Dating when divorced: It's different when you've got kids. It's not just that you so do not have the same body you did back when you were 23. Or that the guys you're dating aren't 23 anymore either. (Thank God for that!) It's the kids -- your kids. You just can't fling yourself around the dating world like some Carrie Bradshaw, no curfew, no babysitters to pay, no responsibilities. You've got to make dating fit into everything else going on in your life. And you have to make sure you don't violate the first law of dating as a single parent: First do no harm to the kids.
I've been writing my own dating rules (they're more like guidelines) since jumping back into the dating pool after a 16-year marriage. Here's what I've got so far.
1. Don't bring home strange men for sleepovers when you've got the kids. No child has ever woken up, seen a strange man in a towel smoking in the kitchen, and thought, "Oh goody! Mom got some well-deserved sweet action last night. I am totally OK with this!" I just don't think it's a good idea. Maybe, once you're in a long-term, committed relationship, and your kids have gotten to know your boyfriend (or whatever you call him) in other contexts, and you've given your kids fair warning, then it will be all right. But bringing home the flavor of the week on a night when you've also got the kids is just a terrible idea.
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2. Don't introduce the kids to your guy until you've been dating for a long time. I don't know what my idea of a long-enough time is yet, actually. A year? Six months? You tell me! Maybe I'll just know when I know. But I don't think it's a good idea for your kids to meet a parade of paramours who move in and out of their lives.
3. Be honest with your kids about what you're doing. I think this depends on the age of your kids. But if they're old enough to know what dating is, I think they should know it's something you're doing. It helps them to see you as a whole person, and it prepares them for the possibility (I mean, who knows, it could happen) that you'll eventually have a relationship with someone new. They don't need to know you're if having sex, of course. Because EW. But it's good to open up those lines of communication.
4. Make sure your kids know they're still your number-one priority. You don't want your kids to feel like you've forgotten them, or you're replacing them, or you love anyone more than you love them. Dating can be awfully distracting, but parenting is one part of your life where you should be as fully present as possible.
5. Be upfront with your dates about being a parent. I don't think it should be the focus of a date, but that information should be out there. Other people appreciate knowing. Being a parent is a huge part of your identity -- hiding it will backfire. It's not ALL of who you are, but it's part of who you are. Also: Kids are your get-out-of-a-bad-date-free card. "OMG, a text from the sitter -- gotta go!" See? You can't do that if you haven't mentioned the kids in the first place.
6. Don't talk about your kids all the time. Still, your date is dating you, not your kids. What else do you have going on? (If the answer is nothing, maybe you should work on that ...) This is time just for you, to have fun and do a little exploring. JUST you, not your kids.
7. Just because you're a single mom doesn't mean you have to settle for dopes. I am so over being so surprised that any man might find me, an 300-year-old hag with a child, sexy and fun. Turns out I can afford to be a little choosy after all. Eureka! Don't sell yourselves short, ladies. Single parents do not have all the time in the world, so don't waste your time with guys you're not excited about or who don't treat you well.
That's all I've got so far -- oh, that, and don't run off to Paris without telling anyone. I'm sure I'll come up with more rules as I go along, but this is what's working for me so far.
How about you? What are your single mom dating rules?
Image via Derek Key/Flickr