How to balance dating while parenting special needs children
Being a single parent is challenging. Dating as an adult can be complicated. Parenting a child with a disability is another big mountain to climb. What if you are doing all three?
Many of our clients are faced with the complex dynamic of dating while parenting special needs children. Here are a few reminders that have helped our families navigate the dating process.
3 Tips to help you navigate the dating process
1. Take it slow and take time for you.
This point depends on having a good support system around you. A single mom who shares custody with a co-parent or a single dad with parents nearby may find it a bit easier to find time to date than solo single parents. Why? Because building relationships with babysitters is hard enough without the added complication of special needs. But it’s important to find a way to keep your dating life separate from your parenting time at first.
Having support makes it easier to plan dates when your children are otherwise occupied.
As you begin to move from dating into a relationship with someone, make sure to share a lot about your child. Once you feel comfortable, talk about his or her strengths and interests. Remember to also share about the challenges you are facing. Notice how your new significant other responds and judge whether it seems like this person could fit into your lives in a healthy and positive way.
2. Make gradual introductions.
One of our clients told her son, “Mom has a new friend, and he’s going to help us set up that new picnic table in the backyard next week. He’s really handy.”
This was the perfect way to introduce the idea of a “new friend.” This approach allowed the first meeting between the friend and the child to be non-threatening. It also allowed their interaction to proceed naturally and gradually. If a situation like this goes well for you, perhaps your next step could be to meet for ice cream. If your partner has kids, maybe a picnic in the park could be a good option for you. Allow these low-key “friend” interactions to progress, and see how it goes.
3. Take the next step.
Once you are feeling super confident in the relationship and your partner is viewed as an accepted friend, take the next step.
Share with your child that you have begun a romantic relationship. Take time to show that the new partner does not replace or interfere with your relationship with your child. This can take time and there may be times of upset or jealousy. Put your child first but make time for yourself, too.
Your child may have doubts and questions. They may be wondering things like, “Is this person going to be around for a long time? Will I see them a lot? Is this going to be my new mom/dad? Are we all going to live together? Does this mean I have new brothers/sisters/pets now?”
Take it slow, make time and space for processing, and be open with your child as your relationship develops.
It is never easy to date or to be a parent. It’s important to give yourself space and grace — to take it slow and be very cautious about who you invite into your life. This is best for you and your child. Taking a patient approach will help put everybody involved at ease, and help build trust between your child and your new friend.
Wishing you lots of success on your next date!
Dr. Anna Kroncke
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