Parenting can be both an exhausting and rewarding experience. As parents we teach and nurture our children, imparting values and knowledge that will help them grow into the wonderful human beings they are meant to be. There are days when we wonder if our kids could really drive us crazy, and then there are days when we know that we would be lost without them.

Parenting is challenging all on its own, some of us have the additional obstacle of parenting while single. A parent can be single for a plethora of reasons: their partner passed away; divorce; separation; or they chose to become a parent on their own (adoption, In vitro, surrogacy, etc.). Dating while juggling the responsibilities of being a single parent can seem overwhelming and scary and at the same time, can be rewarding for the parent and their children.

Balancing Kids and Personal Life

There is no doubt that children take a significant amount of time and energy to raise. We may feel that we don’t have needs outside of raising healthy and happy children. Friends and family (as well as society and social media outlets) may share well meaning statements about parenting that have inadvertently shamed us into ignoring our own desires.

As a single parent and a therapist, I’m here to tell you that taking care of yourself doesn’t take away from your ability to be an amazing parent. Our personal lives become that much more important as we learn to balance the needs of our children and our individual needs. When able to practice self-care via meeting our own needs, we model this to our children. Dating as a single parent certainly doesn’t make you a “bad” parent. Trust me, your children want a parent who is happy, connected, and who is pursuing their own goals. Parenting is about the quality of time spent together, not necessarily the quantity of time.

Contemplating and Deciding to Date

For some of us the last time we dated was during our teenage years or early adulthood and it may have felt much easier. Sure we felt a little nervous and didn’t really know what we were doing, we were looking for someone to have fun with who we enjoyed being around.

As single parents, we are more careful with our time, our resources, and ourselves. We have years of lived experience that has brought a sense of caution about who we bring into our lives. All kinds of questions run through our minds. Is this person safe? Will they meet my children and then ghost? Will my children like them? Will this person parent too little or too much? Can I see a future with this person? Am I a good parent? All of these are legitimate concerns to have as a single parent who is getting back into the world of dating.

Taking a step back to evaluate the “whys” and “whats” when deciding to date can be beneficial. Why do you want to date now instead of later? What am I looking for in a partner and what am I trying to achieve by dating?

So, how do you know if you’re ready to start dating? With any question related to “knowing when you’re ready” there is no perfect answer. It’s more about personal reflection and evaluation of your circumstances. For example, deciding to date due to the death of a partner is going to look different than deciding to date after experiencing a divorce. Jumping into dating after major life events can mean we didn’t take the time to focus on our individual needs. Taking time to evaluate ourselves can strengthen our ability to look for and find suitable partners in the future, and not just settle for a partner that is quick and easy.

Ultimately, dating is most fulfilling when we are mentally and emotionally healthy and intuitively feel ready for all of the challenges and successes that come along with the journey.

Making Dating Successful

Navigating the world of dating has its challenges but keeping a few tips and tricks in mind can help to set you and your children up for success.

Time Is Valuable: Take a break if you need to before getting back into dating. Take time to heal and evaluate yourself, your family, and your needs. Pace yourself when it comes to dating and remember to not rush when choosing someone to allow into your life.

Put in the Effort: Dating can be hard-work. Putting in the effort to grow individually can lead to feeling more confident when dating and a greater ability to seek a partner who is equally committed to their own growth.

Know What You Want: Sit down and write out what you are looking for in a partner and in a potential new family member. Identifying this ahead of time can help you separate wants from needs, keep you on track with a concrete plan, and allow you the space to explore what you’re looking for before becoming attached to anyone new.

Be Honest About Your Family: Be upfront and honest about the fact that you are a parent. Parenting and especially step-parenting isn’t for everyone. It can feel unfair and even judgmental to know that some people may avoid dating single parents, but it’s actually good that these people know their individual needs. Anyone who turns you down because of your kids, is letting you know they aren’t a good fit for you.

Be Realistic: Be realistic with the time and effort you are going to need to invest in dating as well as your children. Approach dating knowing that expectations about finding a perfect match are not as helpful as having a realistic goal of finding a healthy partner who is a suitable fit for you and your family.

Find A Balance: Know what your limits are ahead of time and continuously re-evaluate your time to ensure you are focusing on all of your priorities.

Don’t Take Things Too Seriously: Try to have fun and appreciate yourself and the process. Remember the freeness of dating as a teenager? Embody that fun and free spirit when dating as a single parent. This doesn’t mean you lose sight of your goals, it allows you to be in the moment and open to the possibilities. Know that you will get rejected, judged, ghosted, and turned down. If you appreciate the journey you can easily find meaning in even the bad experiences.

Watch For Deal Breakers: Keep an open mind when dating while listening to your instincts. Some examples of deal breakers may include: lying; abusive behavior or mistreatment of you, your children, or others; ignoring your children or expecting you to ignore your children; pushing to meet your children before you’re ready; telling you how to parent or ignoring your parenting rules; and your children aren’t comfortable around them. Check-in with yourself and your children to see what their opinions are of potential partners.

Recognizing your own need and getting support

Dating as a single parent can feel like too much effort to be worth it. At the same time, recognizing and meeting your romantic needs as an individual can lead to a more fulfilling life. Whether someone chooses to date while raising their children or chooses to wait until their children are grown, the decision comes down to evaluating your wants and needs along with the impact this may have on your family.