When your focus has recently been only on keeping your family safe and strong, it can be a bit overwhelming to imagine dating as a single parent. However, if you find yourself wanting adult companionship over the long term, it is worthwhile to prioritize getting back out into the dating pool. It won't always be easy, but you'll find that dating as a single parent is completely possible when you stay grounded and realistic.
Build Up Relationships With Trusted Sitters
One way to ensure you get the time you need to date is to create a long-term relationship with trusted babysitters. When your sitters know approximately when you may want childcare, you can work with them on a flexible basis. Make it clear to your dates that you are getting childcare for the date, when possible; it can help to avoid any flaking-out at the last minute!
Talk to Your Kids
While you might not need to talk to very young kids early in a dating scenario, your older kids will eventually want to know why you are spending time away from them with new people. Have the important conversations where you honestly answer questions in an age-appropriate way. Help frustrated kids see how you dating is a positive thing for you and for your family; they may take a little while to come around, as with any new change, but your love and unwavering attention will help them see that these new people can never replace them in your heart.
Make Time For Yourself
Adding dating to a busy childcare/work/friendship schedule can make things a little overwhelming! If you find that you are dating a lot, consider going on at least one or two "dates with yourself," just to keep perspective. You as a single parent will need the occasional uninterrupted grocery store visit, or a nice lunch by yourself, and those things are incredibly valuable. Your new dates will notice an extra positive atmosphere around you when they sense that you are taking time to care for yourself.
Be Open and Honest
One of the biggest things that can be daunting is talking to someone you have only just begun to date about already having kids. Many couples who do not have children can put off that conversation, but as a single parent, you are better off being open and up-front about your kids and their role in your life. Your partners may be casual, but they should know why you feel the need to have day-dates, or why you rush home at the stroke of 9. You don't want these dates to discover that you've been "hiding" the fact that you have children; this can undermine trust. The right dates will be excited to hear about the little ones who are a huge part of your life.
Aim for the Slow Burn
While it can be tempting to throw oneself headlong into a new relationship, when you have a family already, it can be better to take things slowly. By having dates a bit less frequently and delaying getting really close to someone, you give yourself time to adjust and truly figure out what parts of your relationship are infatuation and which parts are "in it for the long haul." There's nothing wrong with casual dating, or even with infatuation! It's just that, as single parents, once a new partner is introduced into your child's life, they have an indelible impression on the child. If the child really likes them but the relationship doesn't work out, there can be more feelings hurt than just your own. Slow starts to relationships can give all parties time to get comfortable.
Introduce Kids and Partners Deliberately
Along the same lines as above, try to orchestrate a good environment to introduce your children to your new partner, if dating gets fairly serious. Find an environment where your children and your new partner will both be comfortable, preferably an activity where the children and the partner don't have to spend the whole time talking to each other but can if they want to. Bowling or an arcade can be fun, since the children associate these activities with excitement. Your partner will have less pressure in an outside, neutral environment than in your home, but it is also an option to have your partner come over for dinner if being at home will be the most comfortable environment for your kids. Whatever you do, try to think it through and plan, rather than accidentally having your children meet your partner by surprise encounter.
Dating as a single parent is a juggling act, like much of one's life as a parent, but it is worthwhile to find a wonderful companion. With supportive sitters and a patient heart, you can find your next love and a new friend for your children.