Single mothers are a different breed.
From the outside, we may look the same as our single comrades (with no children,) but the insides of our lives, minds and hearts are vastly different.
Single moms don't have the same free will as other single women.
We have undergone massive life shifts from single-hood to married life, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding; enduring radical changes to our bodies and minds.
We are connected, interwoven with the lives of our children. We are responsible for their well-being and daily survival. Hidden under the layers of responsibility lie our own needs, which resurface as we disengage from our identity as a married woman.
Since my separation three and half years ago, I've noticed a growing number of my contemporaries (in their early to mid-30s) join the force of divorcees.
Recently, several of my freshly divorced friends have confided in me about their struggles. They share the same feelings (as I did and do) of excitement, trepidation, anxiety, confusion and fear over their newborn single status.
I've made up for all of the years of inexperience in the dating pool, earning a rap sheet full of mistakes and heartbreaks. I still don't understand the game of love, but I do understand my needs as a woman and mother. Some of which, I believe, are universal to single mothers in my age bracket.
I wrote this piece with the intention of supporting the man interested in a woman with children. To offer him a peek inside her life, to help him understand her better.
This piece is also dedicated to all of the single mothers who will hopefully read this and know they are not alone in their needs and desires.
There are men out there who will embrace you and your children without hesitation, and they will see it as a blessing.
Here's how to love a single mom:
1. Be patient.
Think of her as a cavewoman transported to the 21st century.
When I divorced, I felt like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man. My 19-year-old self thawed in the middle of Single-town, expected to assume the role of a 31-year-old eligible bachelorette with an A-game.
It was quite the opposite. I spent the entire decade of my 20s hibernating in the cave of accelerated adulthood -- planning a wedding, building a home, getting pregnant, having miscarriages, getting pregnant again, breastfeeding, home making and child-rearing. I missed out on the 10 years of dating and hard knock life lessons of an un-committed Gen X'er.
I had no clue how to behave or what to expect from another mate, not to mention the men I was connecting with had no experience with a woman with children, posing another layer of complications.
My advice is to be sensitive to her single/dating immaturity. She's only known the security of married life -- all in and completely devoted. Taking it slow and playing a smooth game is not her M.O. Remember, she spent every night for years with the same person. She is a fish out of water and she will act like it.
Coddle her a bit. Make light of her ineptness and remember she's on a learning curve -- it won't be like this forever.
2. Be consistent.
When you don't have anyone to answer to, come home to, or care for, your schedule belongs to you. You can be as spontaneous as you want.
A woman with children can't, nor could she even if she wanted to be. She has a schedule. Daily life is planned out because children need consistency and boundaries, and she needs to maintain her sanity.
There is meal time, bed time, a routine, a school schedule, a homework schedule, dentist appointments, doctor appointments, dance class, time with mom and time with dad.
One of the most important actions a man can take when dating or building a relationship with a woman with this cargo ship of obligation is to be respectful of her time and her life.
The last thing she needs is to be concerned or preoccupied with is when she will hear from you, her significant other.
It's really simple. Call her regularly, even if it's just to tell her you are thinking about her. Plan dates at least a few days in advance. When you acknowledge her circumstance, it shows her you care.
When the kids are with their father, spontaneity can reign, but when she's on duty, honor her. Plan ahead.
Chances are, she's been lonely for a very long time. She hasn't had the opportunity to share her thoughts or feelings with a partner for years. Give her your time and attention. Listen to her talk about her day -- what the kids did, the good parts, the bad parts. Just by listening, you are building trust and intimacy.
Better yet, listen over dinner.
One of the loneliest moments of my days over the past few years has been dinner time. It is a blessing to sit with my children every evening, but there is a deep ache as I set the table for three. I sit down and across from me, empty space, on either side of me, joy -- bouncing legs, crumbs and buttery hands yearning to tell me about their days and I listen, but there is something missing: a partner.
Someone who's there to listen, contribute to the conversation, and asks the questions I forget to ask, who catches the conversation like the catcher in a game, and throws the ball back to me, "How was your day?"
As mothers, we feel forgotten a lot. We listen and listen, but who is there to listen to us?
It is a simple action -- to be silent and give attention to object of your affection. It will mean more to her than any words could ever express.
4. Feed her with sex.
The results are in: women our age are horny.
We are in our sexual prime. Some of us haven't had meaningful or passionate sex in years.
I've heard it over and over again from my friends and other women in the same boat -- we need and want sex, lots of it; not with lots of people, with someone who we love and trust.
After the day is over and she's tended to everyone else's needs, she will want to express her sensual side and be passionate. It is important for her to feed her needs, even if they are primal.
Emojis have nothing on the emotional forecast of a woman who has weathered a divorce. Residing under the feelings of fear and grief, relief and sadness is liberation.
She feels free.
When we feel unsatisfied emotionally or mentally, we automatically lose our desire for sex. Most marriages live in this space. Those who have reclaimed themselves through separation or divorce live in a sexually liberated state.
This phase won't last forever, but while she's in it, enjoy it. Explore with her and feel honored she chose to explore her newfound freedom with you.
5. Follow her lead when it comes to the kids.
Allow her to decide when it's time to meet her children, whether it is a month in or four months in to dating. She is the expert when it comes to her children.
When you do meet them, be natural, be yourself. Children are like dogs, they smell fear and they sense insincerity.
Just show up. You don't need to buy their affection, you just need to be present, listen, participate, and be consistent with your presence.
Your job is not to play "Daddy." (My advice as an expert single mom.) If she makes it your job immediately, I would highly recommend reconsidering your involvement. Your place is as her partner and lover, not as a parent, at least not until you walk down the aisle or commit to a long-term partnership.
Just remember, if you've met her children, it's the sign of all signs that she sees a future with you and most importantly, she trusts you.
Although I was young when I divorced, I thought I might be in for a long life of tables for one. I figured I'd be written off as damaged goods or heavy baggage. My motto for a while came in the form of a self-deprecating question, "Who would want me now?"
The rejection of divorce can hold its breath for years; it has only recently drowned for me.
I think the best piece of advice I can give is, give it time. If you just divorced, give yourself some time to be alone before you begin a relationship. If you are a man interested in a single mom, allow her space to heal before you become involved. It will only improve the well-being of your relationship in the future. Be her friend first. You will instinctively know when she's ready and when she is, love her all the way.
*Author's note: This article is written from the perspective of a single mother, however there are many single fathers for who this applies.
**First published on elephant journal