Hoping your new love interest gets along with your cat is one thing. But for single parents looking to blend not just lives (and pets) but entire families, dating takes on an entirely new level of complexity. You have more than your own current and future well-being to think about; you have the current and future well-being of your child(ren) to think about as well.
With that in mind, here are six important dating guidelines for the single parent:
Don’t post information about your children on your dating profile. This includes photos of you with your children, or information about your children including names, ages, or where they go to school. As a single parent, you know that your child’s safety is your highest priority. It is simply unwise, and unnecessary, to divulge information about your kids. Respecting your children’s privacy is important for a number of reasons, safety being one of them.
Don’t introduce someone to your child(ren) until the relationship is getting serious. When a dating relationship doesn’t work out, the breakup can actually be harder on children than the parent. You can protect your children from needless heartache and loss by not incorporating casual dating partners into their lives. Naturally, keeping your children and your dates from crossing paths isn’t always 100 percent possible or even advisable, but do seek to shield your children as much as possible from the hurt or disillusionment that can come from bonding with people who may not play a long-term role in your life and in the life of your children.
Don’t rush into anything. Rushing into a new relationship is not advisable under any circumstances and doubly so when there are children involved. Hurrying into a relationship increases the odds of an ensuing breakup or—even worse—NOT breaking up and finding yourself married to the wrong person. This not only wreaks havoc and heartache in your life, but in your children’s lives as well.
Don’t allow your new partner to discipline your children. The temptation may be to try to fit the person you’re dating into the role of the missing parent in your family. Don’t do it! Children rarely respond well to parental discipline from people outside the family, plus it can leave your child exposed to potential abuse. Even if you marry someone, the dynamics of a stepparent/stepchild relationship are very different from those of a parent/child relationship. If you are in a serious relationship with someone, read books or attend counseling together to learn how to engage your children in a healthy stepparent relationship.
Don’t model behavior you wouldn’t want your child to emulate in their own dating relationships. Is the physical aspect of your new relationships becoming “too much too soon”? Are you putting up with disrespect or mistreatment from someone you’re dating? Make sure your children see you engage with the opposite sex in ways that are healthy and also in line with your moral or religious beliefs.
As you date, it’s also a great opportunity for you to model “house rules” you expect your kids to follow when they are old enough to date. For example, if you tell your teenage daughter she’s not allowed to hang out in her bedroom with boys, be prepared to follow the same rule in your own dating life. Granted, parents are exempt from many of the rules they establish for their kids. Nevertheless, helping your children make wise choices and establish healthy boundaries in their own dating relationships is best served when they’ve seen you doing the same.
Don’t ask your children to like people who are toxic in any way. Sometimes people who are falling in love—or who want desperately to fall in love—overlook bad behavior in someone they’re dating, hoping the objectionable actions or attitudes will eventually go away. It probably won’t. In the meantime, children are exposed to that same bad behavior. If someone you’re dating is critical, unreliable, untrustworthy, angry, volatile, or narcissistic—and especially when you wonder if the person is capable of hurting you or your children—it’s best to end the relationship. Don’t expose your children to this person any longer. And especially don’t ask your children to like this person.
Dating has its complexities in every stage of life, and dating while raising children brings added complications. By seeking out emotionally healthy dating partners, taking your time to develop a stable relationship, then taking your time integrating that person into the lives of your children, single parents can avoid many pitfalls and enjoy more of the blessings that come with developing a relationship with someone special.
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