Why Single Moms Don't Date
More than one-fourth of the 42 million U.S. households with children are headed by a single parent, according to U.S. census data. Of those single-parent households, 83 percent, or more than 9 million, are headed by single moms.
While single moms might want to start new romantic relationships, many are so busy taking care of their kids’ needs that dating gets put off. “We’re not designed to be by ourselves 24/7,” says Allison O’Connor, founder of SingleMindedWomen.com.
“Moms have to have a life too,” says D’Arcy Lyness, PhD, behavioral health editor at Wilmington, DE-based KidsHealth.org. “It’s healthy to think of your own needs, and to balance them with those of your family.”
A barrier to dating is many moms’ fear of how their kids will react. Dr. Lyness says kids’ reactions vary, and can include:
- Curiosity and excitement about the new person in Mom’s life
- Fear of a perceived imminent change
- Jealousy of Mom’s time and attention
- Conflicted feelings, such as loyalty to Dad or wishing Mom and Dad would get back together
- Happiness for Mom, with no negative reaction.
Don’t worry if the kids don’t react strongly; it’s probably better that they seem to take it in stride, says Dr. Lyness. The process likely feels like a bigger deal to Mom than to the kids.“Kids do have feelings, thoughts and reactions to our relationships, so ask them about their feelings,” she suggests. Only then will you know how to respond.
Talk to your kids in terms they can understand, advises Jay Schmulowitz, PhD, a Stratford, NJ psychologist. “Share what’s age-appropriate and what they’re emotionally ready to handle,” he says.
Internet dating can be convenient for single moms, because they often find themselves exhausted and without much spare time. But be cautious. People completing online profiles can easily alter details, from what they look like to the number of kids they have, and profiles only contain basic information and statements.
“Single moms don’t have the time and energy to play games. You have to be real,” says relationships expert Josie Brown. If you find someone online who interests you, “Try to meet the person early on rather than corresponding back and forth and building a relationship with someone that might not be genuine,” advises Dr. Schmulowitz.
“Online dating doesn’t work for everyone,” warns Brown. Traditional ways of meeting people, through friends and other networks, still work. Jennifer, a remarried mom of three from Downingtown, PA, agrees with this. She began to date after she separated from her first husband, when her daughter was age 4. She tried online dating, but found “quantity, not quality.” Instead, she recommends relying on the people you already know to introduce you to someone new.
Meeting the Kids
Jennifer was understandably cautious about introducing someone new to her 4-year old, and waited until the relationship was a few months old. After making introductions, “always trust your kids’ instincts,” she advises. Kids sense if a guy is genuine. “Once they see that Mom’s happy, they’re okay,” she says.
Experts tend to agree with Jennifer’s caution in introducing men to the kids. Only if a relationship becomes serious should the children be exposed to the new man, advises Dr. Schmulowitz. If children develop a bond with someone who might not become permanent in their lives, it could set up a new loss. Dating single moms should be aware of their kids’ expectations and keep them informed.
Children are watching as Mom undertakes new relationships. “Children will mimic their parents’ dating patterns,” says O’Connor. Dr. Lyness says dating provides the opportunity to model good relationship behavior and to talk with the children about preferences in a relationship.
Most experts agree that it’s a good idea for single moms to seek adult companionship. “Putting your life on hold is not a healthy lifestyle choice,” says O’Connor. Despite the fear that dating will create havoc in the children’s lives, meeting someone new could be worth the risk. As Jennifer puts it, “You’re not going to find Mr. Right if you’re sitting around crying about Mr. Wrong.”
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.