Set boundaries to protect your child, plus 4 other tips on navigating dating as a single parent

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In the game of love, not even the best relationship coaches can guarantee winning all the time.
In the game of love, not even the best relationship coaches can guarantee winning all the time.
Photo: Natalia Shabasheva/Getty Images

By now, we all know that nothing is guaranteed in life. And, unfortunately, this also applies to relationships and even marriages.

Ending or losing a relationship you spent years investing in is not easy, especially when kids are involved.

Although your break-up might not have caused a stir on social media or made national headlines, it still doesn’t make the pain any less.

Just like in the case of 31-year-old Ntombifuthi Kunene from Benoni who hasn’t been in a relationship for almost three years after breaking up with the father of her three-year-old daughter.

“Thapelo and I dated for five years, but our relationship wasn’t really the same after I found out that he had been cheating on me for a long time. I tried turning a blind eye but I honestly couldn’t and always wondered what I didn’t have that made him cheat.

“The final blow for me was when I found out he had impregnated another woman when I was eight months pregnant. The pain I felt is hard to describe. This was not just cheating, but he was also putting me at risk of contracting diseases because he was clearly not using a condom.

“I left him without looking back and only communicate with him through my family when he wants to see his child. No woman deserves to go to bed wondering if they’re ever good enough for their partners.

“After three years of being single, I’ve been having the desire to date again and would like to find my Prince Charming, but I’m scared of being hurt again. I also have a daughter who I’m reluctant to let another man raise. I know that not all men are bad, but I fear for her safety and whether someone I will date will genuinely accept her,” she says.

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This is one of the concerns of many single mothers, which Pretoria-based psychologist Thabang Tlaka confirms.

“Single moms tend to worry about finding the right partner. They worry about his level of commitment to her and her children. They generally desire someone who is focused, responsible and has a clear plan,” he says, adding that single moms also fear getting hurt again and managing the work-family-personal life demands.

“Single moms, like any other woman, become concerned about being cheated on by the new partners,” he says.

Relationship and life coach, Thembi Hama, says when it comes to the right time to start dating again, it’s difficult to quantify time as people heal differently.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, the sure signs of being confident to love again are when you feel like you have healed, you have put the past behind you, and you feel ready to start a new relationship,” she says.

Interestingly, Tlaka says that research suggests that it takes about two years for the average person to adjust emotionally post-divorce or break-up.

“The financial, psychological and relational scars are better dealt with or resolved during that time,” he adds.

1. Identify signs you’re ready to press the restart button again

While the healing process is not the same for everyone, time is an important factor. Remember Ciara’s messy break-up with her ex-fiancé, rapper Future? Just months after the break-up, Ciara moved on with her current husband, Russell Wilson.

According to the singer, who has a child with Future, dropped a music video of her spill-all song, I Bet, which not only confirmed their break-up but also shared the reason in March 2015. In July the same year, Russell confirmed their relationship. With that said, it might not be easy for everyone to just move on in a blink of an eye.

Tlaka says that some signs of you being ready to love again include successfully reconciling with your past and even present in a positive way, not blaming your ex or painting relationships in a negative light, feeling ready and having enough energy, desire and hope for a new relationship.

2. Know when to introduce your child/ren to your new bae

Hama suggests that it’s important to make introductions when you feel you know your partner well and you start trusting them.

“The other ideal time is when the relationship has become more serious and stable,” she says. But, Tlaka warns against involving your children in every relationship you find yourself in while searching for the right one.

Rather wait until you meet someone who is committed to the relationship and wants to build a future with you.

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3. Look out for red flags before trusting your new partner with your child/ren

According to Hama, you should observe whether your partner is respectful, especially in how he treats other women and children in general, including his own siblings and mother. You should also be aware of how he behaves around your children and how invested he is towards you and their well-being.

Tlaka adds that he should be an open book, as secretive people are not safe to be around.

“Does he also have children, and how does he relate with them? You want a person who has healthy relationships with himself, his children and even his ex-partner,” Tlaka says.

4. Set boundaries to protect your child/ren

Hama advises that in the beginning, perhaps your new partner can invest in bonding with the children instead of necessarily parenting them. Be present at all times whenever they spend time with the child/ren.

“Create an environment of mutual respect for both parties as getting to know each other is a process that may take time and everyone involved must be allowed a fair amount of time for transitioning,” she says.

“Be careful of drowning in the new relationship and neglecting your children because they may begin to see the new partner as a competitor for your affection,” she adds.

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5. Understand why your child doesn't get along with the new partner

Tlaka says children typically reject a new partner if they feel they are forced on them or try to replace their biological parent.

“A child needs to be taught that mom also has her own views, ideas and desires. If the children completely reject the new partner, mom will have to decide whether to continue to have a relationship outside the home or leave the partner for the sake of the child.

“A good introduction, explanation and respect usually goes a long way with the children when it comes to relationships,” Tlaka explains.

Hama adds that the mother must give the child time and they might come around eventually.

“You must also attempt to probe why this is so; find out if the reasons are caused by something within the new relationship or totally unrelated. Try to ask if there’s anything that the new partner must start or stop doing in order to bond with the child.

“If they have tried everything and the child still rejects the new partner, it is not advisable to force the child to like him. The best thing to do is rather find ways to coexist together,” Hama says.

If you decide to give love another chance this year, remember to take your time in getting to know your new partner to protect not only your heart, but your children as well.

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