Dating as a Single Parent
- Friday, August 26, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: He Said-She Said is a monthly advice column featuring a question from a Crosswalk.com reader with responses from a male and female point of view. If you've got a question about anything related to singleness or living the single life, please submit it to He Said-She Said (selected questions will be posted anonymously).
QUESTION: As a single parent, is it better to seek out partners who have children or those without? And how long should I wait until introducing them to my children, even if they seem like "the one" and are eager to meet them?
HE SAID: I cannot answer from the standpoint of a single parent, since I don’t have children, but I have dated single moms and have learned from friends who are.
Whether to seek out a partner who has children or one without is dependent upon you and the one you meet. Nowadays, it’s easy to place people in categories (i.e. Single parent, Single, Divorced, 40’s, etc.) and generalize. Oftentimes, when we actually get to know a person we find out they are quite different from the characterization we have placed on them.
The same goes for single parents. To seek out another single parent believing that person would better understand your situation or have the “qualifications” of being a parent may be true, but it may not be for that person you meet.
In the same way, to write off all singles without children because they can’t know what it’s like to raise a child alone may be a correct assumption; however, that person may have grown up in a single parent family and knows it from another side.
I would encourage you (and all singles) to be open-minded about whom you meet, and allow God to make the determination of what is “best” in your case. In other words, don’t limit your prospects.
Determining when to introduce your prospective mate to your children is a very important decision to make as a single parent.
At the outset of the relationship, when you are just casually dating, there is no need for them to meet each other. Your date should know you have children and your children, should they ask, only needs to know you are going out with a friend, which is the truth.
Until you are in a committed relationship, you should refrain from allowing a connection to begin between that person and your child. Doing so would only add more confusion and disruption to an already difficult childhood, especially if things don’t work out.
When both of you see your relationship leading toward a serious commitment, that is the time to introduce each other to one another, as well as have dates collectively and alone. Those outings with your children would be best if geared more toward them rather than yourselves (i.e. a park or zoo date instead of a romantic quiet dinner).
It is imperative to ensure all of you are compatible and for your prospective mate to experience your children in as many “normal” situations as possible prior to marriage. It’s also important to allow ample time for your children to acclimate to the idea they may have a new “parent” and is something that shouldn’t be rushed into. That person must be right for you and for your children.
Along those lines, to singles who are dating or may be dating a single parent, please keep in mind and encourage your date to place “parenthood” first and “single” second. A single parent may want to put more emphasis on their “new” relationship rather than on their child’s. Don’t pressure them into doing so nor allow them to. They are a parent first.
In addition, don’t seek to start a relationship with the children until you are absolutely willing to follow through with a commitment to their parent in the location which is most conducive to the children. In many instances, children are moved away from the other involved biological parent based solely on the desires of the couple without much consideration given for the children.
For all singles, a dating relationship with a single parent is not the same as two singles and a conscious effort must be made to minimize any negative effects on the children involved.
SHE SAID: Since I’m not a parent, I have no idea what it must be like to decide how to go about dating when you’re single with children. I’m sure you’re struggling with wanting to do the right thing for your children, but also desirous of a relationship with someone which could hopefully lead to marriage.
So I think this situation requires first doing some interior work. I’m assuming that you are ready to start dating at this point. And that means you have had the time you need to heal from your prior relationship (with the other parent of your children). You have taken the time to process what you’ve learned from that experience and have been able to see where you need to make changes going forward—both in yourself and in what you’re looking for in someone to date.
I believe that each relationship is allowed by God in our lives to grow us—whether they be painful experiences or not. And I’ve had both, as I’m sure you have had as well. While it still hurts to look back at the ones that didn’t end well, I know that I must inspect these areas of my relationship history (some of them I would consider wounds that have not fully healed) in order to better understand myself and why I made the relationship decisions and/or mistakes that I did. Now, that’s not something I relish doing. It’s no picnic revisiting times of my life where I just completely failed and wasn’t seeking the Lord and following his path for me.
But if I want to prepare myself for the person I hope to spend the rest of my life with as a mate (wherever he may be), then I know I must be working on myself and be aware of everything I’m bringing with me (baggage—everyone is carrying something), so that I can give these areas of my life to God.
I don’t say all of this to discourage you (or me), but I say it because I know that God can redeem whatever we feel is a loss in our lives (Joel 2:25) and use it toward something good (Romans 8:28). I put my hope in these promises, and I hope that you will, too. God is bigger than any failure or failed relationship in our lives. And he uses flawed people (which is all of us!) to accomplish his purposes. (And if you don’t agree with that, then read up on King David.)
Now, back to the assumption that you are ready to begin dating. I would encourage you to boil down what is most important to you when considering what you need in someone you would like to date and perhaps eventually marry. I would advise you to start out by casting a wider net when it comes to choosing between those who have children and those who do not. Why not pursue someone who simply “loves Jesus” and “loves children” whether a single parent or not? In the beginning, narrowing down your candidates to only those with children might eliminate someone without children who could be a terrific match for you (and your children) and might eventually be the one who not only loves you but also your children as his or her own. My advice is to stay a little more open-minded when it comes to the selection process—at least initially. You may decide later on, once you’ve been actively dating, that single parents are who you need to target if you feel that they would be a better fit for you and your children. Only you will know that for sure as you seek God’s direction in your dating process.
In regards to your second question, I would be very careful as to how soon you introduce someone you’re dating to your children. Our emotions can get the best of us and many times fool us. Jeremiah 17:9 says that “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Oh, how true! I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the initial “romance” of a new relationship and to miss some major clues or red flags that are there as warning signs for our protection. Wait until some of the fire has died down, so to speak. And then see what you think. Once you have been able to discern the situation and observe this person’s heart, then you can decide if this person is someone you want your kids to get to know (keeping in mind that their hearts will open up to this person as well, as they see that your heart has already opened). In fact, you might even wait until you know if this is someone you want to marry (as in, right before you get engaged). I know that could be a while, but in some cases it might be the best thing to do. And then introduce this person to your children gradually during the engagement period.
Your children are your most valuable, tangible possessions here on earth. You would give anything for them. They are your heart, running around outside of your body. And so as with a dating relationship that deals with your heart, you must also protect theirs as well and proceed with caution. Are they emotionally ready to see you with someone else? Can they handle seeing you with someone who is now filling the role (in their minds) that was left by your former partner or spouse? Children are still so very vulnerable, and their understanding very limited. Introducing someone too soon could scare them and cause some troublesome issues. I would weigh the timing of the introduction very carefully in your efforts to always place the emotional security and well-being of your children first.
In closing, and in all matters, I advise you to bathe both of these questions in prayer (Romans 8:26-27). Do you have friends or relatives who can pray alongside you that you would make dating decisions that honor the Lord? Perhaps you could even introduce whomever you are going out with to these individuals first. People who have known you for a long time sometimes can see things you cannot, and they also know you very well and can help you to see what you’re missing and also what is a good fit for you.
Prayer and accountability with fellow believers are the best ways to safeguard yourself—and your choices—before dipping your toes once again into the dating waters.
HE is … Cliff Young, a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades. He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.
SHE is … Laura MacCorkle, Senior Editor at Crosswalk.com. She loves God, her family and her friends. Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who's counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one.
DISCLAIMER: We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. We're just average folk who understand what it's like to live the solo life in the twenty-first century. We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life's questions, and it's where we'll go for guidance when responding to your questions. Also, it's important to note that we write our answers separately (we think they sound eerily similar sometimes, too!).
GOT A QUESTION? If you've got a question about anything related to singleness or living the single life, please submit it to He Said-She Said (selected questions will be posted anonymously). While we are unable to answer every inquiry, we do hope that this column will be an encouragement to you.
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