3 Secrets to Dating the Single Co-Parenting Dad

Single dads are fiercely committed to their little ones saying, by action and by word, “you are loved.”

Dads who choose to co-parent are a growing subset of divorced parents with kids. As more and more married fathers take on a major role in day to day parenting, they remain committed to full time engaged parenting following divorce.

Co-parenting dads are focused on regularly caring for their kids in partnership with their former spouses. Usually this means all the mechanics of raising a little one duplicated in a two separate homes. It is a precarious place to be initially, and newly single dads often see caring for their children as the clear and present through-line amidst the chaos of divorce and change.

The end of a marriage can seem like a catastrophic failure to create continuity, but when there are children involved, divorced parents can find real and lasting redemption in creating the civilized and loving structures of co-parenting. And that co-parenting space is often where single co-parenting dads focus the bulk of their energies. They are fiercely committed to their little ones saying, by action and by word, “you are loved.”

I was once one of them. I am now happily married.  What I was seeking (and found) in a spouse was informed by what I experienced in part, in the co-parenting world.

 ♦◊♦

Any co-parenting dad who is taking care of his kids, is going to have the days when they are “on duty” and the days when they are “off duty.” And if you are considering a relationship with a co-parenting dad, you should know that these two modes of being are very different.

Here are three secrets to how the divorced co-parenting dad (or mom) operates and why:

1) The on-duty co-parenting dad can be a “all business” kind of fellow. Especially if his child is young. For any of us, being around a single dad when they are with their little ones, can feel like being on the outside looking in. But this is out of necessity, as parenting after divorce is about creating regular predictable rituals and rhythms for children. After creating these new, safe, predictable spaces in which their kids can navigate the changes of divorce, dads may be very hesitant to meet their own needs socially or sexually. For months or even years. This is because they fear disrupting these safe spaces and rhythms in any way.

2) Remember, these dads are already carrying the burden of their choice to divorce, a decision which many may have already told him is a “selfish” act. The shaming around divorce in our culture is epidemic. To go yet another step forward and even consider a new relationship seems like a risk too great  and too self absorbed to indulge in. These fears are difficult to overcome for some single dads. But that’s the journey anyone who is divorced must go through. Its just that single parents have extra passengers.

3) But a co-parenting dad is also in a powerful learning mode. He has come to the understanding that in order to help his children live fulfilling lives, he has to put aside his bullshit and get down to the business of partnering with his former spouse for the betterment of all. This means letting perceived slights go, finding energy to be kind, choosing paths that are collectively helpful and making service to his little ones a central part of his life. Sounds like a recipe for a good marriage doesn’t it? Yeah. Welcome to one of the great ironies of co-parenting. It can create the illusion that what we do as co-parents could have fixed a broken marriage. It can’t. Because things done in service to little ones will not alone sustain a marriage.  Sometimes good people aren’t so good as couples. Meanwhile, the co-parenting work teaches us things that marriage simply couldn’t. And we move on.

What this means is that a divorced dad is:

  • Protective of his little ones
  • Doubtful about his capacity to take on all the complexities of a new relationship
  • Worried that his own social and sexual needs are “selfish” and may negatively impact his children.
  • Wary of the empty dynamics of casual relationships
  • Concerned that those people close to him love his children as much as they love him (which, the divorced dad knows, is a lot to ask.)

That being said, I can tell you what the single dad does need, because its what we all need:

  • Conversation.
  • Acceptance for who he is.
  • Space for the central demands in his life.
  • Respect for his role in the world.

But mostly he needs space to work through his own interpersonal challenges, challenges that are often placed on hold as he works to insure the safety and emotional security of his children.

A friend of mine, a full time single dad and I were talking just yesterday. He said to me that what he really needs is friends. Not lovers. Friends. Ask any single mom, the process of raising two kids full time is not only challenging, its isolating. Many single dads don’t have the bandwidth to date. Romantic dating involves being mindful of the needs of another. He may simply not be able to take that on.

I don’t mean that he is weak, or lazy, or unable to operate like a grownup, I mean he is at capacity meeting the needs of those he is already committed to. And the number of people he is committed to, can include a lot more people then just his children. It can include his former spouse, the network of parents he’s embedded in, along with the pressures full time parenting places on his work relationships.

At this very moment, I know three single co-parenting dads. I hold these men in very high esteem. I see their fierce loyalty and love for their children. They are wounded and wary but also warm and wise. They are not easy to sum up, having come though a baptism of change and growth. If you want to have a cup of coffee with a single dad like these, bring an open heart and get ready to meet a complex and deeply interesting human being.

For those who are interested in dating in a divorced Dad who is raising his kids, I wish I had good news for you. He may simply not be in dating mode. But if you have it in you to be his friend instead of his lover, that might be a place to start.

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