If you are a widowed, divorced or single mother, you know that rearing a child — while trying to form a new romantic relationship — requires treading a fine line. As part of the TODAY show series “On the Couch with Dr. Gail Saltz,” Dr. Saltz discusses ways for single mothers to navigate the dating scene.
The commitment to motherhood takes so much time and energy that forming a new relationship often falls by the wayside. Some mothers choose not to pair up “for the sake of the kids.” But there is room in your life for both a man and motherhood. If having a romantic partner and companion is important to you, I urge you to put effort into finding one. Otherwise, you will end up resenting your children and blaming them for your loneliness. Here are some suggestions for parenting while dating:
Don’t introduce the kids too quickly
The last thing you want is for the kids to grow attached to a man who will be gone in a year or two — or for them to see your life as a revolving door with men traipsing through. If a relationship is fun but you know it’s destined to fizzle, don’t introduce the kids at all. Go out, have a good time, and return home alone. If your children grow attached to this man, his departure will be painful for them. Introduce the kids to a man only when you really feel he is someone you have a future with.
Be sexually conservative
Don’t sleep with a man too soon. It’s hard to contain the dramatic and devastating hurt that comes from being dumped by a man you just slept with, and it will affect your parenting.
If he is really interested in you, he will wait for sex.
If you are having sex, keep it private from the kids
No unlocked doors, no heavy displays of affection, no revolving stream of men trapising through your life. You will have a hard time dealing with the kids once they become teenagers and hold you up as an example for their own behavior.
Don’t confide in your child
It is tempting to talk about romance, especially if, say, you have a teenage daughter. But confiding, complaining or seeking advice will make her feel responsible, and it’s unfair to burden her with that.
Set a good example
You can’t be a successful parent if you have different rules for yourself and the kids. If you take abuse from a boyfriend, you are teaching your sons to treat women badly, and your daughters to tolerate this behavior. If you break up with a man who has met your kids, talk to the kids about it. Explain that this breakup has nothing to do with the children. They didn’t cause it, they can’t fix it, and you are all going to be just fine.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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