By Franki Cookney
Whether you’re newly single or returning to dating after a period of prioritizing yourself and your kids, swiping as a single parent can feel daunting. You may have financial constraints, custody may be complicated, you’ve got limited time and energy—and there are now multiple people’s needs to consider. But with honesty, clear communication, and good boundaries, getting back out there can be super fun and fulfilling. Here’s how to make it work.
Be upfront about your kids
Whether you mention your children in your profile or include pictures is up to you, but the sooner you bring up your kids, the better. “I once went on a couple of dates with someone before mentioning my son,” says Dan, 38. “Their reaction taught me I shouldn’t do that again. Now I have a photo of the two of us and I always make sure I mention him in any opening exchanges.”
Sam, 29, who has a four-year-old daughter, says she once had a date walk out of a restaurant when he discovered she had a child. “He went to the bathroom and never came back,” she says. “It was so humiliating.”
Being honest about your parenting responsibilities also lets people know where your priorities lie and helps manage expectations. “After I match with people, I always answer questions about how often I have my daughter,” says Ella, 35. “They’re trying to suss out what that looks like for them so I think it’s really important to give those details.”
Flag your availability early on
It can be disappointing when a good match and a promising chat doesn’t lead anywhere because your schedules don’t match up, but it’s better to find out at the start.
“I went out briefly with a lovely woman who worked nights,” says Dan. “With half my time dedicated to being a dad, there was just no way to make it work, unfortunately. I try to be transparent on my profile, because it’s frustrating to get excited about someone and then find out the logistics don’t work.”
Same goes for your emotional availability. If there are certain times of the day or week when your focus needs to be on your kids, it’s helpful to let people know so they don’t think you’ve ghosted them. “I give my daughter my attention when I’m with her, so it might mean I’m slow or unresponsive for a bit,” says Jeegar, 42. “Doesn’t mean that I’m not interested, that’s just where my focus is likely to be.”
Be honest with yourself about what you’re looking for
It can be hard to swipe past people who look like fun, but if their lifestyle isn’t going to fit with yours there’s no point wasting your time. A profile that lists go-karting or galleries might well pique your interest, but if you can’t actually fit those hobbies in, it’s going to be a non-starter.
“I want matches to be kind, loyal, honest, patient, easygoing—those would be all the things I’d be looking for now, compared to what I might have been [looking for] in my 20s,” says Em, 36, who has full custody of her two young children.
There’s also no point trying to present a version of you that’s out of date or misleading. “I don’t try to create an image that’s not me in real life,” says Dan. “Some people make it really clear that they want a travel buddy or that they love to party. They wouldn’t be a good fit into my life or vice versa, so that’s a quick swipe left!”
Don’t forget to ask if they want children…
Bumble lets you add a Badge to your profile indicating whether you have or want kids, but it’s always worth having a conversation too. “I’ve had so many people who want to have more children with me that I’ve had to actually put in my profile that I have my own children and I don’t want any more,” says Em. “I would also like to know if people are open to being step-parents or becoming a blended family because ultimately that’s what I’m looking for.”
…but set clear boundaries around introducing your kids
Most of these single parents said a match who pushes to meet your children is a red flag. “They’re trying to show they’re open to the idea of you having children but they haven’t stopped to actually think about it,” says Ella. “Why on earth would I bring my child on a date with someone I’ve never met?”
Another preconception is that being a single parent automatically means you’re sad and vulnerable. “I’ve come across men who want to ‘rescue’ me and my children,” says Em. “One guy I matched with very quickly started saying I should move into his house in the country and I was like ‘Oh my god, no! I don’t need rescuing, I’m okay!’”
Finally, be patient
Dating as a single parent involves a bit more work, and with fewer opportunities to chat and hang out, developing a relationship can be a slow burn. The upside is that the connections you do make are likely to be built on more solid foundations, making them worth the extra effort.