Sunday, October 14, 2007

Motherhood And Dating

There is an unusually high concentration of single parents in my apartment community and with good reason. If you moved in at the right time of year when they have specials running, it can be a great bargain for the school district and neighborhood. The single family homes around us are among the most expensive in town.

The newest, ritziest mall is just down the road with loads of casual and fine dining options. Interestingly, there are several self storage units within a two to three mile radius. This is the perfect place for someone who has had to downsize their life after going through divorce and yet not compromise on schooling for the kids. They can go out on a fun date and still be only five minutes from the kids at home with the sitter.

The folks in the leasing office have tuned into the opportunity that such a demographic presents. They organize singles mixers and Valentines Day parties. The monthly newsletter carries contact information for baby-sitters in the community and ads for the local match-making services. The logical next step would be to open up the community bulletin board for personal ads. A lot of pairings happen over the summer vacation when everyone hangs out at the pool with the kids.

What follows thereafter is probably not the best of all possible worlds for the children involved. His kids hang out with her kids at her place as they chat in the front porch. In a few weeks, the kids might spend all Saturday with a baby-sitter at his place as they spend quality time at hers. This may go on for a while and then the adults decide "its not working out".

The kids have in the meanwhile have grown so close to each other that to separate them would cause pain. So in addition to an ex-spouse picking up and dropping off kids, there is now and ex-relationship going through similar motions. Living across the street from each other, it is impossible to keep the kids apart even if the relationship is over. Both parties move on, yet more kids are thrown in and pulled out of the mix at adult whim.

I have been a spectator observing the goings on for a while. I see an unsupervised eight year old roller blade around the tennis court late in the evening as his mother copes with a break-up. I call to let her know and she thanks me absently. A few months later, I see her with a new man at the pool. He has a son too and Justin has a new friend. They look like a lovely family of four. The couple looks bright, happy and very much in love. I hope for her sake and Justin's this works out. I haven't seen her lately but I often catch Justin playing in the tennis court way past his bed time.

Dating and being a parent inherently don't belong together. In a natural course of events, the two have no reason to intersect as they are time-lapsed phases in a person's life. Yet when the natural order is upset, the impossible must need to happen. You have to struggle extra hard to make it work both for your significant other and the children. You have to question and evaluate your priorities constantly to make sure the choices you make are appropriate.

Until the adults have formally decided to spend their lives together, young kids have no need to be any part of the picture. Whatever their initial reservations about the step-parent, chances are they will come around to accepting them if they see this new person love their parent and make them happy. To go about dating like one would in their single days when an impressionable child is involved is somewhat selfish and irresponsible.

Being a single parent myself, I know only too well the pitfalls of a cautious and guarded approach to relationship and dating. It works as a huge turn off for a lot of people. Men are looking to date women and not mothers. If your child looms menacingly large on the horizon, chances are that the relationship will not even take off let alone reach anywhere. You must brace yourself for many disappointments and false starts.

It is much the same for a woman dating an over-zealous single dad who will do whatever it takes to protect his child from getting emotionally involved with whoever he is dating. She gets the sense that the child is the immovable center of his universe and she can at best hope to be a satellite orbiting around the periphery of their lives. While her impression may be completely wrong, it would be hard for him to disabuse her of it without making significant compromises on his parenting beliefs.

The element of fun and spontaneity are the primary casualties in such a situation. It is so much easier for the other person if they don't have kids to date someone who is single just like them. Unless they are truly invested in you and the children your lives, they would not run the obstacle course they must to form a lasting bond. To settle for anything less would be short-changing oneself and one's child and yet a lot of single parents do that time after time.

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