Whether you’re divorced or you became a mother without getting married, being a single mother isn’t just hard on you, it’s hard on the children.
Young boys need a steady father figure in their life to set a good example for them. Young girls who don’t have enough guidance from a father figure struggle with self-esteem issues that affect their relationships for the rest of their lives.
When my divorce became unavoidable, I was mostly concerned about my daughters. Dating took a whole new turn. Instead of just having fun with someone, I had to be more serious because, even though my ex was still in their lives, part of the reason we split up was his inability to fulfill his fatherly duties.
It was important that I drew lines and was clear about the fact that I wasn’t trying to replace their father. Yet, at the same time, they needed a proper role model.
Be Upfront about Your Situation
No matter how awkward or embarrassing it may feel, single mothers have to be honest and upfront about their situation. Our children matter, so don’t hide that.
I openly talked about my daughters. From the moment they were born they were such an important part of my life that I didn’t shy away from my love for them, but I tried not to obsess either. It was a constant striving for balance.
Single mothers have to be honest and upfront about their situation.
Being open about the fact that they came first was my main goal, but I also set clear boundaries to be fair to everyone. Discussing my expectations wasn’t easy. It’s not cool to put too much pressure on a man too soon. I had to find the right moments without stalling or procrastinating to save my own pride.
My rules for myself started to form as I went, and they went like this:
Be friendly, but not naive.
Be honest, but don’t get mad if that ends things.
Be fair, and give a man time to digest everything he’s learning about you.
Be Smart about Who You Date
Life is not a romcom. Dating as a mother is more complicated than meeting someone, falling for them, and beating the odds to be together.
Not every guy is up for the challenge. It won’t matter if you “catch feelings” (I hate this terminology, feelings are not a virus) for each other if he has no interest in caring for children. What’s best for the kids is what matters most, and as difficult as that may be, it will better suit you in the long run.
What’s best for the kids is what matters most, and as hard as that may be, it’s better in the long run.
When I got divorced, I went through a second maidenhood. It was like everyone was interested. Even one of my ex’s friends hit on me. It was overwhelming, and so many guys think they can just email or text you and that’s a relationship. Sure, we can connect more easily online and with our phones, but if a guy isn’t willing to offer a little bit of in-person romance, he’s probably not looking for the same thing as you.
I found it was better for me to just stick to my goals, and let go of anyone who was obviously playing around. Men who didn’t have children were less interested in me as a mother and generally trying to hook up. Over time, I realized that single dads – who truly cared about their kids and were just as worried about dating (as a parent) as I was – deserved more notice.
As I was better able to recognize different behaviors, it grew easier to stay confident with a few more rules for myself:
Don’t answer messages after 10pm.
Don’t date men who use their last relationship’s failure to get sympathy.
Don’t chase a man. If he’s being distant, cut him loose. Men are supposed to be the hunters.
When and How To Introduce Your Kids to Him
Once things start to move forward with the right guy, the big moment of how and when to introduce the children will loom over you. It’s terrifying. If things don’t work out, it’s not just the two of you who get hurt, but also the kids, so honestly it’s better to wait until you’re both comfortably in love.
It’s no use bringing a man into your children’s lives who isn’t already fully invested in you. Sure there will be concerns about “But what if the kids don’t like him?” or “What if he doesn’t mesh with them?”
These are the risks single moms have to take. Single fathers are just as worried about this, so if you’re dating a man with children, at least you can comfort each other when preparing for the big introduction.
I had already met the man who is now my husband, stepfather to my daughters, and father to my two sons as I got separated and divorced. I’ve never been a big fan of dating for fun; I’m a serial monogamist. This made my situation much easier, because instead of “playing the field” I was more like just looking around.
It’s no use bringing a man into your children’s lives who isn’t already fully invested in you.
A lot of the guys who were interested just wanted to hook up, so it was easy to shoot them down. On the other hand, my husband, whom I met through work, was always there for me, but he didn’t get too buddy buddy, and that’s how he avoided the “friend zone.” He is also the most romantic man I’ve ever met, so it was pretty easy to see him above all the guys who just half-heartedly texted “Hey.”
It was months before I allowed him to talk on the phone with my daughters. Six months is a pretty good time frame. Then we went on a camping trip about nine months after we started dating. He only came for the day, and then I stayed with the girls overnight. That great little vacation changed everything. My girls were 5 and 3 at the time, and he instantly loved how smart and sweet my 5 year old was. My 3 year old was more protective of me, and he really had to show her how much he loved me, but after witnessing him helping me and how happy we were, suddenly she was enamored with him.
Honestly, knowing he was the right one came down to a few small, but important factors:
He is kind with the kids, but not too eager.
The kids like him, but don’t forget their biological father.
Everyone enjoys group activities together.
Safety Concerns To Keep in Mind
When I was a kid, my mother constantly warned my sister and me about child molesters. It was a serious concern for her. Single mothers face more safety concerns because bringing a new man into their children’s lives poses certain risks.
My husband’s first girlfriend had been repeatedly molested by her stepfather, who was a pastor. One of my high school friends had been molested by her stepfather, and when she told her mother, her mom responded by saying, “So what? So was I, and he didn’t do as much to you as my stepfather did to me.”
These scenarios bring the gravity of the situation to light. Most children who are sexually abused are victimized by someone they know. In plenty of situations, the mother either knows or is too self-involved to care. A study of 930 women in San Francisco revealed that “17% or one out of approximately every six women who had a stepfather as a principal figure in her childhood years was sexually abused by him.”
This complicates single motherhood and dating even further. We can’t just trust that a charming man who loves kids is good with them for the right reasons. It’s our duty to protect our children and be diligent.
We can’t just trust that a charming man who loves kids is good with them for the right reasons.
The best ways I know how to look out for predators and prevent child abuse of any kind by a man we date is to:
Teach children about sexual abuse and the importance of coming for help ASAP. (Make this a continuous discussion, it can’t just be a one-time warning.)
Do a criminal background check on the men you date.
Never let your boyfriend be alone with your children after first introducing them. (This will have to be relaxed over time, especially if you get married, but check in with your kids, always.)
Don’t assume anything. Just because he has kids, or goes to church, or is good to his mom doesn’t mean he might not offend.
Being a single mom is a rough road, one that no woman should promote or purposefully seek out, but if that’s how things go, dating has to be approached from a mature, realistic perspective. Single mothers need to be honest about what they’re looking for, avoid getting too emotional too soon, take their time selecting the best man for them and their children, and most importantly, protect their kids from harm.
It’s a lot to handle, but so are the long-term effects of fatherlessness or not enough paternal guidance. Finding someone to share your life with is never easy. Meeting a man who will start a family with you and your children – who came before him – won’t happen overnight, but it’s much more realistic than cheesy romcoms and fairy tales…and more fun because it’s a stronger bond.
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