parent opinion

"What my boyfriend said when I asked why he's dating a 26-year-old with an 8-month-old baby."

Not long after becoming single, I sobbed to my mum and my friends words along the lines of: “WHO WILL EVER WANT TO DATE ME? A 26-YEAR-OLD WITH AN EIGHT-MONTH-OLD BABY! I’LL FOREVER BE ALONE!” Me? Drama queen? Nah.

I just couldn’t fathom in those early stages how I could ever combine my role as a mum and be someone else’s girlfriend. The two couldn’t co-exist.

Of all of the questions I am asked most: “How did you know you were ready to get back out there and date?”

There was no magic moment where I woke and thought, right… I’m ready for a boyfriend. In fact, it was much the opposite. As someone who always depended on their partner, I felt liberated relying on no one but myself. All I had to worry about was me and Ollie. I could parent him the way I wanted.

I no longer spent sleepless nights waiting for someone to come home, or was abruptly woken in the middle of the night by snoring. There was no one to disappoint me. Let me down. Lie to me. I was free!

While parenting solo certainly had its moments, this sense of freedom was so intoxicating, I knew it was going to take someone pretty special to disrupt this peace.

Jessie Stephens translates modern dating… it’s tough out there.

Video by MMC

There were a few false starts. I agreed to go on a few dates with perfectly nice guys, but each time it just didn’t feel right. I simply wasn’t ready, even when I’d convince myself that perhaps it was time to put myself back out there.

But in reality, my heart was still mending. My head was still too consumed in the past and there’s no way you can possibly be ready to commit to someone in that state, and I needed to acknowledge that.

Sometimes I would mention I had a child, other times I didn’t bother when I knew I would never see the guy again. I was always so nervous to bring it up. I felt like they’d judge me and they wouldn’t quite get it. But to their credit, each one of them was so positive, which was so pleasantly surprising.

It didn’t take me long to work out that Ollie was the most amazing filter. Only really genuine, decent guys bothered to talk to me. Anyone who had bad intentions kept well away. I guess they figured they wouldn’t waste their time messing with a woman with a baby. And that was fine by me.

I eventually just pumped the brakes on dating and forgot about it. I invested my time into rebuilding my self worth. I never placed any emphasis on finding someone. If it happened, it happened. I knew whoever I let in had to accept the fact it wasn’t just me, it was my little boy too and everything that came with that.

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My future man needed to love and accept both of us. He needed to stand by us through the many, many storms I would no doubt have to endure. It was a non-negotiable. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But I knew whoever accepted that challenge was certainly worth my time.

I know it’s cliche, but it’s so true when people tell you someone comes along as soon as you stop looking. And that was absolutely the case for me.

When my now boyfriend asked me on a date, I assumed it probably wouldn’t eventuate. And even if it did, it probably wasn’t going to go anywhere. We’d known one another for a few years, but not very well. However, well enough for him to know exactly what I’d been through and all about Ollie courtesy of my 19 daily Instagram story uploads.

I was surprised at how effortlessly our first date flowed. There was no awkward moment where I had to reveal I had a child. He knew it all and it didn’t phase him. In fact, he later confessed it made him even more interested as he knew I’d been through hell and back.

He respected me so much for my strength, for getting back out there, and for holding my head high despite everything. He made it very clear from the get go he wanted to be there. He vowed to never let me down. To care for me exactly how I deserve.

 

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But, I didn’t want to let him in. I’d become so used to finding examples of sh*tty relationships to reaffirm the narrative that all men are sh*t. Yet, here was a man who, well, wasn’t sh*t. He was kind. And selfless. And honest. And caring. And just loved me in the most simple, uncomplicated way.

Um. What? Surely this was all bullsh*t, I’d think to myself. They all start off like this, I’d tell my mum. Men weren’t to be trusted, I’d laugh with my friends.

Now, I can see, these were all trauma patterns, coping mechanisms I’d invented to protect my heart. So, I pushed him away more times than I can count. But he never gave up. He never blamed me or lost his temper when I’d test him.

He’d manage to tear down a wall, and I’d swiftly build another one in its place. So he’d patiently start all over again, determined to crack open my heart I’d barricaded shut.

He’d stand by me through whatever I was going through. Listen to me rant and rave, without judgement. He understood why there were times my heart still hurt. Why the past still haunted me. He never took it personally or felt threatened.

 

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Whenever I catch myself stressing about not doing this mum thing how I think it’s ‘SUPPOSED’ to be done… I ask myself the following: will he still do this when he’s 16? Every time… the answer is NO! He still loves his dummy, adores a bottle at night, sleeps in a cot, and a layer of dust blankets his potty. But… will he still demand a dummy when he’s 16? Wind down with a bottle? Snooze in a cot? Require nappy changes? NOPE. These things always have a way of working out! Just like when I used to worry about whether he’ll smoothly transition out of sleeping bags with wings ???? or cry about whether he’ll EVER sleep longer than 45 minutes (jeez that was a tough stage). So, now I stress less and *try to* enjoy every stinky moment… because one day when it’s uncool to hang out with mum, I know I’ll give anything to snuggle on the couch just one more time while he chugs down his milk ❤️

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When I’d ask why he was still hanging around, he’d tell me he knew what he’d signed up for, and he wasn’t going anywhere. His favourite catchphrase “nothing good comes easy” and I’d respond by asking which planet he came from. There’s no point sugarcoating it. Dating me is hard work. But he’s not once complained or made me feel hard to love.

I’ve never had someone who loves me so much just for being me. All of the parts I’d been taught to hate, he filled with love. Someone whose mission every day is to make me feel as valued as he possibly can. He has taught me that love shouldn’t be messy and hard. You shouldn’t have to fight to prove why you deserve a place in someone’s heart. And true happiness is found in the simple moments, not the grand gestures designed to blind you from the truth. Oh, and you deserve to be cuddled to sleep.

It’s by no means perfect and we have to work on it every day. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. But that’s a relationship. You have to work at it. Together. Even through the crappy times. The times they drive you insane and you want to throw in the towel. There is no such thing as a fairy tale. But the right person will grab an umbrella and weather the storm with you.

There’s a special place in the afterlife for men who so graciously commit to not only loving you, but your child too. It’s a daunting task, a road few have the courage to tread, which makes the ones who do even more incredible.

No matter what happens with our relationship, I take great comfort in the knowledge he was not only sent to me to prove that real, genuine, kind men do exist and to restore my faith in men.

But to show every other single mum out reading this, currently nursing a shattered heart as I once did, and who’ve contacted me asking how they’ll ever move on, that you should never settle for anything less than you deserve.

There is someone out there who wants to love you for you. Every part of you. Even your flabby mum tummy. They want to love your fractured heart back together because they see in you everything you’d forgotten. I promise.

Are you a single parent who’s braving the dating landscape? Tell us in a comment below.

This post originally appeared on Bambi and Baby and has been republished with full permission.

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