What It's Like To "Date" As A Foster Parent

At twenty-two, being a single foster parent raises a lot of questions. And one of the most common is whether or not I date- and if I do date, how exactly does the entire 'relationship thing' work for me? I've dated as a foster parent, but I've also devoted 99% of my time to my kids- which always have and always will be my "number one". With that being said, I do feel that this is an important topic- especially for younger single individuals interested in fostering. How do I do it? And what is it like?
Let me start by saying that I don't go out searching for dates, but when the opportunity arises- I try to keep myself open to potential partners. If I happen to see the same person at the library each time I bring my kids around, and we happen to hit it off, and they happen to ask me out to coffee- I'll usually say yes. But I am very protective of myself and my children. I do feel it's important that I don't do 'blind dates' and I don't do 'random dates' and I do don't 'online dating'. I basically don't set myself up to go on a date with someone who could end up being a big mistake. I need to get to know the person first. It could be a coworker or an acquaintance I've met many times. But it does need to be someone who I have built up a past relationship with, so I can move forward knowing that they actually are a decent human being.

If I accept a date, the next big concern arises, which is my schedule. I have a very closed-schedule. I don't use 'respite care' (which are people who drive your children to visitations or attend therapy with them in your place or babysit them for you periodically). I choose to be as involved as possible. So 99% of the time I will be with my child- and my child will have 100% of my attention while I'm with them. There are a few instances when dates seem to work. Lunch-time dates, where we're meeting while my child in school tends to work great. Other times that work well are when my child is at an approved-sleepover with friends or at a private visitation with their family. A big test for any potential partner of mine is whether or not they have the patience to wait it out for an 'open moment', and whether or not they can understand that my child(ren) will always have most of my time.

Speaking of my kids- they are never involved in any of my romantic endeavors. They don't meet the person. They're not even aware that I'm dating. It's a private affair and everything is kept separate. My kids come first, my dates come second. And in order to create a sense of stability for my kids- the dates are kept completely separate from them.

With that being said- what do I do when I've been dating someone for many months and they've shown interest in my kids? Essentially we've made a healthy, positive connection, and I feel that they would be a good influence on my kids. Do I introduce them? Not right away. First I will require them to get a background check. A bit of an uncomfortable topic- but I had to get one to become a foster parent, and they need to get one to meet my foster kids. I will talk to my kids about it ahead of time. With teenagers I'm 100% open with them. With younger children I simply explain to them that I have 'a new friend I'd like them to meet'. I ask the kids if they WANT to meet them. If not- we don't meet. If they do, we'll just have a chill activity at the house where the kids can get to know them and vice/versa. I've only been in one relationship while fostering- and it went relatively well. We eventually realized we were better off as friends, but the man I was with continues to be a positive part of my foster parenting and is a great male role-model for all of my kids. 

Dating as a foster parent is entirely different than dating under any other circumstances. It's difficult, but it can also be very rewarding (in cases like mine where I met someone who may not have been 'the one', but is certainly a great friend who continually makes an effort to be a great male influence on my kids).

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