If you’re thinking about dating a single mom, you might be wondering how it’ll be different from dating a woman without children. In many ways, dating a single mom is like dating anyone else, and as long as you treat her with care and respect, you’ll be golden. But at the same time, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you want to be a great partner to a solo parent.
We asked eight single mothers how potential partners could win their hearts and be as supportive as possible. Here’s what they told us everyone should know about dating a single mom.
Understand her priorities
The number one thing many single moms want potential partners to know is that the kids come first. While a romantic partner can play an integral role in a single mom’s life, there shouldn’t be any competition between you and her children. And if you’re dating a single mom and find yourself growing jealous or competitive, examine the root of your feelings, and consider ending the relationship if that jealousy feels toxic.
“My kids and I are a team,” says entrepreneur Monicha Wimbley. “And since I’m the general manager of the team, I look out for all the team members. Although you will not meet them right away, my children are my priority. They don’t rule the roost, but their feelings carry weight. Their health and well-being are the most important thing.”
Be flexible about scheduling
Single mothers are often juggling busy schedules, managing everything from parenting and household management to work and sometimes school. That might mean they aren’t able to be as spontaneous as you’d like. And if that’s the case, be patient.
“Please be understanding when I cancel a date at short notice,” says Nashima Harvey, executive director of The Little Green House Educational Services. “Sometimes my child may get sick or may have an issue that requires me to stay home, such as a sitter cancellation. Flexibility and understanding then become extremely important. Ingenuity does as well. Maybe we can improvise at home and bring the fun to us.”
Embrace the fun side of dating a single mom
Sneaking around the kids for a secret rendezvous doesn’t have to be something you dread. In fact, it can be kind of fun, says Katie Tomaszewski, director of Drynamics, a sober-curious support group. “Sometimes dating can feel like high-school dating,” she says. “You’ve gotta kinda sneak it in at times.” Embrace a bit of risqué romance and go with the flow!
Don’t worry about jumping in as a father
Don’t feel pressured to jump in immediately as a father figure or a second parent, says Keyona Grant of the blog Professional Momma. “I‘m not looking for you to be a father to my kid, I’m looking for a life partner for me,” she says. “That being said, you still have to love her too and want what is best for her.”
Instead of trying to become a stepparent too quickly, focusing on developing an organic relationship with your partner and her kids. Moreover, don’t pressure her to have you meet her kids before she’s ready. Relationship-building is a natural process and there’s no set timeline for when you should or shouldn’t meet a romantic partner’s children.
Remember that she’s more than a mom
Your partner likely spends much of her time identifying as a parent. So when it comes to romance, it’s nice to be seen as more than a mom. “We are more than mothers,” says Grant. “It’s nice to take our children into consideration, but also try to appeal to the women we are too.”
Do that by planning romantic dates, praising her for her work accomplishments and other traits that aren’t related to motherhood, and talking about subjects other than parenting.
Be upfront about commitment
Many single moms want to know upfront what you’re looking for in a relationship. That doesn’t mean you should feel pressured to make a commitment before you’re ready, but be straightforward about what you want. Is it a long-term girlfriend? A hookup? Marriage? Whatever the case, most single mothers would rather know from the start.
“Know what your end game is before dating someone with children,” says Grant. “Do you want to get married, are you casually dating, or are your just looking for friendship?” she says. “Be upfront, because our time is valuable, and we don’t need to waste it.”
Care about her kids
While developing a relationship with your partner’s kids will take time, you should show that you care about her children. Be open to having picnics or other outings with the kids and don’t always expect an abundance of one-on-one time with their mom. When your partner talks about her children, ask questions and practice active listening.
Be there for her emotionally
Single moms are often juggling a lot of things both professionally and personally. A supportive shoulder to lean on and a listening ear are always appreciated.“My dream is to date someone who is naturally nurturing,” says Nikki Bruno of Catalyst Coaching. “I spend so much time and energy caring for my kids and ensuring their emotional, mental, and physical health that I could use some extra loving care, too.”
Don’t get involved in any drama
While emotional support is valuable, getting involved in any drama—especially with an ex or co-parent—is not. If there’s any interpersonal conflict in your partner’s life, such as with her children’s father, try to stay out of it and not get too emotionally involved yourself.
In most cases, simply being an attentive listener who can handle a bit of venting is key, says Shawn Zanotti, founder and CEO of Exact Publicity. “At times I may want to vent, and [sometimes] it will be about my child,” she says. “As a partner, be engaged, be intrigued, listen, respond, and [offer] advice.”
Respect her work schedule
The work schedule of a single parent can often be busy and hectic. Just as you wouldn’t try to compete with kids, respect your partner’s job or career, too. “Planning is needed,” says Wimbley. “It’s going to be quality over quantity. Between work, co-parenting schedules, and the kids’ school and activities, I only have so much free time. Please be aware that planning for some time together might have to go on the schedule way in advance.”
Be willing to help out
A foot massage, a home-cooked meal, or any other kind of pampering can mean the world to a single mom. Single parents are often used to doing it all on their own and simply having a partner by their side can mean a lot. “Juggling the role of single mom and career woman is tough and extremely exhausting,” says Harvey, “especially when you have children under 10. Sometimes a simple back rub or foot massage and a home cooked meal may be a great pick-me-up to rejuvenate the spirit.”
Be honest about your own needs
While your partner’s needs and goals are incredibly important, so are yours. Don’t allow yourself to grow resentful or avoid issues if a problem begins to develop. Instead of allowing a breakdown in communication to grow, be upfront so you can address any issues together.
Make every second together count
Solo parents often have limited time for dates and other outings. So when you do have time together, make it count. Try to plan dates and make your time together special. Ask questions and have thoughtful conversations. “Remember that I don’t just have ‘free’ time laying around as a single mom,” says Harvey. “When I share my time with you one-on-one it’s super valuable and rare, so treat it as such.”
Find ways to relax and rejuvenate together
Think of your time together as an oasis from the stresses of the day. As much as you can, try to relax and rejuvenate together. Get a couples’ massage if you can, or hire a babysitter and have a nice dinner out. You could even stay in for a night of cuddling, suggests Sanaa Brooks, editor-in-chief of A Mom That Sleeps. “I’m always tired, so sometimes I don’t want to get ready for a date after working crazy hours all week,” she says. “[Sometimes it’s great to] just order in.”
Respect your partner’s boundaries
Respecting boundaries around time with your partner’s children, or your involvement in their lives, is key to building a successful relationship with a single mother. Remember, a mother has to protect her children’s emotional wellness as well as her own and is therefore careful about who she lets into her kids’ lives.
Make sure you can bring something valuable to the table
“I’ve done so much on my own, so what are you bringing to the table?” says speaker and success coach Joyce Rojas. “Single moms are very independent and can accomplish so much in very little time, on their own. It’s a skill we had to learn. So in the dating world, we tend to look for someone that can enhance our lives. We don’t want drama, competition, or dead weight.”
Single mothers are often juggling stressful work schedules and have to make time for dating in between their many other responsibilities. That means it might not be the best idea to get romantically involved with a single parent if you don’t have your own priorities in order.
Don’t dwell on your partner’s past
Many single parents have heartbreak in their past, whether that’s from a divorce, a break-up, or the death of a beloved spouse. Understand that this might affect your relationship to an extent, and it might take time to build trust.
“A single mom has likely gone through heartbreak of some kind, and so have her children,” says Rojas. “It’s not an easy task to just move forward without emotional scars still lingering. We’re not only afraid of getting hurt, but we’re afraid of hurting our children all over again.”
Listen to your partner if they want to talk about it, but try to move forward toward the future with an open mind. Everyone has a history, and your potential partner probably wants to get excited about the possibility of a future with you rather than dwelling on her past.
Do some old-fashioned courting when dating a single mom
Some of your dates might be spent with kids, or might be during the day because late nights on the town aren’t always possible for single moms. Embrace the nostalgia and simple fun of old-fashioned courting: Walks in the park, carnivals, or dinners at home can be charming and delightful if you’re game.
Remember that you have an impact on your partner’s children, too
Even if your role in your partner’s children’s life is small, it can leave a lasting impact. Try not to jump too much into the kids’ lives if you’re not sure about the future of your relationship, and in the early stages of dating a single mom, take your partner’s lead on how to interact with the kids and what your relationship with them will be.
Don’t make assumptions
Assuming that a single mother ‘needs’ you or wants something particular out of a relationship isn’t helping to build a partnership based on trust and honesty. Instead of making assumptions, have respectful conversations and keep an open line of communication to find out if your short- and long-term desires align.