Dating itself is a challenge, but dating as a single parent is a league of its own.
I can remember the two thoughts that overwhelmed me the day I received my divorce papers back in 2006; 1) I am finally free of the one sided marriage that was making me incredibly unhappy, and 2) Who will ever accept me now that it's me AND my daughter? No one plans for their marriage to fail. I certainly felt that my strong desire and passion for being a good wife and mother would be enough, and it would have been, had I had been with the right man. But I chose wrong, so I promptly made the decision to get out before my child was old enough to be affected by our splitting up like I was by my parents divorce when I was fifteen.
As it turns out, I am one of the lucky few whose ex is far better at co-parenting than he ever was when we were together. We made the choice to set aside our differences and make sure our daughter lives happily between our households and see us respectful to each other when it comes time for their weekends together. We keep communication consistent and cordial, doing the best we possibly can in raising her well and right despite coming up from a broken home since she was 2. Fortunately, at almost ten years of age, she's one of the happiest kids you will ever meet, regardless of the circumstance.
Just as I blindly leaped into marriage at the tender age of 18, I jumped right back into dating when my divorce was final. I had a terrible fear of being alone for the rest of my life (to this day, a small part of me still obtains that notion). Because I allowed myself to believe that with now being a single parent I could no longer be 'too picky' with my options anymore since I had 'baggage', I went down an awful road of dating disasters for years. I have been as they say, 'doing it all alone' for over seven years now (and counting). With each man who has come and gone into mine and my daughters' life, I've learned some valuable lessons along the way that I never would have, had my marriage had been the right one I was meant for.
1) Men are going to hesitate being with you.
It doesn't matter if you're out on a kid free evening dressed to the nines, the moment you meet someone who is interested and you announce that you have a child or children at home, it will be painstakingly obvious how quickly they want to bolt by the mixed look of panic, fear, and disappointment on their faces (none of them can hide it). Unless he's a father himself, he will be trepidant in wanting to getting to know you further past your Mom status.
2) You're going to attract a lot of men looking to be Mothered.
Amazingly enough, I have engaged in more relationships with men who were all about being doted on and cared for without equal and fair reciprocation, that of which, is exactly a parent/child dynamic. These types are fully aware that if you're one of the responsible ones, they can count on you to be there for them just as much as you are for your child(ren) because hey, you already have that skill down, right?! These partners never last because eventually you will be sick of their selfish behaviors, and once you bring it to their attention and stop providing them with the luxury of your giving nature, they use your responsibilities against you by saying things are 'too serious' for their liking and leave. Luckily, those men aren't the ones you want to make permanent ties to anyway (so, phew)!
3) Most men are convinced you're looking for a free ride/meal ticket.
This lesson has never ceased to amaze me. I was a stay at home mother when my daughter was born, all the way up until her father and I started the divorce process. I immediately went out and got myself a job and a place for us to live and have been doing so ever since. Even if my single income isn't as grand as a two adult household, I have managed just fine financially, having learned how to properly budget so that we can live comfortably so in these difficult economic times. Not once have I pleaded with a partner to help pay any of my bills or expect any of them to take care of my daughter and I so I could stop working. Somehow, men still believe that it is a hidden agenda of ALL single mothers. The idea is laughable yet, incredibly offensive to a parent like myself who is determined to set the best example for my daughter of how important it is to be able to take care of yourself, just as it is to take care of others (who genuinely need it).
4) You're going to be alone. A lot.
Getting the kids ready in the morning. Shuttling the kids to and from school or child care and miscellaneous activities. Driving to and from work. Family friendly weekend outings. The madness of a single parents schedule is enough to make anyone cringe. The privacy you had before becoming a mother seems like a distant memory until you put your little ones to bed and finally have a few minutes to yourself. But then it hits you in the dead of night...a cold, heartbreaking reminder that you're doing this alone. Even in a committed relationship, unless you're at the point of living under the same roof, you are still very much on your own in the grand scheme of things. Some days, this is easier to accept than others, but it is one of the biggest reality checks you encounter when you become divorced/single until, if you're lucky enough, you find the right partner.
5) You're cohabiting and/or married friends will never truly understand what you're going through unless they've been there as well.
I have a great deal of wonderful people in my life who managed to get their personal life right, right from the beginning and have never had to endure the challenges of single parenting. I have friends who have become single parents, yet immediately turn around and manage find the perfect relationship. I also have friends in the same boat as myself, some with multiple children, and some with deadbeat exes making their single motherhood even more straining. I don't like to lay out my personal frustrations on anyone, and if I do, I don't at all go to my married/coupled up friends who don't know what it truly is to be going it alone. These friends will always insist that things will get better, someone amazing is right around the corner, or that you're Wonder Woman for undertaking it all and will reap the benefits of your labors one day... (good karma exists, right)? It's always easy to assume when you've never been faced with the hardship yourself.
6) Being a good woman and mother will not guarantee you a happy ending, but it doesn't hurt anyway to be hopeful that you just might.
That sentence reads like such a downer, I know, but it's a point that just has to be made. I don't want or feel the need to gloat, but I am an incredibly hard working individual. I put everyone before myself from the moment I get out of bed in the morning, to the last minutes I have before calling it a night. I used to be one hell of a lazy kid, and until I had one myself, I didn't realize how scary yet empowering it is to be blessed with such an incredible gift of responsibility. Being a parent changes you in ways you never expect, challenging you to bring up a responsible future contributor to society. My days are wrapped around instilling manners, education, and motivated drive in my daughter so that when she leaves home to make a life for herself, I can feel confident in knowing that I'm putting a good person out into the world who will make a tremendous difference in the many lives she will encounter.
While I like to believe that karma exists and that I have a great amount in my corner, doing it all and being everything to everyone doesn't seal the deal that I will be married again and add to my family down the road. We can be the best women in the world, but the truth of the matter is, that doesn't mean everyone is going to agree with it. While many single parents do find love again, the sad fact is is that not all of us/them will. Some really are just destined to remain as they are, whether by choice or fate.
The overall point of writing these notes is for those who are fortunate to have the 'American Dream' of a happy and complete family to remember and acknowledge how lucky they truly are. Us divorced single parents are not lepers, and certainly not all of us deserve to be doing it solo. But Life happens, and we deal. Time marches on whether we want it to or not. If you're married or shacked up and have single parent friends, know that we don't seek your pity or want any for that matter. Just know that we are adults just like you, only living in a different kind of family.
And if you're smart, you will heed any relationship advice we throw your way if you want to avoid ending up in our shoes. We can be pretty helpful to have around in that regard!