she adds. “Learn about all of her interests, passions, and values.”
15. Most importantly, tread lightly when meeting the kids for the first time.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Single moms don’t just let anyone into their kids’ lives. But you you still have to tread into these waters gently. “Be warm and inviting but don’t pressure a child to talk with you or spend too much time with you at first,” Morin says. “A child may simply want to say hello and then go on to do their own activity. Don’t press the issue if that’s the case. It can be helpful to make the first meeting an activity that you can do together. Even something as simple as playing soccer in the backyard or playing a board game can take the pressure off from having to talk too much. You can get to know one another more through doing something, rather than talking about something.”