Dating as a single parent can be tough. You have to balance the needs of your children, your partner, and yourself. It can be hard to think about the things you want in a relationship at all, much less have those wants met. There are so many things that need to be taken into consideration when you’re a single parent—it can be difficult to balance the needs of your children and your partner when dating or entering into a relationship. You may feel like you’re not allowed to have a social life outside of parenting. But there’s no reason why being a parent should prevent you from having romantic relationships, too! Set yourself up for success and healthy relationships by asking yourself these questions before you jump back into the dating pool.
What does your ideal relationship as a single parent look like?
It’s important to take some time for yourself and figure out what works best for you and your family before jumping into another relationship. What does an ideal relationship look like for you right now? How does it function relative to your parenting?
Single parents have a variety of options when it comes to relationship configurations – you could be dating very casually as a way to find an adult outlet for fun and fulfillment with no intention to mix your dating and family life, open to more serious dating but not co-parenting, or ready to find a serious long-term life partner who will be a stepparent to your kids. It’s also possible that someone could move between these roles; we aren’t always looking for a serious relationship when we find one!
Wherever you fall on this spectrum, it’s important for single parents to be very clear on their goals and wants for a new relationship, and to be direct and honest with their partner and their children about their expectations.
What characteristics does a partner need to be a good fit with your family’s life and needs?
You’ve got your kids and their needs, but now you’re looking for someone who can share those responsibilities with you. It can be hard to find time for yourself—and even harder to find someone who understands what it’s like to be a single parent. Looking at your above needs in a relationship, what kind of person is a good fit for what you’re looking for?
It’s important to recognize that the qualities that make someone an appealing romantic partner for you might not be the same as those that make someone a great fit for your family. Maybe you dream of a fun-loving, spontaneous partner who will whisk you away without warning – very fun and romantic, but hard to fit with a custody schedule arranged six months out.
If you’re planning on pursuing a serious long-term relationship, then of course there’s little more important (and that will make someone more attractive) than someone your kids love!
What should your family know about your dating life?
Your children may be excited about having someone new in your life, but they might also feel worried or scared of the changes this person will bring into their lives. It’s worthwhile to think about what information to share with them to meet their needs for safety and security without overwhelming them or making them anxious. It’s possible you want to wait until you’re confident someone is serious about you before you even tell your kids about them; it’s possible you aren’t looking for anything serious at all and would prefer those casual partners remain something your kids don’t need to be aware of.
If you’re a single parent, it’s likely that other co-parent(s) have some involvement in your life as well. What level of communication is ideal for you and any co-parents to have about your romantic lives? How much information should they know? How much can they handle? What information do you need about their dating life to be the best parent you can be? How will this change over time?
What context do your kids need when it comes to romantic relationships and dating?
Depending on the age of your kids (and what romantic relationship context they may have already seen you in with their co-parent – although, of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone!) they may already have some idea of how romantic relationships work, or they may not. If your kids are young and/or they haven’t seen you in a relationship before, they may not know anything about what to expect when it comes to your dating — and any of your dating life they are aware of will likely be influential for them. This obviously puts you in a tough position, as your dating life is at least in part up to chance!
Think about what age-appropriate information would be helpful in processing this new experience for your kids. It might be helpful to explain that you can have crushes like they do at school, or just that it makes you happy to spend time with other adults you like sometimes, and that when you’re happy you can be the best parent you can be. You can also prepare them with any specific changes or transitions they can expect: maybe that someone might be here in the morning when they have breakfast sometimes, or that someone else could give them rides to school.
Dating often has twists and turns that could mean big changes for kids, like an unexpected breakup or your partner moving in. While you can’t control all those outcomes, or predict them in advance, it’s a good idea to prepare your kids for the fact that things could change in general — and to avoid promising stability that you can’t guarantee. Try to resist things like telling your kids your new partner will always be around, even if it’s if they want to hear; something like “I really like Jamie, and I don’t know what will happen in the future but I am happy that they can spend a lot of time with us right now” is better.
What do you need for your own self-care?
Give yourself permission to access a sense of personhood that isn’t centered on parenting, and identify wants and needs that are separate from being a parent. This can feel like a huge challenge, especially while trying to balance the demands of being a parent with those of maintaining a romantic relationship — it’s easy to feel like your whole day is about everyone else’s needs between your kids and your partner.
You might find that you’re feeling overextended—like there’s not enough time in the day to accomplish everything you want. You might find that your personal needs are unmet because they’re competing with other priorities or because they’re just not being addressed at all. It’s important to make sure you’re intentionally carving out time and energy to build a relationship with yourself, and acknowledging your own needs in the midst of your relationships.