If you’re wondering if there’s a manual for navigating the dating scene as a single mom, it’s possible you’re ready to take a leap of faith. Here’s some guidance from the experts. By Thobeka Phanyeko
When you’ve been single for a while because your kids have been your sole focus, the thought of dating as a single mom can be daunting. Naturally, you’ll have concerns related to your kids, work/life balance, and the practicality of being both a mom and a partner – all while working through past hurts and traumas.
Certified empowerment life coach Lara Klopper, based in Centurion, notes moms enter the dating scene with a lot of emotional baggage and tend to broadcast their vulnerability. “It’s important to identify the pain and beliefs you carry before considering dating. We often self-sabotage potential or new relationships, because we project our insecurities all over the place,” she says.
Are you ready?
If you’re pondering dating again, it’s a good idea to identify your intention. “Ask yourself if you’re really ready to date or if you’re just bored and lonely,” says Johannesburg-based certified life coach, Sharon Piel. If you are, rather reconnect with old friends or build a new network of mommy friends.
Once you’re clear about your intention and have decided you’re ready, but just can’t seem to take the bold step, one limiting belief that could be holding you back is that you’ll never find the right person. Fear of getting hurt is another stumbling block. Lara cautions that because you attract what you put out, this fear will eventually manifest. Instead of plunging into the dating scene, “allow yourself to heal past pains and negative beliefs, love yourself first and then with a single-minded focus, go out there in the dating world knowing exactly who it is you want to connect with.” Also keep in mind that you are your child’s first teacher and this goes for relationships, too. “Your child is watching, and learning from, you so make sure you’re a good role model when it comes to future relationships,” says Sharon.
Your kids are a big part of the reason you’ve been single, so you might be concerned that dating could negatively impact them. “Depending on the age of your child, you may need to have an open and honest conversation about dating,” says Sharon. Assure your children you love them unconditionally and they will always come first.
Common issues you’ll face as a single mom
Introducing your partner to your kids
This is a contentious issue and Lara says it takes some time to get used to a person, to understand if you are compatible on various levels and to really get to know them. Ideally, Lara recommends waiting about six months before introducing a new partner to your children. “It becomes unsettling for children to meet someone who will no longer be part of their lives a month later. Keep in mind, children become emotionally attached and then you need to deal not only with your heartbreak but theirs as well.”
Once you’ve made the decision to introduce your partner to your kids and start spending time together as a family, expect the issue of discipline to come up – especially if your kids are still toddlers. Being a single mom also means you’re set in your ways, “so it might be challenging to accept when a partner is right and your child needs to be disciplined.
Ensure clear boundaries are communicated and have an open discussion with your partner and children around this topic from the start,” says Lara. This will prevent situations when you have to step in because your partner is being too hard on the kids, for example. “Discuss what you feel comfortable with and are willing to allow with your partner. Be open-minded as your partner gives feedback around the topic, and discuss the same with your children,” she adds. The issue of respect is one you will need to discuss openly; you don’t have to wait for things to get out of hand.
When your partner doesn’t have kids
Be honest with the person you’re dating or interested in. “Let him know you’re a single mom and what your expectations are, as being a mom gives you a different perspective,” says Sharon. If you find yourself questioning your expectations because some things don’t come naturally to your partner where parenting is concerned, Lara advises it’s important to know what your values are. “Understand beforehand what is important to you, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable – this is different for each of us.” Be clear about your deal breakers.
Spending quality time with your partner away from the kids is necessary for your relationship to grow. You can also use this time to check in and discuss any issues that may need to be ironed out. Sharon notes it’s important to have a strong support network of family and close friends. “Make certain you have a trusted and reliable babysitter,” she says.
Your children’s fears are valid
If your kids are still very dependent on you, they may see your partner as a potential threat. And if they’re struggling to accept your partner, it could stem from the fear of losing you to him. It could even be attributed to a difference of personalities. “It’s vital for expectations to be managed. We are responsible for our children and their welfare, so if they’re struggling significantly to adjust to the new partner, it’s advisable to get them some help to deal with, or work through, it,”says Lara.
She adds young children may struggle with rejection or abandonment issues, which makes it difficult to cope with a new partner. “They could be scared of losing their mom or to connect with the new partner in case he abandons them.” You know your children best, so look out for signs of distress.
“If there’s a personality clash, consider if this is something that can be overcome in time,” she adds. Create a safe environment for your children to express themselves and assure them that no matter what happens you will always be their mom. This will let them know you don’t expect them to sit through an uncomfortable situation just to make you happy.
Lara notes children often act out, “Especially younger children who struggle to express their fears and anxiety verbally.” So get into the habit of having honest conversations as a family and allow your children to work through any difficulties while you support them.
Working through mom guilt as a single mom
It’s not uncommon for mom guilt to rear its ugly head whenever you think of your mommy needs. Lara explains you‘re entitled to happiness and to just be you. She encourages moms to love themselves first, “If your cup is empty you can’t pour from the overflow”. Self-care goes a long way in ensuring you feel good about yourself, and allowing yourself to be happy. Remember, your children will grow up one day and leave the nest. “You don’t want to suddenly realise when they’re off at university that you have no life.
Sometimes, even before that time, we develop resentment and anger towards our children because we are giving them everything and not caring for ourselves,” says Lara. It’s important to build a fulfilling relationship with yourself first and to “ensure you know who you are, what you like, allow yourself to go on dates and find love again”.
Constantly remind yourself that when you’re happy, your children will get to experience the best version of you, and everybody wins. Sharon says it’s OK to want to have some fun and spend time in the company of adults, just make sure you’re spending enough quality time with your kids. “It’s all about balance.”
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.