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What I Didn't Realize About Dating as a Single Mom

Photograph by Twenty20

Breaking up is hard to do, and it's no joke when kids are in the picture. As someone who has been through divorce, with kids, I thought any future boyfriend and subsequent break up will be a walk in the park. You know, no custody to deal with, just a good old fashioned break up—like the kind you had before you were a mom.

Turns out, I was wrong. In fact, it's way trickier than I thought. Sure, there’s no divorce, no custody, no arrangements. But unlike a boyfriend from your pre-mom days who just sort of goes away, when you're a mom in a new relationship that fails, you still have to think about the kids!

At least if it's a serious one and the kids were in the picture. And this is what is happening to me.

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As a single mom you vet and vet and vet before your kids meet a boyfriend. It has to be serious and the boyfriend has to be up for the task. Manboy X and I had an interesting road to romance. We slipped in through the backdoor. We started as work partners and my home office was basecamp. My kids expected to find him here after school now and then and soon he was staying for dinner here and there. He had no kids to get home to, nothing to rush off to. His life was wide open. It didn't take long for my (awesome! hilarious! fun! ) kids to grow on the cool 41-year-old dude hanging out in our place. He was not a dad type. To them he was just a cool, big kid in baggy jeans and a vintage T-shirt. Plus he had a fun big dog. What’s not to love?

He can't just drift back into sea like the boyfriends of childless yesteryear. Everything is serious when there are kids involved.

Then somehow (skipping a few beats here) things started to morph into lover/work partners and we swung on this pendulum for a long time. I’ll keep things simple by saying we never really knew what we were and neither did my kids. There were times when Manboy X had to sleep over as we were on crazy work deadlines. He slept on the couch. I never let him sleep over except for those few times. I kept things ambiguous with my kids. There were times when, in a bind, he would take my kids to school or pick them up.

Everyone grew close. He cooked for us. My kids considered him family even though the word "boyfriend" never came up. We even took a trip together and I slept with my kids, not him.

I encouraged and empowered him to take on a more paternal role when we were all together because I didn’t feel good having a grown up around who was just playing the big kid role all the time. My kids came to trust, rely and count on him and he was always tireless, wonderful and went beyond the call of duty at every turn.

Soon, Manboy X was joining us on holidays and landmark family events and all still under the guise of being my work partner. Over time we stopped working together for a million reasons, one being I wanted to get out of the business and switch careers. I took a full-time teaching job and we phased out our co-working projects.

Then we broke up.

Now that we are no longer working together there is no reason for him to come over for work. And since we are no longer together, he doesn't need to come over for anything. At least not having to do with me. He does however need to come over to see my kids. Because they love him. He can't just drift back into sea like the boyfriends of childless yesteryear. Everything is serious when there are kids involved.

Like all my exes, Manboy X and I get along great and we love each other boat loads. He will be over for dinner and we will do family style things together—day trips, movies, meals. He will come play Legos with my son AJ and finish teaching him chess. He may not read them books at night like he used to, but he can certainly take them to the mall or the park.

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As time passes things may change and the birthday party and holiday dinner attendance will most likely fade into nothingness. But right now, it's so fresh that it feels simple, easy and necessary. Perhaps as he is less visible and present in my life, so too will he recede from my kids' vision. I doubt it though as they worship the ground he walks on. They FaceTime and text them on their own accord. So for now we will make sure to preserve their special connection and we will see how it goes.

He is my first ever post-divorce boyfriend and this is a new experience for all of us. Honestly I have no idea how this works. All I know is that we will do our best to be in a place of love, warmth and familial connection and take one day at a time. And if he doesn't come over to finish what he started with teaching AJ chess, it will surely be a disaster.

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