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Dating Guidelines for Single Moms

QUESTION: I am a single mom of a three-year-old boy. I have just begun to date. I am afraid my son won't want to "share" me with anyone. What is the best way to introduce a date to my son and when is it appropriate for me to do so?

ANSWER: When you are comfortable, introduce your date to your son as a "new friend." Friendship is not only the foundation of a viable marriage, but something your child understands! All new friendships do not continue, but good ones evolve. You cannot know the future, so just stay with the present.

First, there is no magic time frame for an introduction. After all, it is important that your son realizes that you need friends -- males and females that are your own age. Just as your son has his preschool friends, he will understand that you need adult friendships, too. It is not a matter of competition, so jealousy is lessened from the start.

Second, maintain appropriate boundaries during the dating process in order to protect your child from primary attachment to someone who may just be passing through. It is not the specific amount of time, but the nature of the commitment that evolves between you and a boyfriend that should determine the relationship between your child and a significant other.

Keep your dating life relatively separate from your family life until you know someone well enough to feel they would be a good friend to your son. Start off slowly with limited activities like going to the zoo or having a picnic. Do not assign parental responsibilities to a boyfriend. Wait until there is a clear commitment to the relationship and potential for marriage before considering deepening the involvement with your son.

Finally, answer your child's questions as honestly as possible. For example, one single mother had been dating a man for six months. The relationship had become a committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. The boyfriend became acquainted with her three-year-old son and they liked each other. They had been to the zoo and enjoyed contact around reading books and having breakfast together. One day, when her son wanted to play his educational computer game between bites, his mother was talking to him about the importance of sitting down to dinner together. She told him that family members are special to one another and having dinner together was a special time to be together in families. He took this opportunity to ask her if her boyfriend was a part of their family. She said "no," he was a good family friend.

This mom's answer clarifies boundaries. She refrained from setting up false expectations by blurring the line between friendship and family, even though her son and boyfriend were clearly developing affection for one another. When, and if, her boyfriend and she do commit to marriage, he would then be invited into the family with responsibilities and expectations for full membership!

Of course friendships are important, but it is important that you protect your child from getting overly involved with men who may appear as caring parental figures to a child only to disappear later. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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