Navigating an intimate relationship with a single mother can come with a different set of guidelines, expectations, and questions for both parties involved. It's totally normal to not know the ins and outs of a relationship you have never experienced before, but there are some helpful things to keep in mind that can set you up for a successful relationship when dating a single mom.
Tips for Dating a Single Mom
If you find yourself interested in dating a single mom, don't panic. There are no hard and fast rules you need to abide by or some book you can read that is going to give you all of the answers immediately. The best way to navigate an intimate relationship with a single mom is the same way as you would any other relationship, such as understanding and respecting their needs and providing comfort and support. However, there are a few caveats to dating a single mom that you may want to keep in mind to best support your partner, yourself, and your relationship.
Understand Her Family Is Her First Priority
Mothers are protective beings that often put the care and safety of their children and family ahead of themselves. This is an element that is particularly unique to dating a single parent, and if you haven't been in this situation before, it can be a bit of an adjustment. It may feel strange to know that someone else's care comes before yours, but you also need to understand that she is just trying to do her job as a mother by putting her children and their needs first. Putting her family as a priority may mean:
- She needs to cancel plans more often in order to take care of her children.
- She may not be able to inform you of changes to plans soon in advance.
- She may need to shift her attention to her children and their needs at times.
- She can't always accommodate your schedule into her family-life balance.
- She will choose an obligation to her children or co-parent over one she made to you.
Accept Her Boundaries
When you are dating a single mother, it's important to respect and accept the boundaries she places on your relationship with herself, her kids, and any other members of her family unit. She has more than just herself to look out for, which means that there may be more boundaries she chooses to enact in order to have the protection and privacy she and her family need. Talk to her about her unique situation and learn more about her expectations. Some of her boundaries may include:
- When you get to meet her children
- How much time she wants you to spend around them
- Whether overnight visits are appropriate
- How much time she feels comfortable being away from them on dates/trips
- Disciplining her children
- Commenting on her parenting style or about the child's other parent
- Your role in the family/as a potential caregiver
Don't Take Canceled Plans to Heart
A lot of unexpected things can pop up regularly for single mothers. She may receive a phone call from school about her child's health, have to run to practice to drop off the soccer cleats they left behind, or attend a concert her child forgot to remind her of that evening. Life happens to all of us, but single moms have to juggle managing more than one life at a time. Some things to remember if she cancels plans are:
- It doesn't mean that she likes you any less.
- She may not have known about an event until the last minute.
- She probably feels equally as bad/upset about canceling plans.
- It doesn't mean that she doesn't care about your feelings.
Be Willing to Learn
If you have never dated a single parent before, then it's possible (and more likely probable) that you are finding yourself in uncharted waters. It's okay and completely normal to not know how to navigate the relationship at first. Be open to learning more about her life as a parent, what her kids' interests are, and what she is looking for in an intimate relationship now that she has a child. Talking to her about these topics and being honest about how you feel is the best way to gain a greater understanding. Some questions you may want to ask are:
- Do you practice co-parenting? If so, what does that look like?
- Are there any topics that you don't want me to ask about just yet?
- Do you have any rules in mind for navigating our relationship going forward?
- What are some ways I can be supportive and respectful surrounding your family's needs?
- Is there anything you want me to know about what your kids are involved in or what they like to do for fun?
Accept That This Is a Learning Curve for Everyone
It may be helpful to keep in mind that you aren't the only one that may be navigating a new kind of relationship. This may also be a new experience for both your partner and their children, which means that this relationship can be a period of adjustment for you all. Everyone involved is learning new things about themselves and others, and only time and trust will help soothe them. Some things that your partner and their children may be learning are:
- How to best incorporate dating life with family life
- How her children should address you
- Whether she wants you to help with any responsibilities regarding her kids
- Children managing complex emotions about a new person in their mother's life
- Supporting her children as they experience difficult emotions and change
Understand How You Can Best Support Her Needs
Different types of partners require different kinds of support to best serve their own unique needs. It's important to keep in mind that dating a single mom may mean that she has different needs from you as her partner and out of the relationship. Asking her about her needs and what makes her feel supported is a great way of moving forward. Some ways to support a single mom may be:
- Encouraging her to spend some of her free time with friends, especially if she doesn't see them often and usually spends her limited free time with you
- Reminding her to maintain her mental, emotional, and physical health and helping her schedule time for self-care activities
- Being understanding if a date night with the two of you turns into a date night for you and her children
- Offering to cook meals at home to allow her to have more time with her kids and tend to their needs
- Being a consistent person in her and her children's lives, especially after she has introduced you to them
Express Your Own Needs
Although a single mother may have unique needs and more people than just herself to look out for, that doesn't mean that your own needs and well-being should go unsupported. Your emotional health and comfortability in the relationship are just as important, and you shouldn't cast your feelings aside in order to feel like you are being a good partner. Some things you may want to talk to your partner about are:
- How they can make you feel supported
- What you want out of the relationship and from a partner
- Your own personal boundaries
- Aspects of the relationship that may cause potential conflict in the future
- How you feel comfortable moving forward in the relationship
Forgive Yourself for Making Mistakes
While you are navigating your relationship, know that you are bound to make mistakes, and that's okay. No one is perfect, especially when experiencing something for the first time. When you make a mistake, it's important to forgive yourself, even though it may seem difficult. Resolving whatever conflict arises with your partner and her family is just as important as resolving the inner conflict you are facing inside of yourself, and it's the only way of truly moving forward with your relationship. Some difficulties you may encounter are:
- Overstepping by trying to help her parent her children
- Suggesting a discipline option or giving advice when she didn't ask
- Getting upset over a last-minute cancelation of plans when it was out of her control
- Starting conflict with a co-parent, whether it's intentional or unintentional
- Taking it personally if her children don't 'click' with you right away
Allow Relationships to Grow Naturally
When your partner allows you to meet her children, co-parent, or other family members/caretakers, you may find yourself feeling a lot of pressure to make everyone fall in love with you right away. That's totally normal, and everyone enjoys being liked, especially by others that mean so much to our loved ones. Try not to force these relationships to develop right away; allow them to grow naturally over time to let everyone adjust to the new environment. Some ways to let relationships develop naturally are:
- Don't feel like you need to bring your partner's kids presents every time you see them.
- Allow her kids to lead with their interests and wait to get involved until they are comfortable and invite you to interact.
- Don't feel obligated to attend all of her kids' extracurricular activities.
- Allow her kids, co-parent, and family members to ask you questions about yourself while they build trust and get to know you better.
- Don't feel like you can't be honest with your partner about her kid's or co-parent's comments/behaviors towards you when she isn't around, especially if they aren't appropriate.
Dating a Single Mom
If you find yourself being interested in dating a single mom, know that some aspects of your intimate relationship may look a little different than you are used to. Single mothers are responsible for the love, support, and well-being of more than just themselves, which means that they will have different priorities, needs, and boundaries. Understanding more about what each of you expects out of the relationship and from each other will help you create a supportive environment that suits all of your needs and allows your relationship to grow.