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Dating with children: 4 tips for single parents looking for love

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage ... then comes the lawyers, splitting up all the mutual assets, alimony payments... Sure, relationships are a lovely part of life, but they don't always last a lifetime.

Of course this doesn't mean single parents are suddenly thrown into a long and lonely life without love. Many single parents find personal satisfaction and happiness by getting back into the dating scene. But it's different the second time around; once children are involved, you're playing by a new set of rules. Here are some tips to smooth out the dating transition for you, your kids and your new partner.

Commitment is key

If you're even considering integrating a new partner into your family, it's imperative that you ensure it's going to be long-term. We're not saying you have to run down the aisle immediately, but it is your responsibility to make sure your partner wants to stick around a while. Introducing your children to a new person every week only leads to confusion and lifelong feelings of abandonment. Your relationships are your children's number-one role model for their future relationships -- when they see a revolving door in your life, many will grow up to repeat the same patterns of instability in their own partnerships.

No surprises

Your children should know you're dating well before they come face-to-face with a new person in your life. Be open about the new person in your life -- use this new person's name in conversation and talk with your children about the common interests they share well before an in-person introduction.

Slow and steady

Changing up your family's structure is the last thing in the world that should be rushed. Love is grand, but your first priority is the stability and well-being of your home and children.

Once everyone is ready for a real encounter, make the first meeting brief. One or all of you are guaranteed to feel awkward about the situation anyway, so there's no sense in drawing it out uncomfortably. A quick afternoon outing involving child-oriented activities is the way to go.

After the initial meeting, be sure to talk with your children about the experience. You are their only guide here, and they need to know your attention is still focused on them. This is a situation they are being thrown into and did not necessarily ask for -- smooth out the process by showing them you are listening and open to their feelings. If all goes well, follow up with a second meeting, but not too soon.

Keep your private life private

Regardless of who you're dating, who your ex is dating and what your kids think, this is personal, private information. In today's rapid and public world of social media, it's entirely too easy to jump on Twitter and Facebook to bash your ex, update your relationship status and rope your friends into your love life (ahem, LeAnn Rimes). The well-being of your children is at stake here, and whether they're old enough to keep up with social media or not, your business really is not the world's business. If you need advice or need to vent, meet up with a friend in private -- any friend who's dying for you to air your dirty laundry all over the internet isn't exactly a friend in the first place.

To all the single parents out there: what's been your experience when bringing new partners into your home? Sound off in the comments below!

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