I don’t purport to be a dating expert. I believe that dating is specific to each individual, the couple and the children involved. Similarly, every house and family have their own ways of doing things and standards of appropriateness. The way that I have gone about dating doesn’t necessarily mean that the next person thinks that this method is correct for them. I feel like I am a straighty-one eighty, conservative…so keep this in mind when you read on.
Relationships are unique. Single parents with the support of family often have a greater opportunity to coordinate some time out of the house to date. For single parents who can’t afford endless babysitters and those who have limited time away from the children, the process of dating is more complex and often faster. No matter how hard you may try to keep things slow and steady, relationships run at their own pace, in their own time and way.
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After 5 years of separation and with my children aged 6 and 8 years, one person has finally made the cut and been allowed to meet my children. We had known each other for a year so I feel like I had a head-start on knowing whether this person was of ‘good stock’ and a ‘quality man’. Even though the children had not met him, my ‘friend’ had become a regular name in our household which created a ‘soft introduction’ before the in-person introduction. Upon coming into the home, we maintained a respectful space. My friend patiently waited for the children to come to him and they determined the type of relationship that they want to have.
On a budget, sourcing babysitters each week or multiple times each week wasn’t an option for me. So, our dates were more ‘in-house’ in nature. This meant that there were visits after the children were asleep and slowly, over time, the rules relaxed and the children were able to hang-out with my friend – in the park, watching movies, playing sport and gaming together.
The most important part of the dating process is the children. At every step of the way, you need to check in with your children to ensure that they are comfortable and happy. Depending on your child’s age, they may need more reassurance, regularly. They will want to know three things:
- that no matter who comes into your life, you will always love them
- that no one will replace their father, and
- that they can talk to you about anything at any time
Understanding that it is only in hindsight that we are able to reflect on what we have done well or could have done better, below is a compilation of eight guidelines for dating as a single parent:
Introduce the new squeeze as a ‘friend.’
The most seamless way to do this is by introducing them socially in a group. For the first few visits, have him around with a group of people and their children. When the gathering ends, your new friend should leave too. This is a great opportunity to ‘test waters’ and see how he behaves, handles social situations and whether other children warm to him. Your children become accustomed to the new ‘friend’ – who could be any of the other guests’ friend.
When we were young, we didn’t like seeing our parents kissing. I remember speaking up “no. get a room!” … and these were my parents! When in a social situation, it can get awkward watching other couples ‘sucking face.’ So, if we didn’t like it as children and if we feel uncomfortable with other adults kissing, then why do it to the children? Limit your public displays of affection to respectful cuddles and holding hands once the children are comfortable with a new person encroaching their mother and her personal space.
Be child-focused and child-lead.
Let the children dictate the type of relationship they want with the new person. The children will approach and shape their relationship with him based on their wants, needs and desires. Forcing your version of a relationship onto a child is likely to backfire, very negatively.
Respect the house rules.
Anyone in your home, ‘special friend’ or guest, must follow the house rules. Having said this, parents need to ease up on the rules when on common territory (like at the park) and allow the new friend to integrate a few of his rules and what he likes. Compromise is an essential part of every relationship
It is important that the kids like the new man. However, this may take a little time. Depending on how long the children have had you all to themselves and their ages, they may not like the idea of sharing you. Over time, they will warm up.
Respect and privacy.
It is essential for children to be given privacy as much as adults expect children to give them privacy. This is especially relevant in the bathroom or when changing in the bedroom. It is one thing for children to see their mum naked, but to see a strange man (who isn’t their father) naked or for a new person in the home to see a child uncovered isn’t quite right and could lead to false accusations. Set clear boundaries and expectations regarding nudity around people who are not immediate family members.
When it comes time for sleep-overs, night-time guests must wear pyjamas. Children do wake their parents at night – it may be because they have had a nightmare, need a cuddle, not feeling well or are just unsettled. They shouldn’t be surprised with a strange, naked man in the bed. Equally, children love to join you in the morning for a ‘good morning snuggle’
Communication and direction.
Express how you are happy for your new interest to get involved with your kids and what you need from him. ‘Have my back,’ ‘sort it out’ and ‘back me up’ means different things to different people. Thus, it is essential to be clear and explain what you want and expect
Some people may think “yes, of course” or they may adamantly disagree with these guidelines. What is consistent is that common sense is often not so common. Here are a few hard and fast common sense rules when dating as a single parent:
- Have fun together and avoid dating-taboo topics like your separation, divorce and ex-spouse
- No drugs in the house or around the kids and no one is to be under the influence of drugs in the presence of the children
- Don’t have a rotating door of men coming into the home. Limit how many ‘new male friends’ you expose your children to
- New men need to meet your criteria before coming to the house:
- you have a built a strong bond with them
- met his friends and/or family and your friends/family approve
- are positive that this person is worthy of meeting your children
- is someone you deem suitable to have around your children in their ‘safe space’
- You and your new friend are to respect the children’s other parent/ex-spouse
- Your friend/guest is never allowed to go into a sleeping child’s room
- Keep the channels of communication open with the children. It sounds cliched but you could introduce ‘family meetings’ and these should take place without the ‘new friend’
- Maintain your quality time with the children without the new love interest around
- Never settle. Ensure you are with someone who treats you and the children with the respect, love, generosity and care that you deserve. Pay attention to any intuitive ‘red flags’ and run when you are exposed to his poor attitude or behaviour.
Some people are faster to move on after separation than others. Having been through a protracted and ‘colourful’ divorce, I strongly recommend that you limit your liability and keep your integrity in tact as best as you can, for as long as possible. Dating can rub your ex-spouse up the wrong way and can have a detrimental outcome in your agreements and settlements. So, if you are headed to court or in the court process, my greatest recommendation is to limit what children can relay to their other parent by rationing their exposure to your new friend. Children do tell their other parent what is going on in the home and the stories told can be antagonistic to the ex-spouse. Remember, children can also exacerbate and embellish the truth to suit the other parent. Try to minimise the fall out, stress and anxiety by making the best choices you can around your dating experiences. Coming to an agreement by consent is challenging enough and court is sufficiently toxic without adding fuel to the fire.
Whatever you do and whatever you inflict upon yourself, is your choice. However, great care must be exercised when making decisions that could potentially affect a child. Consider your choices wisely, throughout your divorce and dating process. Most importantly, remember dating is supposed to be fun, uplifting and enjoyable.
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Divorce Answered is an online resource which offers people a range of free and affordable products such as e-books, Separation Checklist, customised forms (such as Parenting Plan, Binding Child Support Agreement and Separation Statement) and articles with practical tips. These items are all unique and can save individuals’ time, money and emotional energy when working alongside a lawyer. The philosophy behind Divorce Answered is to revolutionise how individuals navigate separation and divorce by empowering them with the knowledge and range of options available, whilst being time and cost efficient.
Do you have any tips on dating as a single parent? Share below.