I'm a single parent of an eight-year-old son. When his father and I separated and ultimately divorced, he was just nine months old. His father hasn't been involved in his life, so aside from my father and brother-in-law, he has no male influence in his life. Even so, I've learned through trial and error it's best to leave the kids out of the equation, at least in the beginning of a dating relationship. My son doesn't meet a date, or even hear about him, until it becomes clear to me that the relationship might be leading somewhere. Otherwise it's confusing for him to have men coming in and out of his life.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When my son was two, I had a relationship with a man who fell in love with my son and my son fell in love with him. When I ended the relationship after a few months, my son was devastated and still asked about the man a year later.

I used to think the only way I'd know if a man was going to be a potential good stepfather was to see him interact with my child. I've since learned to be careful to strike the balance of when to introduce a man into my son's life. I also make sure that the man is open to children and that he's right for me before I worry about him being right for my son.

I recently got out of a 14-month relationship with a divorced man who has a now 4-year-old son, Dylan. I found this relationship to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Although this man and I had our ups and downs, I never for one second regretted the relationship I was able to build with his little boy.

First, I never tried to be Dylan's mother as he already has one. What he loves about me (yes, I'm still a part of his life, even though his dad and I are no longer together romantically) is that I'm his friend. We really bonded one night when I made him giggle unendingly by "dying" dramatically when we played "soldier." I was interested in his school. I made opportunities for him to do things with his dad and me. I treated Dylan like he was an integral part of our relationship because he was. I don't have kids of my own, but during the course of my relationship with his dad, I came to believe I couldn't have loved Dylan more if he was my own child. In that sense, I felt protective and very "step-mom" towards him.

I was able to get him hooked on VeggieTales and bought him a preschooler's Bible. He doesn't attend church regularly, but I was able to model Christ in his life for 14 months. I pray that will pay dividends down the road.

p>It's difficult to date a single parent. You don't come first, the child does. You have to accept that and be committed to working around, and with, that. You have to want what's best for that child more than you want what's best for you. I guess it's a bit like being a parent in that sense. You have to have open lines of communication with the child's parent, because there will be times when you'll want to impart life lessons or will find yourself unable to bite your tongue in a disciplinary situation.

Dating someone with a child requires lots of love and communication. Although my relationship with his father ultimately didn't work out, I wouldn't trade being Dylan's "fwiend" for anything in the world.

I was widowed before I was 40, and my children were 10, 13, and 15. I firmly believed my primary mission was to finish raising my children, a commitment my husband and I began together, before I considered my personal life. My children already had their world turned upside down and didn't need to lose my time and attention as I was pursuing new relationships for my personal needs and desires. Of course I was lonely and wanted to love and be loved again. But it wasn't about me.