Solo Mom Dating: When and How to Discuss Your Kids with Special Needs
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ESME’s Anna Stewart shares some tips based on experience
I check the boxes “Has kids” and “Doesn’t want more kids.”
In my profile I talk about things I like to do—see live music, hike, bike—but I don’t mention going to the zoo or soccer games at all. The first dating profile I wrote after my divorce was much more challenging than I expected. I had to answer questions about my taste in music, entertainment, food, activities. It had been so long since I thought about what I liked to do (separate from my kids), I could hardly come up with a short list.
For the first profile, I mentioned my kids, and my sister quickly squashed that section. “Don’t talk about your kids in your profile,” she advised me. “You aren’t looking for a new daddy; you just want to have some fun.”
I did get more likes when I talked only about me, but once I actually met the men who were interested, I had to figure out how to talk about my kids, especially my kids with disabilities.
I’ve had a lot of first meetings since then, a handful of seconds, and a few men whom I dated for months. Though I was worried my kids might be a turnoff, I have found that once these men realize I am not asking them to stand in for my kids’ father, most are good at focusing on the woman whom they are dating. I imagine that’s true for any adult who is dating.
I have learned a few things about dating as a Solo Mom who has kids with special needs. I realized I was in charge of what I shared and when, and that I did not have to apologize for having kids with special needs.
Unless your date is a teacher or therapist, he likely does not have a realistic understanding of most special needs. The words you use when describing your kids and how you feel about them are critical to that first impression. You might tell your best friend that your son is driving you crazy, but that isn’t what a prospective sweetie will understand. Before talking to others about your child, it’s important to make sure your child understands his or her disabilities or differences and ask your child what language he or she prefers.
Let’s say your son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). How do you talk about him to teachers, coaches, or friends? Notice if you start with his issues first or his gifts. Our prospective partners will interpret what we say, including the emotional tone behind our words. Be careful not to dismiss your son’s needs, either, so when your new partner and your son meet, your new partner isn’t surprised by your son’s behavior.
In describing my son with ADHD, I told dates this: “Danny is a great kid. He is charming and clever and is really into fixing electronics. He is learning to cook and grilled some awesome steaks last week. He has ADHD, which makes him louder than most kids, and he is messy, though he can always find what he needs. School isn’t his favorite thing; he’s bright but likes to do things his way. He’s going to be a great leader someday.”
ESME writer Tara Glenn talks about how new couples can learn about each other’s kids. She writes, “When I met my boyfriend’s son, even though I had worked with children before, my mind was blown by how different our boys were, despite sharing some of the same diagnoses.”
Kiss and tell?
Unless you are dating only for the sex or have a friend with benefits, you will need to disclose that you have a child with disabilities sooner rather than later. I usually bring it up on the second or third date. I figure if my date freaks out, I would rather not be too invested. It also reveals a lot about the person.
One man I dated, Steve, showed a lot of compassion as he listened and asked good questions when I told him about my daughter with intellectual disabilities. He was almost too empathetic but then he revealed that he had a daughter with significant disabilities from a short-lived relationship. She and her mother lived in another state, and he sent them money every month. At first, I felt more connected to him because he was so understanding, but then I began to feel like he wasn’t able to be emotionally connected to my daughter, since he had no relationship with his own. He had a narrow view of disabilities and made assumptions about my daughter’s future that were not true. He also never talked about either of our daughters after that first intimate talk. A few dates later, we broke up.
Flip the script
My experience with Steve and later with John, who had a daughter with mental-health issues and was very needy, helped me see that I didn’t need to avoid talking about my kids in order to keep the fellows comfortable. Instead of trying to make me and my kids look good so my new man would like them, I flipped my thinking to asking myself what I thought of him. I sure didn’t do that when I was dating in my 20s, and I still have to make a conscious effort to pay attention to my own assessment of the person. I want a prospective partner to like me, but I also need to like him. By honestly sharing with someone my life with my children, I am being authentic. Then I listen carefully to what he says, the questions he asks, and what he shares with me.
Gia Miller, another ESME writer who writes about dating, agrees. In her article, “When It Comes to Dating, Solo Moms, Embrace Who You Are!” she says: “The most important rule of all: be honest with yourself and your date. Trying to appease your date or hide your true intentions will only backfire later.”
We Solo Moms can learn from one another and bring our kids and our confidence to our dating lives!
Want to talk to more Solo Moms who’ve been there? Join Sister Chat.
Anna Stewart is ESME’s Kids with Special Needs Resource Guide and the Solo Mom of a daughter and two sons on the brink of adulthood. She’s a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities and those who love them.
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