A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

True life: Dating while being a single mom to young kids is complicated

Print Friendly and PDF

Here's the truth: dating while divorcing with young kids is complicated.

And when I say complicated, I don't mean the setting-up-IKEA-furniture definition.

I mean like if IKEA suddenly started selling whole DIY houses, and provided you with their typical cartoon instructions and an Allen key for assembly. It's complicated, and messy, and full of panicky meltdowns where you turn the manual sideways and wonder if you're actually doing it all wrong.

But surprisingly, despite the enormous amount of people in this position, my recent Google searches on dating with kids post-divorce have turned up next to nothing on the subject. There are lots of lists, of course, indicating the appropriate time to introduce your new partner to your children and how to do so smoothly.

But I couldn't find any brutally honest testimonials describing the way to be both a single mom and a girlfriend without screwing everything (and everyone) up in the process.

So this is mine.

I should probably start by saying I believe whole-heartedly that there is nothing wrong with dating when you have kids. The best mom is a happy one, and if you meet someone who can contribute to your life and bring joy to it, then have at it.

FEATURED VIDEO

Practicing self-care is one of the best ways to become a better caretaker, and dating should be on that list, alongside bubble baths and good friends.

I have (almost) 4-year-old twin girls. They're very loud, very messy, and big on the overshare; they love to announce to people entering my house, “I did a poop on the potty!" So naturally when I started seeing my boyfriend, I wanted to keep a firm wall of separation between my mom life, and my dating life.

I didn't want to freak him out. Especially because my new partner is a bachelor in the full sense of the word; he owns his own house, and (with the exception of his dog) is entirely without dependents who'll clutter it up. When he's not working he can hit the gym, go out with friends, or even take spontaneous vacations, all without having to first find a babysitter and hurriedly vacuum Kraft Dinner off the couch.

There's also the physical element of dating when you're a mom. I might only be 26, but hello! I've had twins and my body likes to exclaim it. My hips are painted with faded stretch marks, a C-section scar that (while I absolutely love it) forever reveals my status, and I have lines forming around my mouth and brows which deepen every time my kids smile and say, “Mama we made a BIIIG mess!"

On an average day I feel like more of a disaster than my house is, and that's saying something. Initially when I compared my life (and my appearance) to my boyfriend's, I saw myself beside him as some wrinkled old mom, hunched over and using my last breath to order another time-out; I was sure there was no way he could really love me if he was introduced to that bipolar love-my-kids-to-death-but-sometimes-want-to-kill-them persona that goes with parenting.

Because it's not cute; there's legitimately nothing endearing about my greasy messy bun, eye bags, and frequent hoarse yelling at my girls to “Share!" while I shove toast in my gob so I don't have to.

So in the beginning, I made a choice: I decided I would slice myself down the middle into two versions—the one I am during the week with my kids, and another on the weekend when I went out on a date. The latter could be young, vibrant, with clean hair and boundless, youthful energy, while the former would be unwashed, unshaved, and falling asleep under piles of laundry by nine PM.

But one day I realized that even though I'd tried to convince myself I could separate the two identities, it's impossible; like winter and spring, they can't exist without each other. At the end of the day they're both me, one is just a little bit cleaner and has pruned more recently than November.

I decided that if my boyfriend was worth my time, if he really cared about me, he'd care about all of me, the whole package.

It turned out to be a gamble worth taking; after his first day with the three of us, my boyfriend turned to me and said, “Syd, those girls are amazing and the fact that you're a mom is one of my favorite things about you."

But it hasn't all been so easy; there's still the ex-factor. I am lucky in the way that my former husband and I have a good relationship, talk regularly about our kids, and he comes to my place almost every weekend to pick them up. But that doesn't mean our dating lives don't bring some weirdness.

While I'm a positive girl who likes to put an optimistic spin on things, I'll admit that the first few encounters between my boyfriend and my ex were, understandably, a little awkward.

There was definitely some chest-puffing on both sides, and the conversation was about as strategic and subtle as navigating a minefield (while blindfolded). But eventually both men started to breathe normally, and one day they got together and had a conversation agreeing on a mutual desire to bring the girls and myself nothing but happiness.



I'm not going to claim that's a typical situation, but it was one that I demanded; my kids deserve peace, and that doesn't arise from two sides pointing canons at each other. Ultimately, I wasn't going to have anyone in my life who didn't understand or support that.

And I think that's probably what I've learned the most about dating with children: In the midst of that uncertain whirlwind, figure out what your priorities are, and stick to them.

Let them anchor you to the soil, and hold fast when it feels like you might get swept away. Despite my wish for a personal life, my children have always remained my number one priority, and I refuse to loosen my grip on that, to compromise their emotional security so I can meet my own (or someone else's) selfish needs.

Still, I do want my girls to believe in real, transcendental love.

I want them to know that we all have the power to bring what we want into our lives and remove what we don't. To see that it's feasible for a mother and father to separate while still supporting each other, and to find new relationships without obliterating what they once had.

I want them to experience firsthand that despite what TV shows and movies tell us, a boyfriend and an ex-husband, or a girlfriend and an ex-wife can actually get along with each other because above all they want peace for the children caught in the middle.

I need them to know that it's possible to find love again when it seems like your entire world has fallen apart. Because one day they're going to get their hearts broken too; a time will come when they're disillusioned by love, and I need them to know that they can rise from those ashes, shake it off, and live again like I did.

Obviously, everything isn't perfect. My kids don't need a new dad, my boyfriend worries about stepping on toes, and it's still important for the girls to have the majority of their time spent either just with me, or with me and their father together.

Our original family unit needs respecting, as does my own single parent relationship with my daughters; it's necessary for them to know that I'm theirs first, and for them to see that being single is empowering.

They also have to learn through me that relationships do not complete you, and that we are all the engineers of our own happiness.

But with lots of honest communication, teamwork and a real craving for calm waters, dating while divorcing with young kids is something that I'm fairly successfully doing.

It's been a lot of trial and error of course, and my romantic life is definitely not the same as it would be if I were childless; I have serious limits on the time and energy (mental, emotional, and physical) that I'll devote to it. But despite that, it's worth it.

Not because I need to be in a relationship, or get married again, or press 'reset' on the last several years of my life, but because I'm entirely human, and at the end of the day it's nice to choose who you want to be sharing a blanket and a glass of wine with.

There's just something that feels right about honoring my truth, and embracing that imperfect, colorful, kaleidoscopic version of myself with all her unique, contradictory angles.

While I'm haunted daily by all the what-ifs, the endless potential ways my children could be further hurt or disappointed by my choice to date, I can't live in fear. Those worries might always shadow me, regardless of the position of the sun; the most I can do is show the girls that progress isn't made by pretending you're not afraid.

Rather, it's found through striding out your door and facing those fears, and then moving forward despite them.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


You might also like:

Learn + Play

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

FEATURED VIDEO

Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

You might also like:


News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

FEATURED VIDEO

Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

You might also like:

News

A new study has some people thinking twice about kissing their bearded partners, or maybe even letting those with beards kiss the baby—but there's a lot to unpack here.

According to Swiss researchers, bearded men are carrying around more bacteria than dogs do. A lot more. But read on before you send dad off to the bathroom with a razor and ask him to pull a Jason Momoa (yes, he's recently clean-shaven. RIP Aquaman's beard).

As the BBC reports, scientists swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs. When they compared the samples, they learned beards have a higher bacterial load than dog fur.

Dudes who love their beards are already clapping back against the way the science was reported in the media though, noting that the sample size in this study was super small and, importantly, that the scientists didn't swab any beardless men.

The study wasn't even about beards, really. The point of the study, which was published in July 2018 in the journal European Radiology, was to determine if veterinarians could borrow human MRI machines to scan dogs without posing a risk to human patients.

"Our study shows that bearded men harbour significantly higher burden of microbes and more human-pathogenic strains than dogs," the authors wrote, noting that when MRI scanners are used for both dogs and humans, they're cleaned very well after veterinary use, and actually have a "lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans."

FEATURED VIDEO

Another important point to note is that most bacteria aren't actually dangerous to humans, and some can be really good for us (that's why some scientists want us to let our kids get dirty).

This little study wasn't supposed to set off a beard panic, it was just supposed to prove that dogs and people can safely share an MRI machine. There is previous research on beards and bacteria though, that suggests they're not all bad.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looked at a much larger sample of human faces (men who work in healthcare), both bearded and clean shaven, and actually found that people who shaved their faces were carrying around more Staph bacteria than those with facial hair.

"Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair," the researchers wrote.

A year after that, a local news station in New Mexico did its own "study" on beards, one that wasn't super scientific but did go viral and prompted a flurry of headlines insisting beards are as dirty as toilets. That claim has been debunked.

So, before you ban bearded people from kissing the baby (or yourself) consider that we all have some bacteria on our faces. Dads should certainly wash their beards well, but they're not as dirty as a toilet.

You might also like:

News

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to level the playing field for young women and provide them with the tools for success. In 2017, he implemented free two- and four-year public colleges for New Yorkers, and now Cuomo is adding a budget proposal that would provide on-site childcare at community colleges.

Under the proposal, single parents participating in the program would also have access to tutoring and help when applying to four-year schools. It's the kind of idea that could be a game changer for parents in New York state.

Currently, childcare centers are subsidized for student-parents but can still cost parents $50-$60 a week; under Cuomo's budget proposal, childcare would be free. Students who are already enrolled in similar programs acknowledge that the benefits are enormous.

"As a single parent of two children going to school full time, I wouldn't be able to come to school and afford for childcare," says Michelle Trinidad, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and parent to a 4 and 5-year-old. "Thank goodness for BMCC Early Childhood Center that is very much affordable. It gives me the opportunity to advance my career and be confident that my son is in good hands. School is hard enough on its own, having reliable child care means a lot to me and my children."

FEATURED VIDEO

The plan is a part of Cuomo's 2019 women's justice agenda, legislation that addresses the gender wage gap, as well as economic and social justice for all New York women. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 11% of undergraduates, or 2.1 million students, were single mothers as of 2012, which has doubled since 2000. Additionally, that same study found that 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

"This is an exciting initiative for New York that addresses a critical need, and if implemented, will have a far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, especially for the next generation," says Ryan Lee-James, PhD an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. "I view this initiative as both a direct and indirect pathway to address the well-documented achievement gap between children reared in poverty and those growing up with higher income families, as it provides moms, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, to further their education and thus, afford their children more opportunities."

Additionally, many view campus childcare as a safe haven for college students. "During my 18 years working in campus childcare, I have witnessed how the student-parents can complete their courses and stay focused by having childcare on campus," says Sori Palacio, a Head Teacher at BMCC Early Childhood Center. "Parents usually express how thankful they are for having their children traveling with them to school as well as having their children nearby while they complete their degree. They concentrate in academic work without worrying about their child's wellbeing. This service helps the entire public by preparing more people to serve the community."

Parents have so many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education, but free childcare could be a game changer that benefits multiple generations.

You might also like:

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.