Although McDonald feels more than ready to date again, and does go out with men occasionally, she admits she finds dating as a single mother intimidating. "I am also always slightly suspicious of a man's motives in dating a single mother. While I don't want Jamie or myself hurt, I don't want the man to get hurt either, and if he is looking for a 'ready-made family' and things don't work out, then it's likely we will all end up getting hurt to a certain degree."
This is a common worry for parents who are unsure of the risks of having dates come in and out of their children's lives. "Often the child is confused by such behavior and [the confusion] can result in the child becoming aloof and withdrawing into themselves, or generally feeling insecure and showing a lack of trust towards their parent," says psychiatrist Dr. Adrian Winbow. "They will also experience reactions of bereavement all over again."
Dr. Winbow adds that "children of all ages, bar very young babies, can be affected by their parents dating new people—and in the new relationship, it is the quality of the person and their stability that are extremely important, not necessarily the length of time you have known them."
Even then it is not uncommon for kids to have a hard time when their single parent begins to date, writes Dr. Robin Goldstein in her book, The Parenting Bible. They may complain, sulk, or otherwise act out their discomfort and unhappiness. Dr. Goldstein adds that most children resent a parent's dating because they believe it makes a family reconciliation less likely, or they might worry about receiving less attention. In a sense, children feel abandoned as their single parent focuses time and energy on a new companion.
Dr. Winbow agrees that some children will indeed begin to act out when their parents start to date. "Jealousy, possessiveness, and anger are not uncommon emotions for your child to feel, and in these situations you must maintain regular communication with your child, always talking and explaining the situation and involving the child in the relationship," he says. "This is to be handled very diplomatically and carefully, and you should explain that there is somebody, in addition to them, who is important in your life."