Navigating the dating world can be challenging when you’re a single parent. I remember speaking with a guy friend who’s raising three children on his own, and he found it interesting that some of the women he dated were immediately inquiring about meeting his children. He told me that one woman in particular felt offended when he said his kids were "off limits” during the beginning stages of dating. Although my friend and I don’t agree on much, we did agree on that.
There are a couple of rules of thumb I tend to follow when it comes to dating and introducing your child to a significant other.
1. Are we just dating, or is this a real, committed relationship?
The line between dating and a committed relationship differs among people. If we’re just casually grabbing a bite to eat or a movie every now and then, I consider that dating. That’s not to say that there has to be a wedding date set and invitations sent out before someone meets a child. But relationships take trust and time, and introducing someone to your child shouldn’t be done casually. Not only can it be confusing, it can also send the wrong message. A good rule is to gradually make mention of the person you’re dating in conversation with your child, so it can be an idea he or she can ease into, instead of just popping up and introducing them suddenly.
Michelle Y. Talbert, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, author and talk show host, recalled a conversation she had with her now adult son. “My son is 24 and said this summer, 'Mom, I've met more romantic interests for you in the past year than in my entire childhood.' " Talbert was single from the time her son was 2 until he was 15 years old. She stated that she only introduced him to two romantic interests, and one of them she later married. Although Talbert says she did have guys around, she wasn’t demonstrative in front of her kids because she didn’t want to confuse them.
2. Discuss it with your ex and your current partner.
My friend always made it a point to discuss with his ex-wife with the women he dated and the ones he decided he would take to the next level. Even before the woman met his children, she met his ex-wife. A parent, although not in the household, still should be kept in the loop when it comes to the people interacting with their children.
It’s also a good idea to inform the person you’re dating of your “rules” in the beginning. Be up front about your expectations and the rules you have as a single parent. If you’re not the type to have guests sleep over or just over because of your children, explain that. Also, if the person you’re dating happens to have children, you should probably both be on the same page when it comes to making the first introductions.
3. Prepare yourself for the “Eww, I don’t like him/her” reactions.
Truth of the matter is that you can do everything you consider right when it comes to making the initial introductions. You’ve waited until you’re in a committed relationship. You’ve talked it over with your partner. Your child’s other parent gave your new boyfriend/girlfriend the seal of approval. But there could come the time when after spending a day with the new person in your life, your child doesn’t like that person. Or even worse, your significant other really isn’t too fond of your kid.
What do you do now?
Ask yourself a question. Is the person worth keeping around your child? Even after the time you’ve invested? It definitely makes sense to give both of them time to warm up, because not all connections are going to happen instantly. Don’t get discouraged if they’re not getting along, but don’t ignore the issues your child may have with the person you’re dating.
My mother had this issue with my siblings and me. She was involved in a long-term relationship with one man after her divorce. To say we couldn’t stand him would be an understatement. There were times when just being around him would work our nerves. We didn’t go as far to break them up, but we definitely hoped the relationship would run its course. And eventually it did. Unfortunately we knew that if we would have said to her, “We told you so,” it would have been a recipe for disaster.
Dating and being a single parent isn’t going to be easy to juggle, and it’s also not a necessary task. Some people choose to forgo dating altogether until their children are out of their house, and that’s completely fine. Whatever decisions you make as a parent when it comes to dating don't only depend on your own wants and desires, but also your children’s.
If you're a single parent and dating, when do you think it’s appropriate to introduce your child to the person with whom you're involved?
Yesha Callahan is a full-time writer and single mother living in Columbia, Md. She has written for BlogHer, Jezebel and The Grio and has been seen on HuffPost Live and TV One’s NewsOne Now With Roland Martin. She is currently the managing editor of Clutch magazine and is a former comedy and politics writer for BET’s Don’t Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes.