Being a single parent isn’t easy. And we’re not just talking about the enormous responsibility of raising a child without a partner to provide emotional and financial support. Being a single parent makes finding love the second time around more challenging.
Consider these hurdles: some men often generalise or nurture misconceptions about single mothers, thinking they are easy sexual conquests. They may also have the notion that she would settle for anyone who would be willing to take on her ‘baggage’.
There’s also the single mother’s worry that there won’t be enough of her to go around. “Since they are the primary caregivers of their children, the first thing single mothers will battle is guilt,” observes family counsellor Harriet Hormillosa, of the Reintergration for Care and Wholeness Foundation in the Philippines. “They may ask themselves, ‘Now that I’m getting romantically involved, will I tend to neglect my children?’”
If the relationship with the child’s father ended badly – as in cases of extramarital affairs, physical or verbal abuse – the woman may be hesitant to start something new. Hormillosa explains, “There will be a lot of caution on her part. The pain she experienced will create a block, preventing her from becoming available right away”.
“In our culture, being separated or an unwed mother is often a deterrent for serious relationships,” says Hormillosa. Because a single mother comes with an ‘instant’ family, some men may find dating one simply too much to handle. Owie Burns-dela Cruz, 30, now happily married, recalls: “There are guys who are kind of unsure about dating you because they know what kind of responsibility they have to take on if they decide to get serious. Not every man you meet is brave enough to do that wholeheartedly.”
Some single parents are discovering the strengths of their unique situations.
“Being a single mother worked to my advantage. It quickly weeded out the jerks and losers in the market,” says Amy, 35. “I never tried to hide the fact that I had a daughter who was always my main priority. The guys I dated seriously, however, saw more: here’s a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need me or my money to be happy. Those guys stuck around longer.”
Like Amy, Owie could tell that Rommel, now her husband, was a keeper because of his genuine interest in her son. “He knew from day one that I had a son, Kristo. He was very interested to get to know about Kristo, he’d always ask about him.”
Amy’s boyfriend, Jay, was excited to meet her daughter. “I had no apprehensions at all,” he says. “I’ll go never forget when she told her mother that I should go home with them.”
Both Amy and Owie prove that far from being a crutch, their children actually helped them find their perfect match – partners who were mature, understanding and willing to take on the responsibilities of raising a family.
When significant others meet
“I think that is uppermost in the mind of every single parent who is looking for another relationship,” says Hormillosa. “That is the non-negotiable: it has to be somebody who will want my child.” Meeting ‘the one’ is only half the battle. The next hurdle is introducing him to the other significant person in your life: your child.
Amy and Owie believe that introductions are necessary when the relationship has become serious. Amy says, “Jay was the only guy I introduced to my daughter to after the separation [from her father]. Do make sure that the guy is for keeps, and he isn’t married, happily, or otherwise.”
“Once you know that the relationship is headed towards marriage, the sooner you introduce the guy to the children, the better,” advises Owie. “But don’t force it or rush it. Your boyfriend and children need time to get to know each other and find their groove. In a way, they’re also dating.”
Hormillosa suggests an early introduction: “There has to be a gradual kind of introduction. Here’s a person who is your mum’s friend or somebody who is very interested to be our friend. She can bring along the children little by little while the friendship is developing. Prepare yourself and the children for the next level of the relationship.”
Although the approach may be different for every child, depending on his or her age, attitude and relationship with the parent, Hormillosa believes that dialogue is important. “We have to allow our children to get used to the idea. There has to be some kind of dialogue that should be preparation. Questions such as ‘Would you like to have a new dad or new uncle?’ – that could be part of the introduction. If the children are already at the age of reason, there should be a dialogue that should even precede the mother being interested in any romantic relationship. Otherwise, it would set them up for tension, and that is not going to be healthy.
Hormillosa also cautions parents against presenting their new beaus as a replacement for the child’s biological parent. “You can say that, hopefully, you have someone you can consider a dad. But don’t entice them that he is going to be a replacement, especially if the biological father is still around and also wants to have a relationship with them.”
Owie adds, “Be open. They’re your children. We can’t underestimate their understanding. They’re smarter than we think and sometimes even wiser.”
A new life together
As the single parent’s relationship with a new partner blossoms, so should the partner’s relationship with the child grow. This may entail doing things together, as a family does.
“Jay and my 11-year-old daughter are both into martial arts,” says Amy. “She’s a bit of a tomboy, so they do a lot of stuff together. I just sit back, relax and watch them have fun.”
Owie says, “Kristo loves asking Rommel questions, especially about being a man. Sometimes I just see them in bed, talking. He would often say ‘I love you’ to Rommel before he goes to bed.”
The key to harmony, Hormillosa says, is making your children feel secure about their place in the family, even if Mum or Dad has a new partner. “They have to be made to feel they are still Mum or Dad’s priority. Their needs are still going to be attended to. They are not supposed to look at the person as a competitor or rival for their parent’s care or attention. It has to be a balancing act, which is very important for any parent who is really looking for a second chance at a relationship.”
Nurturing this healthy attitude will continue as your family grows. Now that Owie is pregnant with her first child with Rommel, she makes sure that Kristo feels he is part of it all. “We bring him to our Ob-Gyn visits so that he can hear the baby’s heartbeat. And when we have ideas for baby’s names, we tell him and see what he thinks about them. It’s very important that you always assure your child that even when there’s a new baby, you will love him just the same.”
Owie’s and Amy’s stories show that single parents can still look forward to new chapters in their lives, as the unique challenges of being a single parent can also lead to unique possibilities.