The intricacies of modern dating are challenging enough without being a single parent too. From child-rearing dilemmas to time constraints, single parents have additional factors at play when considering a new partner.
So what are the main struggles faced by those raising children while navigating love, and what are the necessary steps for single parents to take before adding a new life partner to the scene?
According to Zoë Desmond, founder and chief executive of Frolo, a single-parent community app that recently added a dating mode to the platform, there are negative ideologies about single people with children among users of widely used dating apps. “The negative experience that single parents can have on dating apps is seeing kids referred to as baggage, which is obviously a very negative way to describe a kid,” says Desmond, “and then there’s the worry about do you say that you have kids on your dating profile or is that going to go against you, and if you do say it, is it safe to say it?
“Seventy per cent of our community said ‘please create a place just for single parents’, so it was very clear the pain points that we needed to address,” says Desmond. “The things that came back were safety and security, and wanting to be in a more mindful dating experience. So instead of focusing on swipe left, swipe right for hot or not, it’s more about your relationship values, whether you are open to having more kids or not, and what your parenting situation is.”
While it is important to know a potential partner’s parenting situation, there are other significant factors when it comes to dating, says matchmaker Jennifer Haskins, who set up matchmaking service Two’s Company in 2008. “The age of the child is very significant too because not everybody is going to want to get involved with somebody who has a very young baby,” she says.
“These are the kinds of things that we are there for, we’re there to make sure that if two people are meeting, that it’s completely transparent. That they know the other person has a child or children. They know the ages of the children, they know that person’s marital status and their lifestyle.”
The matchmaker, who is also a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist, says it is of the utmost importance for people to be upfront about their single parent status when dating, as it can lead to disappointment if the other person isn’t on the same page. “If I’m introducing somebody to a partner or potential partner, that potential partner has to know their circumstances and not have this situation where they meet up and then there’s this shock of ‘oh, I didn’t know you have children and therefore you’re not a valid candidate for me,’ that’s going to hurt,” she says.
However, Geraldine Kelly, director of parenting and professional training at One Family says people should wait until they meet a person before revealing their single parent status. “They could look great on the dating apps, but you could meet them and want to run out the door two minutes later,” she says, “and I don’t think people have the right to know your life story. Sometimes, people think they have the right to know everything about you, but I think it’s good to pull back a little bit.”
One Family, the national organisation for one-parent families, offers a range of services for parents, including counselling, professional development and help to develop parenting skills and confidence. “Within the parenting department – the service I manage – the majority of the parents are parenting post-separation – 90 per cent, if not more,” says Kelly. Most are in the 30-44 age group; approximately 40 per cent are fathers and 60 per cent are mothers.
With such a large number of individuals parenting post-separation, would it be easier for single parents to date each other?
According to Kelly, bringing children from different households together adds layers of complexity to the relationship and family structure. “There is a double complexity in the number of parents involved when single parents date other single parents, so I think it can be easier if one person doesn’t have any children and you’re only trying to balance one set of children and two people coming together rather than bringing children from two different families into the one space.”
This wasn’t the case for Tracy Maloney and her long-term partner Séamus who met “the old-fashioned way” in Co Clare. “I thought when I became single that it was a no-brainer, that I’d meet somebody, we’d merge families, and maybe even marry again. But now I don’t think like that at all, I think it’s better to be in a relationship in separate houses and have a separate life,” she says.
Maloney, who has two boys from two previous relationships, Tom (19) and Patrick (12), says that meeting her current partner through a mutual connection in 2017 meant that she got to avoid some of the common dating pitfalls. “I met him the old-fashioned way and we were friends before we connected, so I trusted him and had a great deal of respect for him. I knew his family and he is down the road from me, so it wasn’t that awful love bombing feeling, confident that you’ve met someone who’s really into you, but only for now.”
The 56-year-old, who became single 10 years ago, says she found dating as a parent to a three-year-old particularly tough. “I was meeting men whose children were pretty much leaving university or much older than three, so it was beyond tough,” she says. “The men I met in Ireland were single parents, but they didn’t have the kids. So when they had a weekend where they wanted to meet, they didn’t understand why I found it so much more difficult.”
This sentiment is shared by 44-year-old Jason McClelland who says one of the biggest challenges he’s faced while dating as a single dad has been the age of his children. “Some women would have older kids and they don’t want to date men with younger kids,” he says, “because they’re at that stage where they want the weekends and they want to travel. So there is a lack of freedom when you’re dating as a single parent, especially when dating other women with older children or no kids.”
The Roscommon-based man, who has a 14-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl, has been trying to navigate the world of modern dating since his marriage of 22 years ended three years ago.
While he had some positive experiences on dating apps, he was also met with negativity. One of his Bumble matches told him he wasn’t in a position to date due to the age of his kids. “I matched with her and she asked me how old my kids were. When I told her, she said ‘you’re not free, you’re not ready to date’ and she just unmatched me,” he explains. “I’ve had a few instances of just unmatching, which is tough, it’s the equivalent of someone just turning around and walking off on you in a pub.”
McClelland, who admits it can be tricky to date as a single parent with young children, also says that it is important for people to deal with unresolved trauma from previous relationships. “There’s a lot of trauma and baggage carried around as it is when your marriage ends because you don’t obviously plan to be single with kids in your early 40s, and then you have to address all that and deal with that.”
Single mother Sharon Kenny, who set up her own matchmaking business 15 years ago, says she is taking some time out of dating for self-development, and insists on those who have experienced pain to follow suit. “It’s so important when you’ve been hurt or when you feel that you’ve had something that’s come into your life and gone, it’s so important that you get back to really loving yourself and really grounding yourself so that when you are going forward, you are not going to make the same mistake again,” she says.
The 55-year-old mother of three boys, Charles (26), Sam (24), and Luke (20), has been single for a year, and while her last partner of four years also has two children in their twenties, she had a gut feeling that the relationship wasn’t going to work. “I knew in my gut that it wasn’t going to last and I thought okay, ‘I’m going out now buying Christmas presents and do I lie to myself and buy him a Christmas present when really I don’t want to be with him again’?”
So she ended the relationship.
Honesty about expectations in a new relationship is a virtue that Kelly encourages more single parents to practice moving forward. “I think if you’re a single parent and you’re in a relationship, it’s much better to be really honest about what you can give to the relationship and what you want from it, rather than seeing it as something that is the be-all and end-all to your life because it’s not.”