5 Things Not To Do When You Are Dating a Single Parent

Photo by  Sai De Silva  on  Unsplash

Being a single parent is hard enough. Whether from the start, via divorce, or some other scenario, eventually you will start thinking about having a partner.

The first time you think about dating again, it sounds exciting. Until you try it. Then you never want to do it again.

Then you do it again. When you can. Because your kids and all. But they don’t get it. This parenting paradox. How you actually have to take care of your children. And be responsible for their well being. So it ends.

Sometimes they get it. Until they don’t. Or until it’s just too much to manage for you. Because you already have kids. And don’t want to manage the emotions of another human. An adult one. Who doesn’t get what it takes to do this job.

Have you been here? I have been. On both sides.

My Single Parent Backstory

I got divorced when my kids were 4 and 2. Now they are 17 and 15. I’ve suffered through dating with kids for 13 years now. It hasn’t been all bad. There were some nice relationships. But there were several other dating scenarios that didn’t work because I was a single parent. And because I was emotionally unavailable.

My ex is in the picture. She always has been. We share custody 50/50 and always have. We live near each other so the kids spend one week with me and then one week with her. That’s the schedule. So for dating it would appear that this arrangement could be advantageous. If you actually want to date.

If you’ve read anything I have written about being a father, you already know what it means to me. Everything. So some of the rigors of dating that I have encountered have been self-imposed. But I am ok with that. Maybe that’s the problem.

I’ve also made a lot of mistakes in relationships. In 13 years my kids have met a fair amount of women, at all stages of relationships. I went from “you are never meeting my kids” to “my kids are fine with meeting people” and everywhere in between. I repeat. I have made a lot of mistakes in relationships.

This list is to help those who are dating single parents to understand how best to support them and nurture the relationship the right way. But also to help single parents avoid some of the mistakes I have made.

1. Don’t Ask To Meet Their Kid(s)

Ask questions about their kids. Be interested in what their kids would be like. Look at photos if you are shown them. But please, don’t ask to meet their kids before they bring it up.

It’s a very difficult thing for a lot of single parents. Especially because single parents date on a variety of timelines. Right after a divorce, when separated, some time after a death. And the timeline is theirs. It’s for them to bring up. For them to decide. Without pressure.

Being a single parent is pressure enough. Even if it’s Wednesday nights and every other weekend. Parenting is 24/7 whether you live in the house with your kids all the time or not. As long as you are an involved parent who cares.

Too many of us (raises hand) have done it too early. Only to realize we made a huge mistake and had to undo what we had done. No judgments. I’ve done it. More than once.

It’s a big deal for kids. No matter how well adjusted we think they are as parents. It’s a big f*cking deal. And you should be really sure that this person is a nice person before you introduce them to your kid(s). And that there is potential for them to be around for a while.

You aren’t Kreskin. We’ve all been fooled. Hoodwinked. It happens. So wait longer. Be more sure. And if you don’t have kids, wait until you receive an invite before bringing it up.

“There’s a really unique relationship between a single parent and their child. Marriages so easily break up. There’s kind of this temporary deal about marriages. That’s one of the things that makes it stressful, and that’s something that’s nonexistent in a parent-child relationship.” — Jeremy Sisto

2. Don’t Ask Them If They Can Go Out On a Kid Night

Sh*t happens on a kid night. (A kid night is a night when you have your kids with you as a single parent) Five minutes before the date, it could get cancelled. For any number of reasons.

  • Little Timmy just shat himself and threw it on her dress.

  • Penelope, the sweet-faced angel, decided to hold her breath because he was leaving.

  • Emma, a tween, decided to run out of the house because she promised to watch Modern Family with her sometime. And sometime is right f*cking now when she is about to leave for your date.

  • Bobby, an outright a**hole of a child (seriously, stay away from this one), is holding the cat over the balcony until he agrees to call off your date.

This is what happens. Every. Single. Time. A single parent is about to go out on a date. And sometimes we just make it up because we don’t want to go. This is a top 3 perk to being a single parent.

This is harder for single parents who have primary custody or full custody, but I am hoping there is some sort of a babysitter involved in those lives or else sh*t is going to get crazy real quick anyway. Because we all need a break.

But just don’t do this. Don’t encourage them to get a babysitter. Let them decide when and if that’s ok. You don’t even need to know the schedule. Because you aren’t butting into that too early, right?

3. Don’t Ever Think They Will Put You Before Their Kid(s)

Ever. Do you hear me? Ever. You will never come before their kids. Never. Chew on that for a second. If you can’t handle that, stay away. This isn’t for you.

I had a great girlfriend a number of years ago. I think we were in love. Although now I see love differently so maybe not as much as I thought. But it was a nice relationship. She had met my kids and was great with them. But it was long-distance so it wasn’t very often that she would see them.

After about eight months she asked me a question:

“What if your kids had a recital on the same night that I had an event I wanted us to go to? Which would you go to?”

We broke up within a week. Because, to me, that was a question that had all the answers for me. Maybe everyone won’t feel like this. But if you are suitor of a single parent, you need to keep this in mind.

It’s hard enough being on our own with our kids. We can’t worry that you will want priority over them. Because they are f*cking kids. There will be time for adult stuff. But kids don’t take care of themselves. We take care of them. It’s our calling in life.

4. Don’t Give Them Parenting Advice…Ever

This is like a double ever. Ever ever. Never ever ever do this. If you are also a single parent, you may be asked your opinion one day. Say these words:

“Parenting is a very personal thing and I know you are a great parent. If you want to know what I do with my kid(s), I am happy to share it. But I know that you know your kid(s).”

Because you can’t win. Even if you are also a great parent. Even if you are living together. You aren’t their mom. You aren’t their dad. And it takes a very long time and a lot of personal attention to make it ok for you to give advice on parenting to a single parent. Even if you are better at it.

Let us fail in front of you. Let us be flabbergasted that our kid just called you a jackhole and then threw a vase on the ground. Just don’t give us advice. Especially not during an episode of perceived parental failure. If you do, run for the f*cking hills. You should have listened to me.

If you aren’t a parent, no offense, just don’t talk about parenting like you know. It’s not your place. You may think you know, but you don’t. Being an aunt or an uncle isn’t the same as being a parent. You will know someday. But if you don’t know now, please don’t try to give advice. It will backfire. In explosive fashion.

“We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.” — Henry Ward Beecher

5. Don’t Be Jealous of Their Kid(s)

I know this one sounds like a no-brainer, but it happens. A lot. Part of it is a natural reaction to seeing your new partner like and love someone way more than you. I get it. But it’s a kid. Not a third party in a polyamorous relationship. Get over yourself.

Their kid(s) will get more attention than you. Their kid(s) will be more important than you. That’s the way it is when you date a single parent. If you aren’t up for the task, don’t do it. If you aren’t sure you can handle it, don’t do it. It’s not for everyone.

But it’s what we are. It’s what we have. And we are the jugglers. Of all the balls in the f*cking world sometimes. Please don’t add another ball to juggle, a ball to worry about.

Jealousy is a bad look either way.

All It Really Takes is Respect for Parenthood

In the end, all you need to have in you to be a good partner to a single parent is a healthy respect for parenthood. Whether you understand it or not, you must respect that it’s the most important thing to us.

We live and die by it. We would live and die for it.

Respect that. Understand that.