There are plenty of single parents who use their kids to get out of almost every obligation. Even obligations to themselves, for say… exercise, dating, or taking responsibility for their own actions. It’s not something I’m proud of, but as a single dad I’ve done it.
If you’re single parent getting back into the dating scene, you tend to get a pass on certain behaviors that other daters don’t. For example, it’s considered pretty rude to constantly check or answer your phone when you’re on a date. But if you’re a single parent, it’s totally understandable. So go ahead, answer your phone.
But don’t take too much advantage of your single parent status.
Here are four normal dating situations that come up when you’re a single parent and how to respond to them in a way that’s respectful to your date, yourself, and your children.
Situation 1: The Crisis
As any parent knows, things come up. If you’re on a date and you get a call or text that something serious is going on, then of course you should respond. If I get a call and determine that the issue is a crisis that requires a response, I will apologize to my date, explain the situation briefly, and respond with a text or phone call. From that point on, I treat the situation like an unexpected emergency. Everyone’s agenda and desires take a backseat to responding to the emergency. If your date is any kind of decent human being, they’ll understand.
Situation 2: Handling Requests
Chances are, at some point in your budding relationship you’ll receive a request from one of the kids or your ex while on a date. You know the type of stuff I’m talking about… “Dad can I go home with Kate after school today?” or “Can you pick up Tony from baseball?” Depending on the situation, you can choose to ignore the request or respond. If you ignore the request, you need to have a discussion with your kid or your former spouse about how they need to ask you the night before if you’ve already set up plans. Both your kids and your ex should respect your time with this new person in your life, but in the day-to-day shuffle of life they may not realize the situation they’re putting you in. Their request is not a crisis, and if you ignore it no one will be hurt. They may be frustrated or inconvenienced, but not hurt.
Situation 3: The Ex Falls Through
“Dad, I need someone to pick me up after the cross-country meet and I can’t get Mom to pick up her phone.” Hey, things happen. We make mistakes. And between strained ex-parents, there can be some manipulation and control going on but let’s assume the best. In this scenario, the kid needs a ride. Whatever the situation, one parent is incommunicado (a problem that might need to be addressed at a different time) and a solution needs to be provided. “Okay, count on me to be there if we can’t get your Mom to respond. I’ll keep trying her, and you do the same. But of course, go to your cross-country race, we will figure it out.”
Situation 4: Using the Kids as an Excuse
Kids can be an excuse to get out of anything. Sorry, but it’s true. If you’re a divorced parent who’s always breaking plans because your kid is sick, getting an award, has a recital, or whatever else it is… You’re telling the other person that they’re not a priority. Don’t let your kids become an excuse. Kids can be the easy way out. I’ve done it.
When used in a relationship, kids can also be used as a way to recover from a mistake of some sort. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you last night. The kids got home and all hell broke loose.” That might be okay if your call was just a check-in. But if you were scheduled to talk about something serious or if you’re using that excuse all the time, you might not be taking responsibility for how you’re treating the other person.
As a single dad, I’m just now entering a new relationship with a woman who doesn’t have kids and I can feel the pull. But never use your kids as an excuse. And don’t make your kids the reason not to explore a new life, a new relationship, and the new intimacies that may open up for you.
John McElhenney is a single dad who lives and writes in Austin, Texas. He is known for his fearless writing at The Whole Parent blog. John contributes to national publications and his book, Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce is available on Amazon. For more information visit www.wholeparent.org.