Dating for parents

It can be discouraging for a single mother to hear people say that it will be hard for her to find a man – at least until her offspring achieves a level of independence. It’s the kind of thing that other single parents tend to say – or at least the ones who haven’t undertaken to find a new partner after a split. But the truth is that things really can work out differently – a recent survey suggested that 92% of men would be ready to take on someone else’s children: in fact, they rather like the idea of a ‘readymade’ family. The survey went on to suggest that 40% of relationships involving a single parent actually result in marriage.

Forget the inferiority complex!
PARSHIP psychologist Nicole Schiller feels that single parents are more in need of encouragement and motivation than advice. Younger mothers in particular tend to feel they have to resign themselves to a single state. “They would do better to gather their confidence and go actively in search of a new partner,” thinks Schiller. Negativity is out of place, because there are plenty of people who are specifically in search of someone with children, either because they have children themselves and would like a partner who understands their situation, or because they feel that people without children have less to offer them. “Single parents are certainly not second-class citizens in the world of dating,” affirms Schiller. “There really is someone out there for you!”

Looking for a substitute?
Many single parents aren’t sure how to describe themselves in their online dating profile, thinking that they will deter approaches by referring to their situation. Admittedly, a certain amount of discretion is advisable … ‘Four children and two dogs are looking for a daddy!’ might be a bit too upfront, as would, “My wife has disappeared off the scene, so now I need a new mother for the triplets.” Nicole Schiller advises PARSHIP members to consider whether they’re looking for a new mother or father for their children or for a partner for themselves. Ultimately, what most people want is a partner who will accept their situation, not someone who is going to take on all the responsibilities. Schiller recommends referring to your single parent status in the context of your feelings or your everyday life: “My children are the most important thing in my life,” or “I spend the weekends with my 13-year-old daughter”. That makes the position clear without immediately raising the issue of adoption papers!

What do I tell the kids?
It is also of vital importance to talk to your children about the new situation and to get them ready for a possible change in the make-up of your family. With older children, it is a good idea to include them at a suitable stage in the process of getting to know your partner. At the least they should know if you are looking for a new relationship. This reduces the subsequent potential for conflict and for jealous feelings on your children’s part.

In general, if you have split relatively recently from you ex, then you need to tread still more carefully with your children. There is a greater risk that they will come out with something like: “But I’ve already got a mum/a dad. I don’t need another one!” Younger children tend to view any changes in their world as somewhat threatening, so they will often fear that their parent will have less time for them or that they will become less central to your existence. Don’t try and ‘sell’ the idea of a new relationship for you or your new partner – and don’t expect your child to be wild about the idea. You do need to make clear how important a new partner is to you, that you will continue to love your child just as much and that you will continue to spend lots of time with him/her.

What next?
So, when should you introduce your new love interest to your children? At the very latest this should be when you feel that a durable relationship is in view. If your new boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t seem especially interested in getting to know your children better, then don’t rush things. Give him or her time to get used to the situation. Experts recommend staging the first meeting on neutral ground – say at a sports centre or a museum – so that no-one feels like an intruder. If your boyfriend of girlfriend doesn’t seem to hit it off particularly well with your kids, just be patient and gently make clear to him or her how important you consider it for everyone to get on with each other. And children generally come to realise of their own accord that happy parents are much nicer to live with.

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