The dating world can be a challenging landscape for anyone, but parenthood instantly adds another layer of complexity when you’re looking for love. It may all seem too hard from the outset – you have a home to run, routines to follow and obligations coming at you from all angles. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t have much to offer a potential partner, or that your children might be seen as baggage, or that no-one will meet the standards you’ve set for your family. Single parents re-establish themselves as contented partners and lovers all the time, and there’s no reason why your ship can’t sail in as well.
Don’t feel guilty
Of course you adore your kids – they mean the world to you and you’d do anything to protect them. But they’re not adults, and they cannot fulfil all of your intellectual needs. You deserve adult companionship, and not just as a reward for hard work but as a normal, healthy desire to share your life and love with an equal. This is not by any means a selfish act. By fulfilling your own needs alongside theirs, your children will see the value in caring for themselves, and hopefully an example of a well-rounded and loving relationship will emerge for them to one day emulate. Besides, your time spent dating is time they can spend with favourite relatives and baby-sitters.
Take your time
Meeting someone who clicks with you can be tremendously exciting. You might feel so good about things after just two or three dates that you can’t wait until you introduce your children. This is tricky territory to negotiate. Your kids will be naturally curious about whomever you’re spending time with, and your date might be curious to see how you live from day to day. Your instinct might be to rip the band-aid off quickly, but try to resist. If you bring someone into the family unit too soon and one of you realise that the relationship isn’t going anywhere, you risk traumatising your kids (particularly if they become attached) and poisoning the well for any future relationships. Make sure it’s serious first.
Talk it out
When there’s more than two people affected by a relationship, there’s a potential for unhappiness in every corner. Your new partner may feel like they’re not a priority. Your kids may feel the same. You might feel torn and subsequently weary from the juggling act. The only path to harmony here is to open up the lines of communication and keep them open. How do your kids feel about you spending time with someone else? What sorts of activities might they like to do as a family? What are they scared of? Does your partner fear rejection from your children? Are they emotionally mature enough to handle parental responsibilities? Are you sure they’re ready for a long-term commitment? And how about you – do you feel love? Does the future seem brighter with this new person in your life? By both asking and inviting direct questions, everyone gets a voice and no-one will feel left behind.
Dealing with jealousy
Your new partner and your children are both potential candidates for feelings of jealousy. There’s a reasonable chance that you have an ex-partner who is still in your children’s lives. Perhaps they’re even the primary carer. This can be confronting for a new partner, particularly in the early days when they’re trying to figure out what role they might hold within the family unit. The best way to deal with this uncertainty is to be completely transparent about your past, how you currently feel towards your ex-partner and the quality of your communication. Volunteering information before you’re asked for it is a kindness that will be rewarded with trust and understanding.
The same principal can be applied with your children. They might feel a sense of abandonment or betrayal, particularly if they’re used to having your full and undivided attention. Offer information about your dating, tell them if you really like someone and give them a chance to ask questions. Most importantly, ensure you have regular quality time with them that still includes any family rituals you had before you were dating. Once you’ve introduced your kids to a serious partner, create new rituals and traditions with your family to cement the bond between you all.
Even if you have a series of lacklustre dates, don’t give up the ghost. Remember that everyone takes time to figure out exactly what they’re looking for, and that sometimes you need to know what you don’t want in your life before you can focus on what’s healthy and productive for you. Love is grand, and it’s worth holding out for. More importantly, bringing love into your home for your children to see and share is a special thing, as a good relationship will have an air of generosity about it. It will not just be a source of stability, but an authentic source of joy.