Single Parents and Dating: What’s It Like Out There?

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As every single parent knows, time is short when you’re trying to juggle the many demands of holding down a job, running a household, and raising kids! With all the demands single parents’ lives place on them, what about dating? What do they think about it, and how do they manage it?

A recent large study of about 750 single parents took a look at this issue. Though the questions asked give just a snapshot, they may help single parents understand how other people like them are coping with this concern.

Are They Interested?

Most of the parents in the study (over 60%) were not actively looking for a relationship, probably for a variety of reasons. When they did date, they found the time for these moments when kids were at relatives’ or friends’ houses (33%), with their exes (34%), with a sitter (23%) or at a sleepover (19%).

It’s interesting to note that many single moms and dads (over 30%) were quite willing to date other single parents--something that is much less true for single people without children. In fact, other studies note that about 15% of single people consider single parenthood an absolute “dealbreaker” when considering whom to date. So it may be that other single parents are a good choice when looking for a potential partner!

Once Dating, When to Bring in The Kids?

What about the question of when to involve the kids in a relationship? This can be a tricky one. Only about 15% of these moms and dads said they involve kids from the very start. About 30% say they introduce children to the partner once there is a committed relationship, and another 30% say they do this once they know they want a committed relationship.

Typically, experts on this subject recommend waiting till things are pretty serious before introducing kids to a new flame. If children are younger, you can start off by having them meet the person simply as a friend of yours, but with older children, it’s best to be honest.

The Kids’ Opinions

This study definitely showed that parents are interested in their kids’ thoughts on potential partners. Over 80% said they take their kids’ opinions on this matter “very seriously.” This was even more true for women than it was for men. What’s more, about a third said they would allow their kids to “set them up” on a date!

Safety concerns are real for single parents, especially when it comes to mothers bringing unrelated men into the home. Unfortunately, stepparents and unrelated adults are more likely to abuse children than biological parents. With this in mind, experts advise that it is, in fact, a great idea to tune in to what your kids have to say about your significant other.

What’s Appropriate?

Almost everybody (over 90%) felt it was “somewhat to very” appropriate to hold hands with a partner or date in front of kids, and about 80% felt this way about hugging and kissing. However, fewer (64%) thought it was appropriate to go away on vacation together. Men were more likely to be okay with this than women. Meanwhile, less than half thought it was somewhat to very appropriate to have a partner spend the night.

Indeed, therapists and experts say that physical affection and sexualized behavior between parents and new love interests can be confusing or embarrassing to children and teens. Most experts do suggest keeping things pretty low-key in this area, at least at first.

The Path Forward

About a quarter of children under 18 in the United States are living with just one parent, making this a significant number of today’s families. Money may be tight in these families, and co-parenting can be challenging. Unfortunately, single moms and dads may also run into stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.

Dating and remarriage can bring love, companionship, and enjoyment to the lives of these parents, but at times they may feel uncertain or not know what’s typical. Knowing what other parents are choosing and what experts recommend can help. Enjoy the dating world!

By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

References

Gray, P. B., et al. (2016). Romantic and dating behaviors among single parents in the United States. Personal Relationships, 23, 491–504. DOI: 10.1111/pere.12139