What is the difference between dating and being in a relationship? When you change the way that you look at it, the difference becomes quite clear. According to a video I recently watched, dating is like test-driving a car; at least that’s how men look at it anyway. You test-drive a car to see how it works and how you like it. If you like it you decide to keep it, or you purchase it. The purchase is equivalent to a relationship.
For many of us test-driving a new car is fun and exciting. Add children to the mix and it changes things. Suddenly test-driving is not all about having fun and simply seeing if you like someone, instead you are forced to look beyond aesthetics and thrill, and think long term.
As parents when we have children the things we look for in a car are very different than what we may have looked for as a teen or single young adult. The car that is cool and fun to drive now may not be the right car for a family down the road. The same is true when it comes to dating. After having a child I knew that any person I dated had to have the potential to be someone I felt safe around and saw as reliable. While it was nice if they were easy on the eyes, I was more concerned about what they had to offer my child and me, and if we could make it past the test-driving phase. I had to decide if they were worth the investment.
My husband and I test-drove for months before officially becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. At the time, it felt so long but looking back I feel like it was the perfect amount of time. It gave us a chance to really learn one another. While it is hard to make the decisions such as how much time you want to invest in a relationship before things become official; it’s important to give it some thought. With regards to my own situation, being together so long made the transition of mommy’s friend to mommy’s boyfriend to mommy’s fiancé to daddy (something she began doing on her own) to mommy’s husband much easier. We dated for less than a couple months before I introduced him to my daughter. She was one and me 21, turning 22, and in a sense we both were babies. I was growing up at a rapid rate as parenting had forced me to do and she was growing at an alarming rate too because that’s what babies do. I learned a lot while test-driving with my Mr.
Continue reading for 10 of the things I learned or wish I learned while test-driving with a child.
1. Be proud of your story
Own your story. Yes own it. All of it. The good, the bad, it doesn’t matter. Your past does not define you but it did help shape you and had a huge impact on the person you are today. It also resulted in you receiving the most precious gift you could ever receive — your child(ren). I carried a lot of shame. I felt like I had become a statistic and based on my ex’s history I should have known better. The reality is I made the choices I made and the fall out behind them was tough and painful but in it I became stronger than ever and got to be mommy to the most amazing little person.
2. Don’t settle
Just because you have children doesn’t mean you have to settle or accept whatever is being thrown at you. I learned this when I made the decision to move on from my first marriage; I decided I wanted more for my child and more for myself. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking no one will want a woman with a child and if we meet someone who will be with us we hold onto them whether they are good for us or not simply because we fear being alone. You are thinking about it all wrong! You come with a bonus! The right person will know a good package deal when they see one. It’s ok to want more. You deserve love and respect and so do your children.
3. Go slow
Don’t introduce him to your children unless you plan on making that purchase. While experiences differ based on your situation and the age of children, my challenge was that my daughter’s biological father was not consistently in her life. I was fearful that she would become attached to the person I was with. We were dating for many months before he went out on an outing with the both of us. I felt like her seeing me with another man was serious. No other man I ever dated came around my child with the exception of the one I ended up marrying. If someone is going to meet your most precious commodity then they need to be deserving of such.
4. Allow him to see your reality
So many people thought I had it together, when inside I sometimes felt like my world was falling apart. I was going through a divorce, attending school full-time, working and taking care of a baby who I supported on my own. I was honest with Chris from day one about my situation and the challenges I was dealing with concerning my ex. I let him know that I didn’t always know what I was doing but that I was doing my best. He knew my child was my first priority and he saw firsthand how much I loved her. He also saw that being a parent wasn’t easy and that by being in my life he may be forced to deal with some of the things I was dealing with.
By seeing what my reality was like it allowed him to take a step back and decide if he wanted to move forward and more importantly decide if he could handle it. Not everyone can handle an ex-spouse or being with someone who has someone in their life who takes precedence over them and can’t go on a 7 day cruise because they have a toddler at home or can’t go with you to the concert because the baby has a fever.
5. Let him date you and your child
I will never forget the first time the three of us really hung out. We went to the museum and afterwards to lunch. I was so nervous. What if my daughter had a tantrum or cried the whole time? Would he go running for the hills? She did cry. Not the whole time but a large chunk of the time. We went to see the butterfly exhibit and she was afraid of the butterflies and then she cried the whole way to the restaurant out of exhaustion. He didn’t run but he was able to not just observe, but also experience first hand what life was like with a little one. For me it included toddler plates at restaurants, car seats, impromptu meltdowns and frequent bathroom trips. Us dating also helped my daughter become more comfortable with the idea that there was someone else in our lives. Someone that was taking some of mommy’s time and attention but also giving her some extra love and attention too.
6. Be honest
Be honest about your expectations and what you are looking for. If you are looking for something more serious say that. It allows you both to be on the same page from the beginning and both decide how much time and energy you want to invest in one another.
7. Be yourself
My husband and I are both firm believers that you must be yourself. One of the reasons he is such a proponent of test-driving for awhile before getting serious is because it allows you to see what a person is really like. Oftentimes when you first date someone they show you their best self and as they get more and more comfortable you get to see another side of them that they may not have shown you before. You want someone to love you for who you really are and not for the person they think you are. It will save you and your children heartbreak down the road.
8. Remember your children still come first
As much as you want to spend time with Mr. Handsome your children are your priority and the person you are dating needs to understand that. When we were dating we often went on late dinner dates so I could read bedtime stories and put my daughter to bed. I lived with my mother so I admit I had a luxury a lot of single mothers may not have. My mom also sometimes would watch her so we could do something during the day which was nice but at the end of the day my daughter was still my top priority. She needed me. If we were out having fun and my mom called to let me know my little one wasn’t feeling well, although she was in good hands, I came home. Sick babies always want their mamas.
9. Sometimes things don’t work out
Sometimes you date only to find that things just won’t work out. Although in the end my husband and I ended up together, we did break up and spend time apart. This time was very hard for me not just because I was adjusting to not having him around all the time, but also because my daughter would ask for him. It broke my heart because one of my biggest fears was that by me dating, her heart could end up broken too. Although he still wanted to be a part of her life, I was reluctant, due to me not wanting her to get further attached. It is important to give some thought as to how you will handle things if they don’t work out. Will you still be friends, would you still allow them to be in contact with your children? Prepare yourself for the possibility that things don’t always go as planned.
10. Keep living
People always have something to say. There were those who had plenty to say about me. They frowned at me for dating or ever being someplace without my child and they assumed I was on a mission to find a “baby daddy.” While I wasn’t on a mission I did need to know that the person I was dating had potential to be a father to my child. That was my reality and there was nothing wrong with me desiring to have a companion. Sure, my daughter and I made quite a duo. I didn’t need another person to make our family complete, but I stopped being opposed to the possibility that I could meet someone who could love her and I the way we deserved and needed to be loved. It is ok to go out and have fun. For a while I felt guilty if my daughter wasn’t with me whenever I had “free time.” It’s important to find what works best for you and your family but you shouldn’t feel guilty for dating just because you have a child. Life doesn’t stop when you become a single parent; you just have to make adjustments to the way that you live it but by all means, don’t stop living.
I realize my situation was very different than some. My daughter was little during my test-driving stage and my ex for the most part was not in the picture. The lessons I learned were based on my own situation.
For those of you who dated or who are dating with children did I leave something out? Do you have any words of wisdom or advice to share? I’d love to know what your experience was or is like. Made a recent purchase? I’d love to hear about that too!