Single-Parent Dating: Permission Granted
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
“Put the kid aside, go out sometimes with adults, and try really hard not to feel guilty about it...”
I still struggle with this concept even as a married mother raising my blended family. But when I was a single mother, that feeling was heightened. For nearly a decade, it was just my son and I. As his primary source of everything, from the moment he was born it was often hard to see myself apart from him. I wasn’t sure if I had permission to. I was no longer just me; I was we. Yes, I love my son and most of the times we’d spend together were cherishing, but the reality was that I had to allow myself the space to rediscover my identity. Becoming a mother feels like a complete transformation, and if you’re not careful, you can lose yourself entirely to your kids and motherhood. At the start of my single-parenthood, I made the conscious decision not to date too seriously. But I also didn’t want to isolate myself, so I was always open to meeting new people and making friends. Luckily I had a solid network of close family and friends that would babysit for me, so I felt that it was ok to go out and mingle with other adults. One of my rules was to always lead with honesty, so I would make it very clear from the start that I was a mother. To me, this was a great way to weed out anyone that might feel off-putted at the thought of being a part of mine and my son’s life. We were a package deal. However, I wasn’t necessarily putting “us” on the table just yet.
I approached dating with a sincere intent to be just friends and get to know the other person before automatically spinning a “happily ever after” story in my mind. It got easier over time, undoing this approach of “dating with a purpose” and just being truly open. I came away with a lot of great friends, but mostly people I never cared to keep around. I did have some near serious partners, and even an engagement overseas (that’s a story for another day). I wasn’t sure of what exactly I wanted in a partner, but on my journey, I got to discover a lot of what I didn’t want through going out and dating. I created boundaries that allowed me the space to explore, without disrupting my son’s life by introducing him to every person I dated as nothing more than just a friend. I’ve seen others do that and I just didn’t want that level of exposure on my son. There were some shared events with my son and my “friends,” but there were some things I kept off limit, like our annual camping trip or sleepovers. But I felt comfortable having my son see his mother as a social person with a lot of friends. He didn’t necessarily need to know the level of intimacy I had with either of my friends (to him, there was no real difference whether they were a cousin or a lover). I thought it was important to make it clear to him that while I loved him dearly, Mommy was also a woman who enjoyed things independent of just being Mom. I was aware that not too many people would agree, but I also didn’t want to leave it up to people to determine my happiness. Being raised by a single-mom taught me a lot of what I didn’t want to be. And while I respect my mother’s decision to put her children 1st, I felt that she always put herself last. My mother never brought a man home nor did she appear to have much of a social life outside of her job and church. As far as I was concerned, my mother was celibate for over 30 years! (I pray this was not the case, irl). I truly admire my mother’s strength, love and dedication to being a great single-parent; however, I’m glad I forged my own path because I was able to eventually meet my husband. I say this to say that as a single-parent, you can give yourself permission to date. You can still take care of your kids while taking care of yourself. It’s not enough to have a list of everything you want in a partner to put them against, but with understanding your core values, keeping clear parameters around when you formally introduce your kids to that someone special, you can discover more about yourself so when the right person comes along, you’ve allowed a space to let them in. I recommend exposing your kids to the side of yourself that is an independent adult, and having them feel that being a dedicated parent can happen simultaneously. Even in a marriage, I want my kids to understand that sometimes Mommy and Daddy want to be alone, and that there is nothing wrong with that.
So if you’re on the fence about dating, I suggest you swing that fence open and get out there!