Dating With Children
- Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2004 1 Sep
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.
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.
I believe it's the obligation of the church to help provide opposite-sex role models for children in single-parent homes and to support these parents as they attempt to raise godly children. I constantly asked my pastor for a man from church to spend time with my son, and finally a young man did spend time with him for a couple of years, building and shooting rockets and doing other guy-stuff. However, I had to be proactive to get this help.
Now, 25 years later, I teach parenting classes—primarily to single parents. I constantly see the devastating affects of broken homes on children who are trying desperately to get their parent's time and attention. I tell parents that children spell love "TIME." When a single parent uses free time to date instead of nurture his or her children, the children miss out on the one thing they need most from their parent.
I'm a divorced single mom of a three-year-old daughter I haven't dated anyone seriously since my divorce and am cautious about the whole dating issue. My biggest concern is the impact a relationship will have on my daughter. I've gone out on a few dates but have never allowed my daughter to come in contact with anyone I've dated casually. I know she watches Mommy's every move, and I don't want to confuse her. I told myself that once I meet the man I'm going to marry, then and only then will I allow her to come in contact with him.
It's difficult for single mothers because you hear so many horror stories about children being abused by boyfriends or stepfathers, and my maternal instinct to protect my child won't allow me to even consider putting her in that predicament. However, it can be a lonely existence because you're always on the watch and sometimes don't allow yourself to be open to dating or meeting people because you don't know what could happen. I'm responsible for keeping my child safe physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Because of this, I make sacrifices in my social life so she'll never become scarred. I have to nurture my daughter in the ways of womanhood even at her young age, and seeing Mommy in numerous relationships will only set a bad pattern of behavior.
On the other hand, I want my daughter to see her mother in a loving, healthy relationship so she won't think that being a single mom is the way of the world. It's a frustrating issue at times, but I'm determined to wait on the Lord and continue to seek his will concerning the dating scene.
I've been dating a man who has five children—and I have two of my own! Our children are a bit older, ranging in age from 15 to 26, and it seems they're all but applauding the relationship. I'm expecting a fireworks display if we ever decide to marry!
Though they're on board now, some of the younger kids had some initial fears. I think they were worried about how our relationship might affect them and their relationship with each of us, not to mention the reality that our old life as a family (with their dad or mom) wouldn't ever be an option again. However, after the initial stages of fear and worry, they've been receptive to the idea of a new person in their life who cares about them.
The new man in my life is a pastor. And while my youngest son was afraid he'd "Bible thump" him to death, what he's found instead is a nice guy who's pretty down to earth. He's enjoyed "guy talk" and weightlifting encouragement. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed sharing conversation with the pretty young ladies who belong to this neat date of mine. They seem to love our "girl talk"—it's a little different than taking with Dad!
Overall, this relationship has been a positive experience. I know it isn't always that way for others, but I'm extremely grateful that my situation has been a good one so far. My date and I have tried to make the kids feel welcome in our relationship. We've tried to treat them with respect and kindness, earning their trust instead of forcing ourselves on them. There were times in the beginning of the relationship when one of the kids questioned whether we were putting them last, but most often it was during a conflict in scheduling or something minor, and both my date and I have taken great strides to make sure that our kids were taken care of the way they needed to be, not neglected because of our own selfish desires.
I've noticed some of the younger boys imitate the older ones, as well as my date. The girls sometimes use words I typically use in conversation and have picked up a few of my hobbies. I think these things are neat, and at the same time this reminds me that it's so important who you choose as a date because both you and your kids ultimately will be affected by them in a lot of ways.
As a single dad who keeps busy with my kids' school functions and numerous volunteer opportunities at our church, I don't seem to date much at all. It hasn't been the highest priority, but it HAS been something that I'd like to do more.
When I meet someone I'd like to get to know more, it's usually another single parent. I like to invite them all out to some type of family function such as the county fair. There are so many activities like this available, and it's a really nice way to learn more about each other without any awkward dating expectations.
I have five kids, and I dated a guy with four kids for awhile. We even talked about getting married. All the kids were for it except for one of his, and it ended up breaking our relationship wide open. The guy couldn't risk "losing" his son. Several years later I had the opportunity to ask him if he felt he made the right decision. He told me no, that if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn't have broken up with me.
My next dating experience was the opposite—I dated a guy my kids couldn't stand. It gave me a whole new perspective of the pressure a parent can feel when the kids are against the relationship. My kids, normally pretty kind and considerate, turned into rude little monsters around this guy. But it also helped me become more understanding toward my previous boyfriend.
I finally decided it would be best to wait until my kids get out of school before pursuing a relationship. It's been three years, and one more to go before my last child is out on her own. The empty nest will be difficult, but I'm also looking forward to the possibilities!
We welcome your feedback and brainstorms at: [email protected]