The landscape of dating as an adult looks very different than it did when you were in high school, college and even graduate school. Dating in the 30s, 40s and 50s means you may have the opportunity to date a single parent. And single parent dating has nuances that bring another level to dating. Below are some elements to consider for dating a single parent.

1.Acknowledging that the Kids Come First

If there are rules for dating a single parent, the number one rule would be the kids always come first.

You may be thinking this is common sense, as of course they do, yet it’s important not only to realize this, but to also put into play as kids are unpredictable and need their parents. A single parent who’s doing it alone faces unexpected challenges more regularly. It is essential to realize that you are not, and never can be, in competition with the child or children. There is no competition; it is an apples and oranges situation. Only after the kids’ needs are fulfilled can a single parent enjoy adult time. When dating a single parent and they have to make a last minute change, being flexible and understanding is your best play. When you have kids, canceling a date doesn’t mean you’re not interested, you just have to put your children’s needs before your own.

Remember, parents have limited personal time, and if they’re sharing that precious time with you, you matter to them! Try to meet them where they are, and stay flexible and agile if your schedule allows.

2. Pacing Yourself and Not Rushing

Timing is a consideration in any dating situation. Even with a powerful connection, you can expect that dating a single parent will feel like a marathon instead of a sprint. There are multiple explanations for this. Getting out to date is more difficult due to kid logistics, so it takes more time to get to know potential partners.

Another, is that while singles without children assess potential partners through the lens of what will work for them alone, a parent will inevitably be trying to gauge how well you will mesh with the kids and potentially even their co-parent.

Finally, many parents need to feel 100% secure in any new relationship before telling their kids they are dating someone and eventually introducing them to the kids. There are no standard timelines, yet some factors that should be considered are comfort and communication. Be patient, flexible, communicative and respect the boundaries. A parent is always trying to guard their kids against unnecessary changes and disappointment, and it is not a judgment of you or the developing relationship.

3. Be Trustworthy and Open

Single parents are understandably protective of their households and kids. It helps if you are open and forthcoming about yourself and your lifestyle. Inviting them to your place after a few dates can help build trust and get a fuller picture of you and your day-to-day lifestyle. In some co-parenting agreements, singles are asked to introduce new partners to the co-parent before the new partner meets their children. If that is the case, be open to that and be forthcoming about yourself and what you are comfortable with too.

4. Consider Lending A Hand

Most parents will not expect their partner to parent their children while dating. Depending on where you are in your dating timeline, it may be thoughtful to offer to lend a hand, especially in busier times. By giving a ride, sharing a meal, or playing a game outside with your partner’s child, you get to know the child better while showing that you can fit into and enjoy a lifestyle that they are already living. It also shows that you are genuinely taking an interest in what is essential to your partner and that you are willing to help if needed.

5. Respect Family Boundaries

It is essential to keep in mind that while you may have started to date a person just a little while ago, they have been parenting for much longer, and specific dynamics have been in place long before you came around. This means that you need to respect pre-established family boundaries, whether you agree with them or not. A good example is kids’ bedtimes. You may want the kids to be able to join for evening activities, or the opposite, head off into their bedrooms at a particular time. Your opinion or preference is secondary to what is already in place. You can ask questions and gently share your thoughts, but you ultimately must respect existing frameworks.

Dating someone with kids can seem complex, and at times intimidating. If you like kids or are looking for a family lifestyle, you may enjoy it immensely and find greater meaning in this type of path, but, it’s not for everyone. Be honest with yourself about your desired dating situation, and if you decide to date a single parent, bear in mind that some fundamental differences exist in this trajectory. Navigate those differences with curiosity, patience, integrity, and excellent communication, and be patient with yourself, your partner, and the situation.

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