While many single fathers seek the connection, support, and personal fulfillment of a romantic relationship, being a dad makes dating a bit more complicated than it was before your life with kids. There are unique challenges to balancing single fatherhood and a successful love life, but it can be done; many single dads find loving relationships that makes their lives (and their kids’ lives) fuller and happier.
If you’re re-entering the dating pool, and you’re worried about balancing romance with kids, you’re not alone — with about 2.6 million men living the life of single fatherhood, there are many before you who’ve faced, and dealt with, the same anxieties.
Read up on these common struggles single dads face, along with some tips for preparing yourself to handle each potential roadblock smoothly.
Not Feeling Ready
Whether you’re divorced, widowed, or perhaps never had a significant relationship with your children’s mother, the question faces all single dads: Am I ready to date again? Becoming a father changed your life in a huge way, and adjusting to single fatherhood takes a lot of your physical and emotional energy; in the beginning, you need to devote all of your time and effort to yourself and your kids.
If you feel it’s too soon to start dating, that’s okay. It’s important to get your own life with your children settled before you re-enter the dating scene. There’s no set time after a breakup or death that you have to start looking. Just be careful of letting fear keep you from finding new love — any time we do something new, it’s scary.
If you really do want to date again, but you’re feeling anxious or down on yourself, remind yourself of all the positive qualities you can bring to a relationship. Think about the ways in which you’re responsible, reliable, and supportive towards your children; and how you’ll be able to offer that to a romantic partner, as well.
Finding Enough Time
It’s hard to find time to date amid paying attention to your work, dealing with an ex, and caring for your children. Get creative with ways to maximize your time. Consider taking your children out somewhere that’s not necessarily a kid-only attraction, but still welcomes kids — like a museum, farmer’s market, or public park. You never know who you might run into, or strike up a conversation with, as your kids run through the grass or help you pick out fresh-baked bread.
More and more people are finding great connections through online dating. Creating an online profile allows you to browse and respond to messages on your own time — whether you’re waiting in the parking lot for your kids to get out of school, or have ten minutes to yourself in between meetings. While it’s important to foster in-person relationships, dating online can save you a lot of time in the initial phases of meeting and getting to know people. That way, when you do take some precious time out of your busy schedule to go on a “real” date, you know you’ve already connected with the person on some levels.
Your Children’s Reactions
It’s important to be honest, and talk to your kids about your dating life; when you do, be sure to consider their age and maturity level, as this affects what you should share with them. Older children will have an easier time understanding dating, while younger kids might be a bit confused by the idea at first. Try simply explaining to young children that as much as you love them, you also want to have an adult friend that you can do grown-up activities with. If your children start asking for more information, keep your answers short and brief, but always honest.
Some children will be reluctant to accept one parent dating, as that often signifies that there’s no chance of reconciliation between their parents. In this case, reassure your kids that adults’ relationships don’t always work, but that doesn’t mean the kids are at fault or unloved. If you have a co-parenting plan with an ex, remind your children that they’ll still get to see their other parent(s).
Keep expectations realistic — your next date might not be someone you want to be with for the rest of your life. As a relationship gets more serious, you can start talking in more detail about your new love, to help your children become comfortable with the idea of this person. If there’s a real chance of a serious step (such as moving in together, or marriage), try explaining to your children that this person is a “bonus” to your family, not a replacement for anyone. The important thing is that you won’t have any less love for your kids just because you have a new relationship; you’re simply adding a little extra love to your family unit.
Your New Love and Your Kids
When you’re dating, be upfront and honest about the fact that you have children. You’ll probably want to talk about your kids on a date, since they’re important to your life, but remember that you’re a whole person. In addition to being a parent, you have other traits that a new love can appreciate — and while your partner should be open to meeting your children, you do not need to make the introduction right away.
It’s perfectly fine, and often wise, to wait a few weeks or months before your romantic partner meets your children. While you should never hide the fact that you’re dating from your kids, they don’t have to meet every single person you go to dinner with.
From your kids’ perspectives, seeing too many adults come into and leave their lives can sour them on relationships as they get older. There’s no set timeline for introductions, but if the relationship seems to be getting serious, talk to your partner about planning an introduction. Consider a short and informal event for everyone to meet each other — an afternoon cookout is a lot less stressful (and less overwhelming) than a weeklong camping trip. Remember that although you’ve spent a lot of time getting to know this new person, your kids haven’t yet; give both the kids and your partner time to ease into each other.
Your Love’s Kids (or Lack Thereof)
Just because your love interest isn’t a parent doesn’t mean she can’t be a wonderful influence on your children. There are any number of reasons why people don’t have kids of their own, but if your partner is responsible and likes kids, they can be a good candidate. Be sure to talk to your date about their future plans — if they want their own kids, but you don’t want more, that can be a difficult conflict to resolve. Set expectations as clearly and respectfully as you can, because in the end, you both need to be happy for the relationship to work.
On the other hand, dating another single parent means you have a person who readily understands your struggles, your lifestyle, and your priorities. When you date another parent, you already have something (big) in common right from the start. Keep in mind that dating someone with children means you have another round of introductions to make, and more relationships to work with and be considerate of. Talking with your love about parenting styles and values will make all of these transitions easier.
Dating as a single parent isn’t easy — it’s hard enough balancing a career, children, and time for yourself without adding romance to the mix. Respect, honesty, and discussion are all essential tools to make the process better for everybody involved. Dating brings some extra hurdles, but nothing you (and your kids) can’t overcome.