Special treatment for a special child?

I am a single mom. My husband died four years ago and I feel I am ready to begin again. My children are 13 and 11. My youngest son has autism and I am concerned about how and when to bring this up. Having typical children is a challenge. Having one with special needs is even tougher. How do I bring this up without feeling like I am apologizing for my wonderful son? -- Donna K., Harvard, IL.

Dear Donna,

Telling the truth is the best way to start any relationship. It does take a special person to understand and respect the needs of another person's children, especially a child who has special needs. Make sure to communicate all the wonderful things about both your children when you're sharing the introductory aspects of your life. Too often we make excuses, thinking that we need to apologize. Instead, communicate -- "You'd be so lucky to have these amazing children in your life -- what a gift they are." A potential mate is most often afraid of what we ourselves admit that we can't handle. It's the 'old baggage' thing -- nobody wants someone with a ton of baggage. But the difficult circumstances in our lives don't seem so overwhelming to prospective partners if we communicate our ability to manage them ourselves. So, do tell him about your wonderful son. If the person can't handle it, it's better to move on before you become attached.

Nix on ex-'s, please

How do you get your date to focus on you instead of his ex-wife? It seems men want to talk about their past on our first (and sometimes second) date. It turns me off and I don't want to see the man again. What should I do? -- Milbrey Z., Monona, Iowa

Dear Milbrey,

You have a few options. The first is to make a lighthearted, humorous comment at the beginning of the date, stating that you have only one rule for the evening -- no talking about ex-spouses. You could also say something either on the phone or in an email highlighting the fact that past dates haven't worked out because the men spent all their time talking about their ex-wives.

If you don't have a chance to make a statement before a date begins to talk about their ex-spouse, then use the conversation to your advantage. Ask questions about the relationship in the areas you are most concerned with. Direct the conversation so you are getting valuable information out of it. Why they broke up could be telling. What was it about her personality that made him fall in love in the beginning? What did he dislike at the end? Who cheated on whom? In general, we repeat relationship behaviors -- so getting a little information might help you to determine if this is the type of person you want to be involved with.

Tough for single dads, too

I always hear how hard it is for a single mother. However, I'm a single divorced dad with complete custody of my 2-year-old son. I am having no luck! Is it easier or harder for single dads than it is for single moms? -- Eric N., Indianapolis, IN

Dear Eric,

I don't necessarily think it's the single mom or single dad question that determines this -- in general the parent who has primary custody has a harder time dating. A child's primary parent has a harder time engaging in activities that might allow them to meet date-able people. Have you tried joining a group in your community or signed up for interesting classes? If you've decided it's time to date, you need to get serious about it -- just like you would if you were unemployed and wanted to find a job. It has to become a priority, where you set goals and strategize your plan of attack. Maybe you need to tell everyone you know that you're interested in dating and are open to blind dates. Or maybe it means you reply to ten online profiles a week -- whatever goal you set for yourself.

A child yes, but....

I have been divorced from my son's father for a long time now. I had custody until last year. I lost my son in the custody battle because of the man I subsequently married and promptly divorced. I date once in a while, but it always kills me when a man asks me if I have a child. I tell them yes, and that he doesn't live with me. They always ask why he doesn't live with me. What do you think would be a good response to that? -- Tahne G., Clackamas, Ore.

Dear Tahne,

I understand your concern. Our society does make a judgment that seems quite unfair and hypocritical. It's accepted if a man doesn't have custody of his children -- but if a woman doesn't there must be something very wrong. I know it may be hard to tell the truth in this situation, but I'd tell your date the truth -- that you had custody and then made the decision to get married which caused you to lose custody. The best response is to be yourself -- don't feel like you have to put on a show or make up things so the person you're with will agree with your life choices.

The right approach

What is the best way to approach a woman with children? How would you address her as a person? As a mother or as a woman? -- Chris S., North Freedom, Wisc.

Dear Chris,

I'd approach her as a woman who is a mother in addition to many other things. First and foremost women want to be admired, appreciated, understood, and respected for who they are regardless of the titles they hold. All aspects of our lives add to the definition of who we are as women, but the person at the core is the one you are going to be dating. Approach that person. This goes for both men and women.

Nervous around new new folks

I was married for 12 1/2 years. We met when I was 16 and were together until we divorced in 2003. How do I get out and meet people again? I am not sure how to act or what to do. I work with young children and sometimes find myself reverting back to 3-year-old behavior due to nervousness. That really isn't who I am, but people think I am so immature because of my nervousness. I really am afraid of putting myself in a situation with people I don't know. How can I get over this? -- Jo D., Kalispell, Mont.

Dear Jo,

Since you are nervous in situations with people you don't know, look for ways that you can meet new people in the presence of friends or family. Or you might consider joining a group of women engaged in some activity or cause that interests you. If you can practice getting to know new people in a non-threatening environment your nervousness may subside. Plus, if you join women's groups, you multiply the number of friends who might know someone suitable for you to date.

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