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Common Sense Dating for Single Parents

By Diane C. Shearer, M.A., CFLE

Statistically, 75-85 percent of divorced parents remarry within five years after the divorce. That means dating is a fact that nearly all single parents will face, which can be a scary prospect, especially for those who had long-term marriages. Dating partners in the 30+ age group are likely to have children and to have had failed marriages or broken relationships in their past. Single parents, then, will be dating people who bring a variety of emotional and relationship histories that can significantly affect the attempt to blend families successfully. To avoid costly relationship mistakes that can negatively affect children, single parents should consider these three rules:

1. Spend time in self-exploration. The divorce rate for second marriages is over 60 percent and more than 70 percent for third marriages, which is largely due to the fact that people jump from the frying pan into the fire, so to speak. They choose future partners based on the same old self-dynamics that prompted former poor choices. In other words, if you want to change your choice of partners in the future, you must change the chooser. This requires you to look at past patterns in relationships. Do you always seem to choose partners who can't make good decisions? Or maybe every dating or marital partner you've had engaged in some sort of addictive behavior, such as alcoholism or drug abuse. What about controlling and passive personalities? Are you always the one in control or the one being controlled? All of these patterns need to be explored so that you can recognize when you are once again getting involved in an unhealthy pattern.

We tend to choose our romantic partners based on our own self-esteem issues. We rarely choose someone whose self-esteem seems to be higher than ours because they will be more likely to reject us. So, by nature, we choose those on a lower level, who aren't always the best choices. Therefore, it is very important to take time to raise your self-esteem level by following the above suggested points. Stay away from dating for awhile until you get healthier and discover some important strengths about yourself. Then you will find that those who are attracted to you will be more like you - and hopefully just as healthy! Find a good family counselor or therapist who can help you explore these issues objectively. Your health insurance or employee assistance plan may have options for you to get no- or low-cost counseling services. At the very least, find some good self-help books to read or join a divorce recovery or single parents group where you can learn more about yourself.

2. Avoid involving your kids in your dating life. Kids who have endured the loss of divorce will probably experience a process of grieving, which can take some time. Allow your children to grieve before introducing any complications, such as new partners, into the picture. Most initial relationships after a divorce or break-up (including marital affairs) are transitional, which means they give people the courage to leave their former relationships but are not necessarily strong enough to sustain relationship longevity. If in your excitement you introduce your kids to your new love interest, and they bond in some important way, there is a good chance your kids will have to say goodbye to yet one more significant adult in their lives - hence another process of grieving will begin. If kids experience this multiple times, they are likely to have trust issues in their own adult relationships because they will have learned that people who seem to care for them always end up leaving.

Date when your kids are visiting the other parent or get a sitter and request to meet your date at his or her residence or at a restaurant or other meeting place. It is okay for your kids to know you are dating, but avoid giving too many details. Kids, especially in the elementary-school age group, may not like the idea that you are dating because they may fear losing you or your attention to this other adult in your life. If they know you are dating, be sure to give them lots of reassurance that no matter who is in your life, they will never lose you and you will always be there for them and make special time for them. Also inform your dating partners that your kids are top priority in your life and that you expect to be able to have days and weekends alone with them. If they complain about this or become too possessive, cross them off your dating list and go on to the next one. Single parents come with packed bags, called children, and your dating partners must be able to adjust to that fact or move on.

3. Don't try to replace your child's other parent. You may regret until the day you die that you chose to have children with your ex-partner. However, your children don't feel that way. They feel very much a part of both parents and will always hope and pray that their other parent will be the best he or she can be. Therefore, the goal of your dating should not be to choose a better father or mother this time around. Your children will eventually leave the nest as adults, and if you have chosen a partner simply because of their parenting prowess, you may find that your marital relationship will be lacking in many ways. Instead, choose a partner based on your own personal desires and needs. Once you have done some important self-exploration to recognize your responsibility and part in past relationship failures, it will be time to make a list of what is important to you in a future relationship. Decide what you will not compromise on and what you may need as a healthy complement to yourself. Be sure to consider that although opposites do attract, a certain number of commonalities are necessary to feel truly connected to another person. Life with your total opposite may be exciting at times, but more often than not, it can be a lonely existence.

A good rule of thumb for single parent dating is this: If your dating partner does not enhance the quality of your family's life, keep it casual and don't get too close. Anyone who causes you additional pain, stress, financial burden or confusion is not worth marrying. Single parenting is a difficult and time-consuming job. It is better to stay unmarried and raise your kids in an environment you can healthily control than to bring someone into their lives who may put you and them at risk. Date carefully and choose carefully. And, oh yeah, don't forget to have a good time!

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Diane Chambers Shearer is a family counselor, divorce mediator, and parent educator in Atlanta, Georgia. She is author of Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families (Fairview Press, 1997) and publishes The Peaceful Co-Parent, a quarterly newsletter for divorce parents. For ordering information, visit her web site at www.nofight.com

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