From being open about your situation to freeing yourself of any guilt you’ve attached to dating, Amy Nickell shares some tips for dating as a single parent.
Dating is a minefield whatever your situation. When you’re a parent, things can feel even tougher. When I first started dating again after my son (who is now three) was born, my confidence and self-belief couldn’t have been lower. It took me a long time to get over the stigma of being a single parent – especially when it came to dating. I now realise that my family is something to celebrate, rather than hide, and that the right person will recognise this also. But it’s taken me a while and a lot of bad dates to get here. These are some tips I picked up along the way.
Be open about the fact you are a parent
When I first returned to dating, I didn’t mention my son on my online dating profiles, or when I met men in real life. Because of the stigma surrounding single parents and myths I was believing at the time, my subconscious told me I would have more luck keeping my profile baby-free. I soon realised what a mistake that was. On my first date after being pregnant, dumped and giving birth – when my self-esteem had hit rock bottom – I sat opposite a man who visibly quivered when I revealed I was a mum and compared my child to his ongoing battle with Crohn’s disease.
Just like anything on your profile – whether it be recent pictures, your height or your profession – honesty cuts out the potential for misunderstandings or, well, meeting narrow-minded fools. Remember, anyone with a problem isn’t worth your time; being a parent is actually a very effective asshole filter. The problem is theirs, don’t waste time feeling like it’s yours. Which leads on to…
Never excuse, apologise or defend yourself
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing you have to explain how you came to be a single parent. In the early stages of dating, that’s really none of anyone’s business. Be proud of your family and proud of your life. Know anyone you meet will be lucky to get such a fabulous two, three or however-many-it-might-be-for-one deal. You know your child is the best person ever so why assume another person will feel any different? I was brought up to believe people, particularly men, are terrified of having children on their hands. Maybe some are, but those people aren’t worth your time when you’re a parent.
Replace the word ‘baggage’ with ‘bonus’
In our household ‘baggage’ is considered a swear word. ‘Baggage’ implies a disadvantage; something bulky and extra, weighing you down. Your offspring is anything but baggage. However, growing up in a society that sees single motherhood as a one way ticket to loneliness, poverty and the benefits system, I see where the ‘b’ word has come from.
I’m happy to confirm that my son has positively transformed my life in so many ways, he’s the most wonderful and perfectly-timed gift I could have wished for. Plus, having a child helps you put things in perspective; I’m ten times more confident and capable now. So the word ‘baggage’ needs to be replaced with ‘bonus’, because that’s a more accurate description.
Feel positive about wanting to date
Never think that you are doing anything wrong by wanting some time for yourself. I’ll never forget the first time I came down the stairs all dressed up to see my baby with his bottle, ready to be put to bed by someone else. I did feel a pang of guilt. But now I know how important my personal time is to keep me sane. A good mum is a happy mum – never feel guilty about wanting time to be you. You’re a mum, yes, but you’re also a woman who wants to flirt and enjoy a nice glass of wine in some adult company.
Don’t rush introducing your new partner to your child
I think it’s important to make clear to the person you are dating that you aren’t looking for any help with parenting. That’s your territory, especially in the early days. I had a boyfriend once who wanted to get way too involved too quickly, and my child just doesn’t need the potential disruption that would cause.
For this reason, I wouldn’t introduce the person I am dating to my son as my ‘boyfriend’. That said, it’s easier said than done to keep them totally apart, and often just not practical. My personal solution here is to ask my boyfriends to work by the rules of a public swimming pool: if you wouldn’t get away with it there, don’t do it in front of my son. For me, this means no sleepovers. But it also means more special time as a couple when you do manage to escape for those precious nights away (once you’ve found a very trusted babysitter, of course).
Focus on the present
Perhaps it’s only natural for the person you are dating to think about the future with you, given your life situation as a parent. But regular singletons don’t instantly picture a future where they’ve settled down and had four kids, so neither should your date. Someone recently broke up with me because they just “couldn’t get their head around being a dad”. Er, no one asked him too. He just went all Mystic Meg and couldn’t handle it. If you find yourself in a similar situation, use it to your advantage, and remember: having a child helps you sort people into a ‘worth it’ and ‘not worth it’ pile early on.
Finally, a family isn’t incomplete just because it doesn’t fit in with traditional roles. Just because you fancy a date doesn’t mean you are looking for someone to fill a void. Also, for anyone dating a single parent, we aren’t necessarily looking for an immediate co-parent, we are looking for a date – those are two very different things. Believe it or not, it is possible to be content in a family of two. When it comes to family, it’s quality over quantity.
You can follow Amy at: solo.mamma
Article originally posted on soulmates.theguardian.com