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WHEN YOU'RE a single parent, your child easily becomes your whole world, whether you’re the only parent in their life or you're sharing custody of them. It can be an incredible bond that can benefit both parent and child as you help them make their way through the world. However, while being a parent is undoubtedly a massive part of your identity, it doesn’t remove your individual personhood and need for adult interaction and potential companionship. Dating as a single parent involves balancing these two parts of yourself—a tricky act!—and potentially seeing if they can intertwine down the road. If you want to date as a single parent, it's normal to go through a host of concerns: How much do you share with your kids? Are you being selfish by taking time to find love? (You're not, for the record.) It is entirely doable to comfortably date while also keeping your child’s needs in mind and not neglecting your time with them. But don't just take it from us. We spoke with eight leading experts—from a licensed marriage and family therapist to a popular dating app’s relationship expert—to get their best advice for dating as a single parent. It’s hard to navigate putting yourself out there, but with the right guidance, it can turn into something magical.
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On How Fast You Should Move Expert: Joni Ogle, CSAT, a licensed clinical social worker and the CEO of The Heights Treatment. All single parents know dating isn’t only going to impact their lives, but also that of their children. For your own well-being—and importantly, that of any children involved—it’s good to take things slow. Instead of diving head first into a serious relationship, Ogle recommends spending time getting to know each other. Are they compatible with you? Do they fit into your and your children’s lifestyle? “Start with casual dating and then progress to more serious relationships as you get to know someone better,” Ogle says. On Telling Your Dates and Your Kids Datingxp About Each Other Expert: Christene Lozano, LMFT, a certified sex therapist and a certified sex addiction therapist. One of the challenging and complicated parts of dating as a single parent is determining when to tell potential partners and your children about each other. On the dating end, rip the Band-Aid off by putting your status as a parent in your dating profile or telling someone on the first date. While waiting until a few dates in may be tempting, Lozano cautions against it. “The sooner you share it, the more time you and the other person can save if that happens to be a non-negotiable for them,” she explains. “If you are afraid of ‘scaring them away’ by having a child, that partner may not be the best fit for you if you’re looking for a long-term partner to share a life with.” However, telling the person you’re dating about your child early on doesn’t mean they should meet immediately. Instead, be thoughtful about who enters your child’s life. Meeting multiple people you're dating may confuse or upset your child, Lozano says. Consider how much you want to tell your children, at what point, and what is appropriate given their age and background. On Talking to Your Kids About Their Concerns Datingxp Expert: Laurel House, an eharmony relationship expert and founder of Prioridating. If you’ve spoken to your children about the fact that you’re dating or even introduced them to someone, they’re bound to have opinions. In some cases, confusion around you dating or finding happiness with a new person may present as anger or a distaste for the other person, House explains. “Listen to your child. Talk with them about how they feel and why. Come up with ways that they can get to know your new partner in a way that might make them feel more comfortable and build their relationship, too," she says. “Remember that fear is frequently the seed of many other angry, sad, resentful, dismissive, disinterested emotions.” The root of their distress could be anything from another parent being replaced to losing time with you. Also, consider if your child needs more time before regularly seeing this person to adjust. Expert: Amber Lee, a relationship expert and the co-founder of Select Date Society. Repeat after us: You do not have to do everything to be a good parent. While it's wonderful to be a great multitasker, it can also be wonderful to ask for help from others—especially when you want to make time to date. “Being a single parent can be taxing on you mentally, emotionally, and financially,” Lee says. “If you don’t ask for help and make time for your personal life, you will get lost in the day-to-day routine of going to work and parenting. You have to ask trusted friends and family members to help out and babysit occasionally so that you can make time to date.” It may seem unnerving the first few times, but it can benefit everyone in the long run. Use your time wisely once you get out. Start building a list of what you want and don’t want in a partner and fine-tune it as you continue to date. On Feeling Guilty Datingxp or Insecure Expert: Amelia Prinn, a relationship expert, writer, and editor. While it is important to balance time with your kids and dating, you shouldn’t guilt-trip yourself for considering or choosing to date—a mindset Prinn finds many single parents take. “This is even more true for single moms raised in patriarchal societies," she explains. "You might not be aware of it, but deep down, at some level, you’re scared of judgment.” You may ask yourself questions such as “Will dating make me a bad parent?” and “Am I selfish for going back out there?” These are normal thoughts, but can stand in the way of you finding further happiness. “You’re a human being, and it’s normal that you have needs—romantic and sexual needs,” Prinn says. “Just because you’re a parent, it doesn’t mean that all other parts of your being magically ceased to exist.” And don't feel like you have to settle, or that you're damaged goods, Prinn adds. Instead, she recommends considering how raising your kid has made you stronger, more loving, and kinder. Finding a partner who accepts you’re a single parent and gets along well with your kids is necessary, but they also need to be the right person for you long-term. “You still deserve to fall in love, to find someone compatible, and to end up with someone you want to end up with,” Prinn says. Expert: Samantha Saunders, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in trauma and toxic or narcissistic relationship recovery. Anyone who has tried to date can tell you there is no magic wand to wave for your future partner to show up. It takes work. Yet, Saunders explains that some single parents act as if the person will show up with no output required. This simply isn’t the case. Talking to new people, checking out dating apps, or asking friends to be set up is the key to finding someone. “Practice giving compliments to three strangers a day when out to get the courage to talk to people again, and you never know what might lead to a small conversation,” she says. However, she also cautions against going too far in the other direction and dating constantly. It’s about finding a balance that works for you. On What to Talk About With Your Dates Expert: Kate MacLean, the resident dating expert at Match Group dating app Plenty of Fish. As a single parent, your kids are a massive part of your life—if not your entire life. Devoting an immense amount of time and energy to being a good, attentive parent is incredible. It also probably means most of your thoughts and stories involve them. While that’s great, MacLean recommends mentioning hobbies and interests on dates that demonstrate who you are as an individual. “Venture into discussing other topics,” she suggests. “Let loose a little and discuss your favorite movies and books, make jokes and talk about silly and controversial opinions like whether a hot dog is a sandwich or not.” This expanded conversation isn’t to mitigate the importance of your children, but to give potential partners a chance to see every side of you. Expert: Lia Avellino, LCSW, a Columbia-trained psychotherapist. You may encounter people who subtly (or very openly) judge your decision to date as a single parent. Avellino explains there will always be individuals who put their experiences and beliefs onto you. The decision to date as a single parent is not something you must justify over and over again. Instead of listening to everyone’s opinions, she recommends focusing on those of the people you most respect and feel secure around. “Remember, the issue is not with being single, it’s being a part of a dominant culture that promotes the nuclear family is ‘supposed’ to look a particular way," Avellino explains. "Many families are made up not of two parents, but of various platonic kinship and supportive relationships that help the family function." Avellino encourages any single parent navigating judgment to create energetic boundaries before seeing naysayers. The process involves picturing a forcefield of light around you, down to the color and texture, and imagining that it creates space between you and them. Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer based in New York who covers a range of topics for outlets including Men’s Health, Bustle, and Insider, with a special love for mental health and sex and relationships topics. She’s also spent time living in Italy and Australia, writing as she traveled.