By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Ron Deal's book, Dating and the Single Parent (Bethany House, 2012).
When you’re a single parent or dating someone who is, you need to consider more than just whether or not your relationship should lead to marriage. You also need to consider how well you all may be able to form a healthy stepfamily together.
It’s can be tempting to just focus on your romance when you’re in love, but when children are involved, you have a sacred responsibility to make wise dating decisions that reflect God’s best for all of you.
Here’s how you can date wisely as a single parent:
Realize the significance of your dating decisions. The decisions you make now are about much more than just whether or not you and your date have a good time together. Your dating choices will have spiritual, emotional, and psychological impact for many years to come, so take them seriously.
Pray for wisdom. Ask God every day to give you the wisdom you need to make the very best dating decisions, and choose to follow the guidance God gives you, even when doing so is difficult. Keep in mind that your perspective on your relationships is limited, whereas God’s perspective is complete – so it makes sense to trust God’s guidance.
Date with the right purposes and goals. It’s important to know what’s motivating you to date, and what goals you have for your dating relationships. God’s purposes for single parent dating involve discerning: if you and your date can walk humbly with God together and share common values, if you can both love each other sacrificially with your whole hearts, and if the children involved will truly be blessed by combining your families. God’s goals for dating are healthy marriages and families. If your purposes and goals are anything less than that (such as to reduce your lonely feelings, to find a replacement spouse so you’ll have help with parenting and financial responsibilities, or just to have fun), stop dating and wait until you’re really ready to embrace dating in a way that can lead to the best outcomes for you and your family.
Be patient. Rushing into dating or marriage can harm your romantic and family relationships. You must take all the time necessary to truly get to know a potential spouse and his or her family thoroughly before making decisions that will significantly affect the lives of everyone concerned. It’s best to wait at least two years after a divorce or the death of a spouse to start dating again, and then to wait at least another two years after dating before deciding to get married. It’s worthwhile to invest the time now so you can hopefully prevent heartbreak and damage to your family later.
Rather than looking for the right person, become the right person. Instead of looking for the right person to date, first focus on becoming the spiritually and emotionally healthy person that God wants you to be before entering into another romantic relationship. Honestly ask yourself whether or not you’ve healed from the trauma of your divorce or previous spouse’s death, how confident you are in relying on God alone instead of hoping that dates will meet your emotional needs, and how vulnerable you are to being drawn into romantic fantasies that distort the reality of relationships. Keep in mind that the loss of your previous marriage has permanently changed you and your kids, but those changes can result in you all growing to become stronger people who are more like Jesus. Surrender your own will for your dating life to God and trust Him to lead you as you consider new dating relationships.
Deal with your fears. Since fear is incompatible with love (it prevents you from doing what love leads you to do), you need to identify your fears and pray for God to help you overcome them in order to enjoy a successful dating relationship. Some common fears for single parents who are dating are: losing their connections to their kids, causing their kids pain, not being able to blend their families well, choosing a poor candidate for a new spouse, having their ex-spouses make their lives miserable, and being spiritually judged. Confess whatever your own fears are to God and ask for His help to move beyond them, through the power of love. Don’t give into fear-based practices such as living with the person you’re dating before marriage (or staying over at each other’s houses). Instead, trust God to give you the courage to either truly commit to each other through marriage or walk away if you’re not right for each other.
Help your kids overcome their fears. Reassure your kids that your dating won’t diminish your love, presence, and commitment in your relationships with them. Engage in conversations about how your lives may change in the future, and listen to the thoughts and feelings they express. Acknowledge and label their fears. Stay patient with them, and don’t push them to accept your dating relationships before they’re truly ready to do so.
Date only people who have strong character and are emotionally stable. Refuse to date others, since they will only damage your relationships with God and your children. Look for traits like these: submissive to God, humble, self-controlled (especially with sexual purity), someone who challenges and encourages you to walk closely with God, and someone who demonstrates good parenting attitudes and behaviors. In addition, consider the attitudes and behaviors of the person’s children, and the entire package of that person’s life (such as the state of his or her finances and relationships with extended family).
Pay attention to caution and stop signals. Noticing certain issues in your dating relationship should get your attention. You need to put a stop to your dating relationship if the person you’re dating: doesn’t have a relationship with Christ, is pressuring you to get married before you’re ready to do so, has an extremely different approach to parenting than you do, is addicted to alcohol or drugs, demands to be the center of attention all the time, can’t stop his or her ex-spouse from interfering in your life in damaging ways, or wants to live with you before marriage. You should proceed with caution and thoroughly check out issues such as pornography use, a short temper, or other character issues that concern you.
Make a wise decision about marriage. Ask God to help you decide whether or not to marry if you reach a point where: you have confidence in your dating relationship; trust that both you and your boyfriend or girlfriend is completely committed to sacrificially loving each other and each other’s children; all the children involved are reasonably open to your union and new family; and the children’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual health will be well-served by your marriage. If not, have the courage to end your dating relationship and move on, to best serve yourself and your family.
Ron L. Deal is founder of Smart Stepfamilies, Director of Blended Family Ministries at FamilyLife, the author of The Smart Stepfamily and The Smart Stepdad, and coauthor of The Smart Stepmom and The Remarriage Checkup. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist who frequently appears in the national media, including FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, and The 700 Club. Ron and his wife, Nan, and their sons live in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles. Contact Whitney at: [email protected] to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.
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