Single parents who are dating understand that finding a love match, who also matches their kids, can be tricky and discouraging. They may dream of their children and new partner fitting together like peas in pods, but then they wake up in their real-life situation. (Of course, there’s always some exceptions and kudos to those of you who have that story to tell.) My own story is one I share with many many others and I’ve learned that rather than expecting life to provide me with perfect matches, when life gives me things that don’t match, I need to get creative, and make a fashion statement! (This sentiment was inspired by a designer shirt I got with a factory mishap – one large and one small sleeve are sewn on the same shirt. At first I thought it looked funny, but I accepted it for what it was, and I decided to wear it as a way of starting conversations about how making the best of a situation can be applied to fashion, as well as, relationships.) I have built a career as an author and coach by sharing insights on how to transform relationships through creativity and openness. My work combines my professional experience as a child and youth counsellor, personal experience as a mom, and lived experience surviving relationship disasters. I was a high school dropout teen mom. I spent about 10 years dating and I’ve fumbled in and out of a few relationships. I know all about the turbulence in the sea of love and there’s no magic wand that will calm the waters; but there are attitudes we can embody that help us navigate and keep us moving toward our family goals. When I reflect on my daughter’s response to my prospective lovers, I would say she was often bitter like a cute little blonde sour lemon. She often rolled her eyes and reminded me of how annoying the last guy I dated was, or how badly the last relationship ended… Mostly recounting accurate information; I did date some doozies… But, it wasn’t all that bad! So, I took the bitterness that came with blending my daughter with my dating life and made lemon aid. I’d like to share some tips that have worked well for me and many of my clients. First of all, rather than focusing on trying to change a child’s behaviour, focus on changing your response to their behaviour. Results can take hours, days, even months, but don’t give up! When you invest your time and energy into improving your own attitude and response to challenging behaviours it can have longterm positive outcomes that strengthen your bond and resilience. I recommend three simple (not easy) considerations when formulating a response; accept the challenges for what they are and don’t make mountains out of molehills, get creative with the challenges and be open to possibilities, lastly be playful and loosen up, challenging situations are often made worse when we aren’t willing to see the humour in it. Here are some examples of common challenging behaviours that parents encounter, and I’ve included suggestions on how to navigate each one by using acceptance, creativity and playfulness.
1. Does your child constantly interrupt your conversations with your date? Accept that your child wants to be part of the dialogue and be more proactive by inviting your child into the discussion before they drive you nuts with their interruptions. Your child might surprise you by adding valuable insights that contribute to a greater sense of connection between them and your new person. Or, they might realize, sooner than later, they would rather be doing something else. 2. Does your child give excessive bedtime push-back when your date is waiting for you on the couch? Try making time for a playful pre-bed routine (like hide and seek in jammies, or a toothbrush treasure hunt). While playing, engage in casual conversations about their feelings about you dating. Listen for any signs about struggles they may be having and respond with empathy and understanding. 3. Does your child pull at your heart strings, tearing up and pleading “Don’t leave!!!” just as you’re about to head out for date night? I suggest creativity here by building a weekly family calendar of activities and post it on the fridge. Include quality time you’ll spend together, their social time without you, and your social time without them. This will help them see the balance of relationships and how you can support one another’s needs. Re-enforce your encouragement when your child goes off for playdates, or hangs out with their friends, without you. *For more tips and tools on navigating family dynamics, check out my workbook “A Map to Limitless Parenting”. Bottom line, there’s no way to ensure ease and comfort when introducing your new lovers to your children. There will be times when you think you’ve covered all bases and decide to make the introduction between your beautiful child and your sweetheart; and the outcome is a complete disaster… Other times you’ll try to put it off and the introduction is a complete accident that turns out okay. I remember one time I attempted to bypass introducing a guy to my daughter and invited him over after she went to bed, I figured he could come and go while she was sleeping. Turns out my daughter popped into my room in the middle of the night and we failed in our attempt to hide him under the covers. “Mom, what’s that lump in the bed?” That’s how she met Graham. Tension and challenges are perfectly normal! Everyone is likely to feel some awkward moments and that’s okay, you will survive. My daughter is now an adult and we laugh to tears with while reminiscing about my dating life, and her dating life too! Remember sweet things can be derived from bitter moments when we add acceptance, creativity and I would love to hear your stories about dating as a single parent, my email is below and I look forward to connecting! All my best, Amber McAuley email@example.com