Having a happy, healthy relationship will help your kids' future relationship success.
"A single mother said to me 'We don't need to talk. Just be at my place on Thursdays between 9 and 10 p.m. Are you down for that?' I told her 'Hell yeah!' At that time, being a 27-year-old single dad of three kids, that was exactly what I needed," explained Josh Wolf, comedian and author of It Takes Balls: Dating Single Moms and Other Confessions from an Unprepared Single Dad.
Endless loads of laundry, sleepless nights and chauffeuring kids leads many newly single parents in search of some desperately needed adult time. With 50 percent more single fathers on the single parenting landscape over the past two decades, the playing field now allots both sexes more time to pursue dating.
However, casual dating for a majority of single parents, albeit fun as the dust settles on the divorce papers, appears to be a short-lived initial phase, lasting a few months but typically growing old after a year. A strong desire to create a love-filled family unit is often the true end goal of dating for many single parents. Mark Santos, 34-years-old from Oakland, wants to set an example for his seven-year-old, "My daughter is going to use what she sees me doing as a model for herself. I now assess whom I date with that in mind."
The Real Deal
But entering the dating world beyond casual connections can be daunting. "The kids and I were happy. We had found our groove. Introducing someone else, while the payoff could be huge, wasn't worth it," explained Wolf, 36-years-old from Los Angeles, prior to meeting his current wife; "It takes time to find peace within your situation and yourself after a major break-up." Taking time to just "be a single parent" can be key before opening up to love.
However, Dr. Ian Kerner, therapist and author of She Comes First: The Thinking Mans Guide to Pleasuring a Woman warns, "The longer you postpone getting back into the dating world the more likely you will get into a rut… It can feel like you are a teenager all over again but I've found it's really like riding a bike. Put your body in motion and your mind will follow."
Single parents naturally approach dating differently than in their pre-kid days most insist upon "developing a friendship first." Nikki Thomas, 43, San Francisco Bay Area morning radio DJ and mother of a 9-year-old echoed this, "You had better bring your 'A' game. My motto is 'quality time with quality men.' I don't want to date for the sake of dating. The men I date have to be worth my time, if I can put it so bluntly. It's childcare and time away from my daughter."
In general, single dads have it easier, women are more likely to find "single dad status" attractive. Wolf laughingly explained "When I became a single dad, the women dropping their kids off at school all of a sudden went from showing up in no make-up…to being dressed up like they were ready to spend a night on the town. It was like they turned a light on over their heads to let me know who was available."
In a survey of 100 single fathers, the vast majority preferred to date women with children, thinking she would be more "selfless and understanding," writes Ellie Slott Fisher in her book Dating for Dads: The Single Father's Guide to Dating Well Without Parenting Poorly. Single moms, in contrast, preferred dating men without kids to reduce complications. Unfortunately, that may also make finding a man willing to accept prior kids more difficult.
Beyond these differences, preparing to date again involves boosting self-confidence for both sexes. Dr. Kerner recommends a healthy diet, exercise, and socializing with single, like-minded individuals. "Over thinking dating leads to anxiety. Anxiety hijacks. Anxiety is future oriented; you really want to be present oriented," states Dr. Kerner.
Experts and single parents agree that waiting six months to a year to introduce your date to your child is best. Jane Norris, 40, from St. Paul, Minnesota and mother of three kids, said: "Once seriously dating, my rule of thumb is that I want to feel the relationship is headed toward marriage before I would introduce him to my kids."
Many single parents sited honesty as the best way to keep dating uncomplicated. On courting his wife, Wolf explained, "We spent a lot of time at my house, sitting on the couch talking after my kids went to bed. That alone time accelerated getting to know one another without The Bachelor's version with all its 'bells and whistles.' No helicopters, just time to find out how much I liked her."
From Leah Hunter, 38- year-old from San Francisco and mother of a two-year old daughter's perspective, "The idea of courtship is about small gestures of appreciation, doing the little things that make me feel like a woman—putting your arm around me, bringing me a flower or soup in bed when I'm sick. As an independent single mom, it's these little things that I wish for most."
Let Love Rule
It is simply more complicated the second or third time around. Certified Gottman Therapist* Darren Wilk explains, "It takes heightened emotional intelligence to be the best parent and partner you can be. You must be in tune with your, your children's and your partner's feelings. It's also key to intentionally find ways to have fun."
Part of enjoying the dating journey is in knowing why you are doing it. Hunter understands, "What my daughter needs to see is a mom who has love, joy and fulfillment in her life. She needs to have a happy, whole mom. I choose to do what makes my soul happy."
Recommended Steps for Introducing a New Love to Your Child(ren) from Certified Gottman Therapist* and Founder of BestMarriages.com, Darren Wilk:
- Make the introduction in a neutral environment, not at either person's home.
- Have the location be a place where the kid(s) can participate in an activity they enjoy and feel like they can succeed doing.
- Make the visit short enough so they don't feel stuck.
- Don't make them feel pressured to like the new person; allow them to have their own opinions and feelings.
- Have the kid(s) choose what their favorite food is and incorporate that food during the introduction.
*Studying what makes relationships' succeed for over 40 years, The Gottman Institute's therapists have many scientifically founded insights.
More single mom and dad advice on YourTango:
- Dating After Divorce? Consider Blended Families
- Do You Know The Top Parenting Styles?
- Parenting Tips For Divorced Couples