Sex And The Single Mom
I’m A Single Mom — Is It A Giant Red Flag If A Man Isn’t Interested In My Kids?
A classic single parent Montague vs. Capulet situation: Can we find love outside our child-having tribe?
I've been divorced for 6 years, and I have a teenage kid. Someone I have known platonically for a long time recently got a divorce and is now showing up with more romantic energy. He's younger than me and childless; he flirts, he texts, he takes me out, but he absolutely never asks about my kid. He never comments or leans in when I bring up what my son and I are up to besides the basic "sounds like fun!" As someone who is tired of casual dating and only now ready to open up to a long term again, I haven't had to consider this before. Of course I can ask him directly about his disinterest, but the child-blinders behavior I'm witnessing feels significant. Being a mother is such a huge part of my life and identity, and my son and I are very close. How important or even essential is it for someone to be interested in or enthusiastic about your kids at the outset of a thing? The romantic energy and chemistry is strong, but I can't shake the feeling that I might be dancing around a red flag.
Oh, man. This is the age-old single-parent’s Montague vs Capulet situation. Proud Parent of the Month vs Childfree and Proud. Your situation is one that comes up often with friends of mine who are also single parents and who struggle to date those without children because, well, parenting and not-parenting are two very different life experiences.
But before we go there I just want to acknowledge the first thing I noted about your message: After many years of casual dating you finally found someone you really like. Which is kind of a big deal, so let’s just sit with that for a second.
Regardless of his child-free status, this person is someone you like enough to consider exploring a serious relationship. And that is a big deal. It’s also going to trigger a lot of feelings in you, including doubts and fears. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to up the stakes when you are so used to not having any. Especially after six years. The fact that he is childfree and clearly has a boundary when it comes to your son may mean he has doubts and fears as well. It’s possible he knows that this — you — are someone with whom he can imagine exploring a more serious relationship.
I think it’s great he sees you as more than a mother.
The thing about spending years or months (or even weeks) casually dating is that you don’t ever have to worry if the person you are casual about would be good with your kids. Or is even good with their own, because you know you’re never going to meet those kids and they’re never going to meet yours. Of course there’s always the risk that your something casual will become something more serious and, much like in your case, this murky transition can leave one feeling powerless and unprepared. (Ask me how I know, a memoir.)
And while I have never dated a parent as a non-parent, I imagine its profoundly intimidating for someone with no parenting experience to date a parent — specifically a single mom who, more often than not, carries the primary weight of the parenting responsibilities.
Beyond that, it doesn’t sound like this man is disinterested in your child so much as he’s interested in you, as a person, and knows he can’t relate to being a parent so why try. (ED: Dating men without kids who try to mansplain parenting is a genre unto itself and I would take disinterested man over excessively interested man any day. But I realize that is a personal preference.)
Then there’s the teenage boy factor. Meeting someone’s teenage kids can be a lot. Teenagers are intimidating! Especially if that teenage kid is a boy who has been the man of the house for the last six years.) I think it’s important to give your potential significant other grace here, instead of conflating his understandable boundaries with complete lack of interest.
All of this to say that no, I do not see his lack of interest in your son at this point in your relationship as a red flag. I think it’s great he sees you as more than a mother. He has gotten to know who you are separate from your mother-self, and while parenting your son is a major part of how you identify, you are more than your son’s mother and he sees that.
Finding things you both have in common outside of parenting may be a challenge for you in the present, but I think you can absolutely build a relationship with someone without including them in all aspects of your life and parenting experience. Your child may prefer this to be the case as well.
So I say go for it. Chemistry isn’t easy to come by, and that’s a feeling worth paying attention to.
I want to answer any and all questions you have about the exhilarating, terrifying, and wonderful experience of dating and having sex with new people after becoming a parent. Send me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Woolf writes Romper’s Sex & the Single Mom series. She has worked as a writer for more than two decades and is the author of two books, Rockabye: From Wild to Child and All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire. You can subscribe to her newsletter, The Braid, for more. She lives in Los Angeles with her four children.