I was flipping through the channels the other day and I got sucked into one of those sappy (yet addictive!) Lifetime movies in which an attractive woman finds herself the single mother of two adorable, small children after her husband has died tragically (or ran off with the town tramp).
The first thing I wondered was how a woman living alone with two young kids managed the upkeep on her Heather Locklear-esque blonde highlights. (For some reason they never cut to the scene where her kids were emptying out bottles of nail polish and shredding magazines in the waiting room while their foil-covered mother cowered in embarrassment under a dryer.) The second thing I noticed was that she had no problem at all meeting men in chance encounters at funerals, the gas station or at her sister's place of business (all of whom, of course, were more than delighted to date a single mom). And last, the children (who during daylight hours were the center of Mom's universe) conveniently vaporized after sunset, so as not to spoil her big, but unplanned (because that would be too trampy) night of romance.
As a tear-jerking diversion from reality and a plausible excuse to eat frozen cookie dough right out of the tube, such movies are top-notch. But, as any single parent will tell you, the reality of dating is quite a bit different. Single parents frequently feel like dowdy, second-class daters simply because they have children. Many single women believe they can't compete for the really great men because most men won't want a woman with somebody else's children, and they don't typically have the time or money to spend on the elaborate clothes/hair/makeup routines of their childless counterparts. Single fathers frequently share the same feelings, with the additional burden of no longer being a great provider. One single dad told me, "I've got a great job, but once you suck out the expenses for two complete households, I might as well be flipping burgers."
Add to that the date-scheduling challenge (every other weekend and alternate Tuesdays) of custody arrangements, having to cancel at the last minute because a babysitter doesn't show, and being physically and emotionally spent (and possibly covered in cheerios) before your date has even begun.
The good news for recently divorced women is that the odds of meeting someone new are actually in your favor. The Census Bureau estimates that as of 2010, there are approximately 1 million more men than women in the 25-44 age range. (And women over 44 will benefit from the surplus as well.)
And, while juggling dating and daycare may not be as easy as trolling the bars in your carefree youth, it can be done and it can be fun.
Parent-Friendly Dating Options
After drive-thru and DVD players in the car, the greatest boon to busy single parents is online dating. Why? You can search out Mr. or Ms. Fabulous at 2 am, weed out anybody who's not kid-friendly, and flirt a little (or a lot) while your offspring are tucked safely in their beds. You can test the waters via email before you commit to an actual night out. Plus, thanks to your fabulous date-ready photo, no one ever needs to know that you're flirting away in a ketchup-stained shirt and bunny slippers.
Other parent-friendly options? Parents Without Partners offers social events for single moms and dads, and fish-in-the-barrel approaches like speed dating offer a quick way to meet lots of potential dates in one swift evening.
Also, try to keep an open mind about Saturday date night -- sometimes it's easier to get away for lattes or lunch during the week.
Dating Advice for Single Parents
Don't make your date feel like you've had to go to the ends of the earth just to go to dinner with him. Droning on and on about how tough it is to find a good babysitter, or how your daughter screamed for thirty-eight straight minutes before you left is not going to give your date the impression that he's worth the effort, instead he'll think that getting you out of the house for date number two would just be too much work.
Don't spend the entire date talking about your kids. Even though they're really amazing, and one of them recently tested in the ninety-ninth percentile for giftedness. For a first date, names and ages only. After that you can add five minutes of kid talk each date. (That's five minutes on the second date, ten minutes on the third date, etc.) When you get to thirty minutes, stop.
Don't introduce your kids to your date too early. That Brady Bunch fantasy you have about happy adventures with a ready-made family unit exists only in your head (and occasionally, in repeats on Nickelodeon). Don't set up a family meeting until you've been in an exclusive relationship for at least a couple of months. A parade of disappearing uncles is just too traumatic.
Tips for Dating a Single Parent
Kids and their parents are a package deal, so if you're not interested in the entire family, keep moving.
Kris, a single mom and PR exec says, "Scheduling a date can be a problem -- if someone wants to ask me out, I'll need to know about a week in advance to secure a babysitter."
Finally, if you can't roll with last-minute schedule changes, covert sleepovers that rival CIA missions, and more than a few rounds at Chuck E. Cheese, don't take the plunge.
And, if you are a single parent, give yourself a break. Remember it's your experience with your kids that has made you into the person you are today: Someone who is capable of great love. Someone who knows the meaning of responsibility. Someone who is making a contribution to the world. In other words, a great catch.
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