Editor's note: This article originally appeared on SmartStepFamilies.com

"Our whole family is dating this guy."

--Rachel, 22 years old                     

Sometimes kids say it best. When asked what she wishes her mom would do differently while dating, Rachel, a smart young graduate student, replied, “I wish she would recognize her own impulsivity and emotional rollercoaster. She does and says things without recognizing that to some extent our whole family is dating this guy. This year I came home four times from college and he was in town every single time. After I went back to campus each time mom said, ‘I never get to see you!’ Yes, well, that’s because you were with your boy.”

Dating for two is difficult; dating in a crowd is downright complicated. The kids are engaged, at least on some level, even when you don’t think they are. And everyone has strong emotions and opinions about who is involved and what the outcome might be. In other words, the whole family is dating. Table for 20!

My newest book, Dating and the Single Parent, examines the complex process of finding love in the midst of a crowd and includes a number of dating best practices for single parents and the singles who date them. Here are just a few: 

Realize that You’re not just Forming a Relationship, You’re Creating a Family

When kids predate dating, the couple’s relationship inherently creates competing attachments. The choice to be with the dating partner or children generally means the other is left waiting…and wondering how their relationship with you is being influenced by your relationship with the other. In addition, children commonly feel some insecurity by mom or dad’s relationship with another person. Wise singles recognize this important dynamic and don’t assume that becoming a couple necessarily means that they can become a family. They attend to both and take time assessing how the potential stepfamily relationships are developing.

Avoid a Quick Turn-Around

Parents who begin dating quickly after the end of a relationship (whether by death or divorce) or who reach a quick decision to marry after a brief dating period often find their children more resistant to the marriage. This sabotages the ability of a stepparent and stepchild to get off on the right foot with one another and puts the family at risk.

Healthy Dating Begins with Self-Examination

Smart singles take a good long look in the mirror before dating. They examine their motivations for dating, fears (e.g., their children not having a father), loneliness, and unresolved hurt (e.g., after divorce). How do you know when you’re ready to date? When you don’t need to.

Engage in “What if?” Conversations

Even before dating, single parents begin a series of conversations with their children that wonder, “What if I began dating? How would you feel?” Periodically, they engage the conversation again and again: “What if Sara and I began dating regularly?” “What if John’s kids came over every Friday through the summer?” “What if she and I were to get engaged?” Each dialogue is both assessment (how are my kids feeling about these possibilities and realities) and intervention as it prepares them for what might happen. A smart single parent doesn’t let their children’s emotions dictate their dating progress, but they do listen and give serious consideration to how the children are feeling (becoming a couple is up to you; whether you become a family is up to them). Engage in these conversations throughout your dating experience, especially in anticipation of each stage of a developing relationship.