I've only been at this single parenting thing for a few years, but I've learned some valuable lessons (both good and bad) about how relationships are different once you have a tiny person to consider. I've also observed my single mom friends navigating these waters over the years and heard the same few points arise again and again.
Here are some tips for anyone who decides to have a relationship with a woman who has a pint-sized sidekick or three:
1. Ask her what she's looking for. She may want a fling, or she may be looking for the family that didn't pan out last time. Whether it's a fling or a picket fence she's after, find out before you proceed -- and make sure you want the same thing.
2. Moms do not have time for flaky behavior. If you're uncertain that you want to move forward with her, walk away so she can make room in her life for true love.
3. If you've met her kids, she's serious about you. A breakup after you've become involved in their lives is much harder. She's tough as nails and will get over it. But her kids might not recover so easily if they have grown to love and trust you. Hold off on promises and talk of the future with the little ones unless you know for sure it's a certainty.
4. Every mom loves a partner who will make spaghetti for her kid, play soccer with him, or take him to the park. Taking an active role in her child's life will earn you major heart space.
5. But, until or unless there is a formal commitment, she makes the parenting decisions. Please don't try to judge or overrule her parenting choices unless you have formally committed to being around to take long-term responsibility for the decisions you want to make about her kids.
6. The world can be judgy and tough on single moms. Be her soft, accepting place.
7. She is probably going to be tired a lot. Planning an early date is lovely. Daytime activities are even better. Bonus points for showing up in sweatpants to watch the Bachelor with her after the kids are asleep.
8. Women with children require predictability, planning and presence. Keep your word. She's likely a single parent because someone at some point did not keep their promises. It's a red flag she's watching for.
9. Make sure she always knows where she stands with you. She has a lot of variables in her life. Be the sure thing.
10. Never call her ex situation "drama". It might feel dramatic to you. To her it's a situation she has to manage for her kid's sake. Trust her to handle it.
11. Loving her kids is a privilege. If you don't see it that way, keep walking, my friend.
12. If she's marriage-minded, the "One Year Rule" applies. After a year, you should know whether you want to commit or say goodbye. If you stick around with a maybe mindset, she will feel your uncertainty and may start to disconnect.
13. Expect to be scrutinized by her friends and family. They want to know she's safe and happy with you. They've become a bit cautious. They mean well, I promise. If you pass their ridiculous tests, they will adore you forever.
14. Never, ever tell her you put up with the kids because she's so great. This is not a compliment.
15. There's something amazing in all of this for you. Single mothers are strong, independent, loving, self-sufficient, mature, know what they want and can multi-task with their eyes closed. If you've snagged one, you already have the groundwork to create a really strong team.
16. A single mom is looking for a confident, mature mate of integrity who is worthy of her very precious time and love. She's been there, done that with a lesser person. This relationship will require more of you than you are used to, but it will also be more rewarding than you can ever imagine.
17. A woman with kids has a heart that can hold and offer unlimited love. If that's what you're after, you've hit the jackpot.