31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Single Parenting Can Be A Lonely Business

Single with Children: Single parenting can be a lonely business

Publication Date: 06/26/02

Every now and then it's easy to forget that we, as parents, single or married, are working ourselves out of a position. Of course there have been days when it seemed our kids would never outgrow teething, understand the goal of potty training or ever get a handle on the fine art of putting clothes in the drawers, rather than on top of them. My kids are teen-agers, and they still haven't quite mastered that feat.

Summer lets us slow down a bit, take a deep breath and, sometimes, even do a personal inventory. I've been doing a little of that in the past couple of weeks. My son has been visiting his father, and my daughter is preparing to move to her new digs. I remind myself that my son and I have three more years of high school to look forward to but also am realizing that I have basically wrapped my whole world around being a parent. I never really let myself think seriously about what happens next. The prospect is, at times, both exciting and vaguely intimidating.

Of course, if one is married, at least there's some idea of a mutual plan and no real fear of being alone in looking ahead to the future. But for many of my single friends and me, it's a rather strange idea to consider.

The one universal thread I find in talking with my fellow single parent friends is that we all seem to have a fear of eventually being alone, followed by an even more urgent phobia of not wanting to fail at a relationship. If you've ever been near a divorce, that's not such a difficult thing to understand. I have yet to meet anyone who wants to go through that kind of crisis again. It's no wonder that many single parents find their post child-raising future a delicate terrain to contemplate.

It is, however, a reality worth giving some consideration. Some folks recover quickly from the sting of a failed marriage and hop right back on the dating bandwagon. Many parents are simply too exhausted from all the juggling to consider adding a new, time-expensive addition into an already hectic schedule. But the fact is that single parenting can be a very lonely business. There are many time demands of a custodial parent playing the part of both Mom and Dad, but in the hours after the children are tucked away the house becomes very still, and there is often a quiet longing for a hand to hold and another adult to share the events of the day.

The other day a friend wrote and asked me, "How will I know when I'm ready?" The question reminded me of the one I asked my obstetrician in the waning days of my first pregnancy - "How will I know when I'm really in labor?" I remember his nonchalant reply - "Oh, you'll know - believe me - you will know when it's the real thing." I didn't understand at the time because I had never been through the experience, but he was absolutely right. I knew exactly when it was time to get the watch out and start timing contractions. I think the same thing probably applies to when is it time to consider venturing out and testing the dating waters. You just kind of magically know.

A lot of single parents report experiencing guilt over contemplating a date, much less a new relationship. I understand that. Most of us give so much to our kids that it can be daunting to imagine taking a few hours out and stepping into a date that doesn't begin and end at a fast food restaurant. The biggest decision to make on those "dates" is whether we want to add fries with the sandwich. It's not glamorous, but it's comfortable and nonthreatening. Eventually, though, we find ourselves on a first date sitting at an actual table with a real waiter and it's amazing how those butterflies we experienced before we were ever married return, as if on cue, to the same spot in our stomachs. Some things just never change.

As for the guilt attached for many folks re-entering the dating scene, there is one very important thing to keep in mind: Children truly want their parents to be happy and complete. They know instinctively when we are, just as they can always detect when we are not. Our children also take their cues from us and most seem to understand our need for adult companionship. More often than not, they are pleased to see Mom or Dad taking a brave new step. If our little ones feel secure, they will embrace the idea, making the need for any "guilt" completely unnecessary and useless.

So with the advent of longer days and maybe even a little more time on your hands, these lazy, hazy days of summer might be a good time to consider the possibility of meeting new people and dusting off your dating skills. I have an idea that with a little practice, things start to feel familiar. Of course, it's all trial and error and one date does not a future make, but that first date might be a step in the right direction. Who knows? There could still be a "happily ever after" just waiting to be discovered.

If you would care to share any interesting, funny, good or bad stories on re-entering the dating world after divorce, I'd love to read them and will keep things anonymous. Feel free to share!

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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