Dating with Children

Ellen Kreidman

You're more than just a parent. Some of you might be thinking, "I'd love to start dating, but who would want to date someone with four children, a dog, and two parakeets?" The answer is, plenty of people. Don't automatically assume just because you have children, you're less desirable. There are plenty of people who like children and who want to date someone with children. While other single parents are probably the most likely to be interested in dating someone with children, there are lots of people who have no children of their own who would be delighted with a ready-made family.

par1 Even if you fit the description of single mom or dad, it's important for you to realize that you are more than just a parent. You are a vibrant, energetically alive adult who deserves to have a social life. To help make the transition from mommy or daddy to date, lover, boyfriend or girlfriend, stop thinking of yourself as just a parent, and start thinking of yourself as an attractive, devastatingly sexy single. To help boost your confidence, take more care with your appearance than you might be in the habit of doing. When you're out doing errands on the weekend, wear something that flatters you, even if it's just a pair of great-looking jeans, instead of wearing cutoffs or sweats.

Think about having a makeover. A different haircut and an updated wardrobe are both good ways to feel more attractive and desirable. If you're still wearing a wedding ring, take it off now. In fact, shed any rings that would convey the message that you're unavailable.

You Can Do It

Making the mental transition from parent to person is one thing, but there are also practical matters to be considered. Dating when you have children offers some challenges that aren't present when you are footloose and fancy free, but there is no reason why you can't be a parent and still have a
rich and fulfilling social life. While you will need a bit more organization and some creativity to be a dating parent than if you were single without children, both you and your children will benefit from the extra effort.

I know how important it is to take care of your children; to meet their physical and emotional needs. But if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of your children. Taking care of yourself first is what I call the "oxygen mask" principle. If you've ever taken a commercial airliner, you've heard the flight attendant tell passengers that if there should be a change in pressure and the oxygen mask drops down, parents should always breathe into it first before assisting their children. The theory is that if you don't get any oxygen, you'll be unable to help your child.

The same principle applies to your life in general. You have to take care of your own emotional, mental, and physical needs before you can help your children. If you're sacrificing your social life for your children, you're not doing them a favor. The best gift you can give your children is the example of a well-balanced, happy adult life. Everything you do and say and feel is a lesson for your children. When you take care of yourself emotionally by enjoying your life and the people who populate it, you're teaching your children how to become healthy, happy adults as well.

Guilty As Charged

As a parent, there are many times in life when you are faced with a conflict that may cause you to feel guilty. On the one hand, you have a desire to do something for yourself that would be pleasurable. On the other hand, you might feel guilty for:

* Spending the money

* Spending the time

* Any of the 101 other reasons parents can find to feel guilty

Suppose, for example, that you've been invited out on a date, but you aren't sure whether to accept or not. You feel guilty about leaving your small children with a baby-sitter or leaving your older children alone for a few hours. My advice is feel the guilt and do it anyway! If you don't, sooner or later you're going to resent the fact you never date or do anything socially. And who do you think your resentment's going to affect most? That's right. Your children. Believe me, your guilty feelings are much easier on your children than your feelings of anger and resentment.

No Permission Needed

I'm only going to say this once, so I want you to pay careful attention. You do not need approval from your children in order to date! Your decision to date must come from your own readiness to have a social life. When you feel ready and secure about your decision, your children will come to accept and eventually respect it. If you're undecided and look to them for permission to date, you may or may not get it, but one thing's for sure. You'll have given them control. You don't have to ask them if it's okay or if they'd mind if you go out. Just go, and have fun!

To avoid conflict, some parents will keep their dating a secret from their children. But when you hide the fact that you're dating, you're still giving your children control. By dating secretly, you're telling your children that you're ashamed of what you're doing. Having a life outside of being a parent is nothing to be ashamed of. Your children need to know that while they are a very important part of your life, your entire world doesn't revolve around them.

When you can be open with your children about your social life, it reduces their anxiety and builds trust. Explain to them that just as they need to have friends their own age, you need to have adult friendships. They'll soon catch on that they'll benefit from your happiness. If your children are getting the kind of love and attention they need from you, they won't be threatened by your dating.

A Package Deal

Not only must you be honest with your children, you must also be honest with the people you are dating. Whatever you do, don't ever hide the fact you have children. Be clear that you are a package deal and proud of it! Hiding the fact you have children or postponing telling your date the truth is not the way to begin a healthy relationship.

New Beginnings

Beginning to date again can be an exciting new chapter in your life, but finding time to meet a new mate, when you can barely find time to do the dishes, can be a challenge. Don't let lack of time keep you from the happiness you deserve. While there are many ways to meet a potential mate, the personal ads and the Internet are tailor-made for you. You can put together your personal ad and have a wonderful time talking to your potential new dates while your children are asleep or busy with their own activities. In addition, if you have a computer, you can visit the Web sites on the Internet that are devoted to dating without leaving the comfort of your home.

When you're placing your ad, the fact you're a single parent must be included. Remember, the beauty of a personal ad is that it helps you target exactly the kind of person you want to meet. If you have children, you want to meet someone who's comfortable dating someone with children, so don't hesitate to advertise that you are a single parent.

Either in your ad or on your voice mail message, mention the ages of your children. While your children's ages won't matter to many people, some people have definite preferences. You want your future dates to be completely comfortable around your children, so it's only fair to tell them up front how old your children are.

In addition to using a personal ad or the Internet to meet people, there are many groups dedicated specifically to single parents. While meeting other single parents is more likely if you go places with your children, don't limit yourself to these activities. Get out and do something just for yourself. Take a class where you'll meet members of the opposite sex or look for a special interest group for singles such as a hiking, biking, or theater group. Take up folk dancing or country-western dancing (it's good exercise and you don't need a partner).

Children Can Be The Bridge

Meeting people when you're with your children is often easier than when you're alone. Children make you more approachable. Someone who might not know how to start a conversation with you, might feel very comfortable talking to your child.

Being a single parent gives you some great opportunities to meet other single parents. Your own children are your best resource for places to go where you might meet other single parents. If your children like going somewhere, so will other children. Along with other children, come other parents -- many of whom are single. The following are just a few of the places you can expect to meet other single parents: zoos, carnivals, children's museums, playgrounds, libraries, and video arcades, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I suggest you sit down with a friend who's a single parent and brainstorm all the places you can think of where parents take children.

Another way for you to meet new people is to let your children do the matchmaking. I've known lots of men and women whose children have introduced them to the person who ended up being their mate. If your children approve of the person enough to introduce him or her to you, it's definitely worth a try.

Introducing Your Dates to Your Children

Although I recommend dating a lot of people in order to find the perfect match for you, I don't recommend introducing all your dates to your children. Meeting every, or even most, of those you go out with can only upset and confuse them. Children are always most comfortable when their world is predictable, and a steady diet of new dates will keep them constantly off-balance. Until someone comes into your life who you feel is special and has become important to you, be very selective about whom you introduce your children to.

How much time should pass before you introduce the new person in your life to your children? Unfortunately, there is no right answer to that question. The time-frame will be different for everyone, depending on the individual and the circumstances. You may know within the first four or five dates that this person is special and is in your life to stay. Or, it may take months before you feel confident that you are committed to each other.

Keep in mind that once they have met, your children will undoubtedly begin to bond with your new partner, maybe even develop a strong affection for them. Then, if the relationship comes to an untimely end, your children will suffer a sense of loss. By waiting to introduce your children to your partner until you feel quite sure of the relationship, you can avoid exposing your children to possible hurt. Until that time comes, there are lots of ways to spend time together without your children being involved.

Whatever you do, don't try to side-step the inconvenience of meeting outside of your home by having your date come over after the children are in bed. There are too many opportunities for disaster. The last thing you want is for your child to wake up and find you entertaining a stranger in the living room. It's not that you're doing something wrong -- you're not! It's just best to avoid subjecting your child to some pretty strong feelings of shock and betrayal.

When The Time Is Right

While it's best to wait to introduce your children to someone until you're sure they are special, it's all right to mention them by name, saying "I'm going out to dinner tonight with so and so," when you start seeing them on a regular basis. When it's time to introduce them, tell your children that this is someone you like very much and introduce the person as a good friend, rather than as your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Be prepared for your children to be unfriendly to your new friend at first. Although you see this person as having only wonderful qualities, your children may see him or her as a threat. It's easy to understand how they might object to sharing you with another person.

While it's important for your children to show respect and courtesy toward you and your date, it's even more important for you to listen to and understand their feelings. Keep the lines of communication with your children open, so they can ask questions or talk about their fears. Reassure your children that your love for them will never change, no matter who you date. Also reassure them that no one will ever replace their other parent and never, ever tell your children you are looking for a new mother or father for them. If you are divorced, they already have a mother or a father and they may wonder what will become of them. If you are widowed, your children's memory of their mother or father should always be respected and cherished for the special relationship it is.

First Encounters

The first time your children and your new partner spend time together, it should be in neutral territory, not in your (the children's) home. Your first impulse may be to invite your new love for a nice, cozy family dinner at your house, but this is not a good idea. It is also your children's house, and they may feel their territory is being invaded.

For their first time together, select an activity that your children enjoy. Roller skating, going to the beach or a playground, or visiting the zoo are a few ideas that might work for you. Whatever you decide to do, avoid strictly adult activities such as going to the symphony or dining at a formal restaurant. To improve the chances your children will react well to your new love, be sure they're as comfortable as possible in their surroundings. If their first experience together is a negative experience, it'll be harder to turn it into a positive experience the next time.

Overcoming Obstacles

It doesn't matter if your children are toddlers, teenagers, or adults, having a social life forces you to consider issues you'd never think about if you were dating without children. Whether it's baby-sitters, providing adequate supervision for older children, or upsetting your adult children's sensibilities, the challenges are there and must be dealt with.

If you have young children, your social life depends a lot on the availability of child care. Without someone to baby-sit, you can't go anywhere. Take an inventory of the people in your life who can provide this valuable service. Grandparents, teachers, older students who can be trusted, friends, neighbors, and baby-sitting services are all possible resources. Many people find that their best opportunity for dating comes during the times when the children are with their other parent. No matter whom you choose, don't put all your eggs in one basket.

It's very important to have several baby-sitters you trust and know your children feel comfortable with. That way, if you accept a date with someone, and your baby-sitter cancels, you'll have another one in the wings who can take over at a moment's notice.

Another factor to consider when you're dating with young children, is how long you can stay out. Before you had children, you could stay out as late as you wanted to. You could party all night and sleep all day, and the only person who would suffer would be you. Not any more. First of all, your baby-sitter probably has to be home by a certain time, but more importantly, you need your energy to be a good parent the next day.

While you may not be able to burn the midnight oil as you could in the past, it's still possible to have a wonderful time with your date and be fresh for your children the next day. It just takes a little planning and creativity. Whenever possible, do something together during the daytime or in the early evening. Meet right after work for an early dinner or movie. If you go to the theater, skip the after-theater supper or drinks. If you go dancing, go early and leave after the second set. While it may not be fashionable to arrive at the club right when the music starts, there are advantages. The floor is less crowded, it's easier to find a table, and the service is better. Even though you can't stay out late as you did before you had children, you can still have a fun and exciting date.

Dating when you have teenage children is much different than dating with young children. While they may not need a baby-sitter, they still need supervision, even if it's yours, applied in advance. Before you go out on a date, you and your teenager need to discuss his or her plans for the time you'll be gone. Will your teen be home, or at a friend's? Will the friend's parents be home? Will your teenager be going out on a date of his or her own? If your teen is going out, where will he or she be and when will he or she be home?

If you don't have one already, carrying a pager provides a tremendous feeling of comfort when you have children of any age. Knowing you can be reached no matter where you are gives you the freedom to enjoy whatever it is you're doing without worry or stress. If your children know they will be late coming home or if they should need you for any reason, they will be able to contact you easily.

Although dating when you have adult children is less complicated than dating with teenagers or young children, there still may be some issues you'll have to deal with. If you have lost a spouse, your adult children may have difficulty adjusting to the idea of you dating or becoming involved in a relationship. Although they may not be as outspoken as a young child might be, adult children can be just as hurt or resentful about a new step-parent as a five-year-old.

No matter how old they are, your children will have feelings about you dating, but you can't let them control your life. Let me remind you that you are responsible for your own happiness. You must not allow anyone, not even your children, to prevent you from having the happiness you deserve.

Take Action

While dating with children presents some challenges, learning to balance your responsibilities with fun is well worth the effort. The exercises below will help you develop a plan that will allow you to be a parent who dates, but one who does so wisely.

1. Before you can take care of your children's needs, you have to take care of yourself. In your journal, make a list of all the things you can do to take care of your physical and emotional needs. Your list could include such things as: taking a bubble bath, playing a game of golf, or spending an afternoon with a good friend.

2. Sometimes parents let guilt keep them from taking care of themselves. In your journal, list three things you've always wanted to do, but haven't because you would feel guilty. Then describe how you'd feel if you went ahead and did what you wanted to do and how your children would benefit.

3. The Internet and the personal ads are convenient ways to meet people when your life is very busy. Put together a personal ad and voice mail message that portray you as a sexy single, as well as a single parent.

4. The best places to meet single parents are places you'd take your children. In your journal, list as many of these places as you can think of.

5. Until you feel sure that the person you are dating is someone special, it's not a good idea to introduce them to your children. In your journal, list all the ways you can think
of to meet your date without having them come to your home or having your children meet them.

6. When you do decide your children and your new love interest should meet, it needs to be on neutral ground and somewhere your children will feel comfortable. In your journal, make a list of appropriate places to take your children on their first encounter with your new partner.

Remember, for your children to be happy, you have to be happy. Finding your perfect mate is a goal you can be proud of -- one that will benefit both you and your children. So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.


 This article was excerpted from:

Single No More, by Ellen Kreidman, Ph.D. ©1999.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Renaissance Books. www.renaissancebks.com

More info. or to order this book


Ellen KreidmanAbout The Author

Ellen Kreidman is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Light His Fire and Light Her Fire, and The 10-Second Kiss. Her infomercials have consistently been at the top of the Jordan Whitney Program Rankings since 1996. She has made appearances on Oprah, Sally Jessy Raphael, Montel Williams, Maury Povich, Leeza, Geraldo, The View, and others. She resides in Southern California. Visait her website at www.lightyourfire.com



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