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I am a single mom. If you've read any of my other articles, you already know this. After I had my daughter, dating was put on the back burner... for a long time. It never came first. Sure, there were dates, a couple repeat dates, but no one lasted long enough to actually matter in the long run. Perhaps that's my fault: I didn't look at any of them as serious relationships. I didn't trust them and I didn't try to trust them. Most importantly, I never even let them try to be near my daughter or any of my family. I made a rule early on that no one was allowed to be truly around my daughter until we had been dating for at least three months. Which is a good rule in some situations. No one I dated made it past the first month. I gave up quickly and I was not willing to compromise on anything. I'm sorry. Kind of.
Recently, I started dating. It was kind of an accident. It's kind of complicated. He already knew my daughter. We work together (which breaks another one of my rules) and I bring my daughter to work with me a lot, so before anything had even begun to develop between us, he had already met my daughter, played with her, and spent time in small quarters with her and I. When we started dating, I didn't instantly think of this. I thought of following my usual rule. Then I brought her to work with me. I quickly become distracted at work, but all my co-workers know her and play with her. While it's not the most kid-friendly environment, I've never worried that she would get hurt because I have the best co-workers. When I got distracted by work this time though, my attention quickly focused back when I looked up to see him playing hide-and-seek with my daughter. She was having a blast and laughing her face off. Obviously, I couldn't tear her away from him. You can't explain to a two-year old that suddenly they aren't allowed to play with someone they've been playing with for awhile now, but only for a few months. And I hadn't told him about my rule yet. To be honest, I hadn't even thought of telling him about my rule.
Later that night, when she was asleep, and him and I were alone, I had struggled to tell him that I didn't want him to have a close personal relationship with her yet. I am not often at a loss for words... but I was at a loss for words. He understood though. I admitted that I was ready to break my rule—with conditions. His interactions with her at my house had to be limited. At work, there would be free reign, as that is mutual ground and he will see her there whether or not we are together. The most reassuring thing he told me as I struggled again to find words, and struggled to create new rules was, "I'll follow your lead. Whatever you're comfortable with." He also pointed out that he eventually thought he should build a relationship with her, too, down the road. That was reassuring, but more reassuring that he saw the relationship going that far.
There are plenty of books for dating as a single parent. There are a million different blogs and websites that will tell you you're doing everything wrong and damaging your kid for life. But a good friend recently pointed out to me that if I make all these rules and put up all these barriers when it comes to my dating life, people will eventually stop trying to get in. It's okay to have rules and protect your kids, but make sure you're not stopping yourself from dating and venturing out to see if you can find that special someone. I think the most important rule for dating with children is to trust your gut. No one knows your kids or how they're going to feel better than you do, and if you're worried about them getting too attached to someone, maybe it's because you already know it's not going to work out. I think I'm a little guilty of that. Maybe that's why I shoved everyone away so quickly when they asked about meeting my daughter.
I think it's also important to remember that if you're comfortable breaking your rules, and your kid is comfortable breaking your rules, maybe it's okay to break your rules. I've already broken the rules I made and I kind of love it. It scares the living hell out of me that she sees him around the house now, but I'm also intrigued to watch how she acts around him and interacts with him. I should also mention that I'm not scared of her getting attached and him disappearing. For some reason, I have a good feeling that even things don't wind up working out in the long run, he won't just vanish from her life with no explanation. I obviously have no way of being sure of this and I can't predict what the future holds (if there is a future) for us. But right now I'm trusting my gut. I'm trusting the instincts I gained watching my father date when I was the child of a single parent.
I could write a trilogy on dating as a single parent and it still wouldn't have a set "this is how you do it successfully without messing up your kid" section. There are a lot of "don'ts" in the single parent dating world, but there is no exact formula to it. By this point, trusting your gut is something you've probably had to do as a parent, maybe not in the dating world, but the same status quo applies. Take deep breaths and if something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.