It’s been two years since my husband died, and I occasionally get the question, “Are you going to start dating again?” My answer is a firm no at this point, but I must admit to being fascinated by how single parents work dating into their lives. How on earth do these busy people juggle kids and romance?
To find out, I picked up the phone and spoke with a relationship expert from Zoosk, as well as a woman who found love on PlentyofFish. While I won’t be dating anytime soon, here are some tips I picked up for those single parents in the audience who are in the market for a new special someone.
1. Give online dating a try
Online dating feels a little like being at a meat market, but experts say the format makes perfect sense for single parents.
“A lot of single parents use online dating because it gives you a lot of flexibility,” says Joan Barnard, Zoosk’s resident online dating expert. Rather than spending lots of time on first dates that flop, single parents can use online profiles to narrow their choices and quickly weed out people who may be incompatible or those with deal-breaking attributes.
Christina Blackburn found online dating was the ideal way to meet men her own age. The single mom left an abusive marriage and moved to Philadelphia, where she started the nonprofit Speranza Human Compassion Project. Being new to town, she says she had difficulty finding men her age to date.
“Most of the guys I was meeting were really young,” she says, “like 20 years old.” She joined PlentyofFish to test the waters there and met someone within three weeks. Now, five years later, they’re still together.
2. Be upfront about your kids
Whether you decide to date online or offline, experts say you should be upfront about the fact you have kids.
“We definitely want a dating profile to be about you,” says Shannon Smith, the PR coordinator at PlentyofFish, “and obviously kids are a part of who you are.”
If you’re worried that revealing you have kids could limit your dating prospects, PlentyofFish and Zoosk have good news for you. Zoosk reports men with kids get 22 percent more first messages than those without. Meanwhile, women with kids get 45 percent more messages than their childless counterparts. At PlentyofFish, single moms find their match 10 percent faster than other users.
Still, kids shouldn’t necessarily be the focal point of your online profile or how you define yourself when meeting people in traditional dating situations. Barnard says you can reveal that you have children without going into too much detail.
“You could say ‘I’m the mother of two beautiful daughters’ and leave it at that,” she suggests. Doing so protects your kids’ privacy and also prevents you from making a common parent mistake of letting talk about the kids dominate the discussion.
3. Remember your date is out with you, not your kids
While you certainly hope your date will eventually like your kids and be as enamored with them as you are, the person sitting across the table is most interested in getting to know you at this point.
“When you’re on your first few dates, keep the talk about kids to a minimum,” Barnard advises.
After a few dates, feel free to start sharing more details about your family but try to keep comments positive. It can be tempting to vent once you find an outlet, but constantly complaining about your children is likely to scare away dates.
“You don’t want to make your date feel like they’re stepping into a super stressful situation,” Barnard says.
4. Kids don’t need to know about your dating adventures
Just as you don’t need to share all the details about your kids with your date, you don’t need to tell your kids about the people you’re seeing either.
“Mom and dad should keep their dating lives and parenting lives as separate as possible,” Barnard says. “Kids want to see their parents as parents, not romantic people.”
One way to avoid the inevitable questions about why you’re going out for the night is to create a standing date for yourself. That’s the approach Blackburn used.
“Every Friday night, I make it a priority to do something by myself,” she says. That could include going to an art museum alone, meeting up with friends or going on a date. However, as far as the kids were concerned, Friday was simply mom’s night out.
5. Keep introductions casual
Everyone I spoke with was in agreement that kids shouldn’t be introduced to any of your dates right away.
“The majority of people were introducing [dates to kids] once they were monogamous,” says Smith about the findings from a PlentyofFish survey.
Blackburn says she thinks waiting until you’ve been exclusive with someone six months or more may be best. “You don’t want the kids to be disappointed,” she says.
When you do get ready to make the introduction, Barnard stresses that it should be done casually and preferably in a group setting. “Create an environment that allows kids to decide how much or how little interaction to have with the date,” she advises. A sit-down dinner may seem like a great way for everyone to get to know each other, but it puts tremendous pressure on children and can backfire.
Have you tried dating as a single parent? Leave a comment below or head to our Facebook page to share your experiences and best tips for others interested in entering the dating scene.