Growing up, my mom, who was divorced, dated a lot for a few years. I loved it. I loved watching her get dressed up to go out to dinner or dancing. I’d sit on her bed as she’d stand at the dresser and set her blond, permmed hair on rollers, apply makeup and a spritz of Norell, her signature fragrance. She was happy, looked like she felt pretty. Then the cool teenage babysitter arrived , and my brothers and I did everything we could do to contain our rambunctiousness before my mom left.
This was back in the 1980s, and the guys she dated grew up in the 50s and 60s, and they would come to the house and pick her up. They often brought flowers — even on (especially?) first dates. My mom used these interactions as opportunities to teach her kids manners, and we learned about shaking hands, introducing one’s self and looking the other person in the eye when you spoke.
A few of these guys turned into relationships that lasted a few months, and in those cases, if they had kids, we’d all have outings. I remember a few times everyone sleeping over at our house.
The guys were nice, the kids were nice, my mom was happy around these men and it was all very normal.
Today, when I hear single parents talk about dating, the most common scenario is waiting until the magical six-month mark to introduce an amour to the kids. Divorced couples even mutually agree that the kids will not lay eyes on a romantic partner until half a year has passed. Some even go as far as engagement.
This all seems completely absurd, and I will add: Sexist.
Making a giant deal out of introducing kids to a romantic partner suggests that dating — whatever that means to you — is shameful. That the only moral way to interact with a man who is more than a friend or relative is to be in a long-term, committed monogamous relationship. Moreover, this practice is based on the notion that mothers have zero business being sexual adult women with needs that include romance, companionship and emotional connection.
By keeping dating secret from your kids tells them:
- Mothers dating is shameful.
- Dating is shameful.
- Any future notions they have of a romantic life is shameful.
- Your kid is a moron. I’ve heard from countless children of divorce who say, “My mom would be all dressed up and acting funny and obviously going on a date, but insist that she was just meeting her friends for drinks.” Do you want your kid to believe you’re an adult woman, or a liar?
I appreciate the counter-argument. Some of you will post comments about your sister-in-law, or mother, or cousin who paraded countless men through their children’s lives. That the kids got attached, and when the relationships ended, the kids were devastated. To this I say:
- If you have a healthy dating life and don’t expect every single date to lead to lifelong marriage — and don’t promote each date as a future husband-slash-step-father to your kids, this isn’t a risk.
- People cycle in and out of our kids lives all the time. That is the nature of life, as I wrote in this post. Neighborhood friends move away, kids graduate from one beloved teacher’s class to the next. Grandparents die and new siblings steal parents’ attention. Embracing this reality is far healthier than pretending it does not exist, and seeking out guarantees of permanence.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.