Dating as a single parent poses unique challenges today! As a dating coach, emails pour into my website every day on this topic. I have culled three of the most common questions and provided my answers below:

Question #1: As a single parent, how do I find the time and energy to date?

Of course you are exhausted after a long work day, not to mention helping kids with homework, driving them to activities, etc. The last thing you feel like doing is going out at night. But the alternative is to stay single. If that’s not what you want, then first you need to gain more efficiency, then plan regular outings.

You can create more time and energy for dating by being more efficient and saying “no” more often. Don’t bake cookies from scratch for little Suzy’s bake sale (buy them at the store). Cut down the kid’s activities from three to two. Don’t accept every play date request. Leave the office early sometimes even if a task is unfinished (it’ll still be there tomorrow). Delegate more. There’s always some “fat” to trim in your schedule.

Then create a consistent routine to socialize, and stick to it. Don’t leave it to the last minute, or it’ll never happen. For example, plan every Wednesday and Saturday nights to have a babysitter. Whether you have a date with someone new, or a singles event to attend, mark these dates in ink on your calendar.

Nothing in life worth having is easy. You must force yourself to get out of your home regularly so that you can find the partner you are seeking. And while it might make you feel guilty to focus on yourself, especially if you are trying to go above and beyond to help your kids adjust, it’s not being selfish to want a personal life as well as a family life. Know that your kids will benefit from you being happier and more balanced.

Question #2: If I meet a single parent who has child custody on opposite nights from my custody nights, can a relationship ever work?

While certainly not ideal and a major bummer, absolutely do not rule someone out because of custody scheduling conflicts. Since the “5-2-2-5” schedule emerged in recent years as the norm in custody splits, and now that many dads are sharing equally in care, coordinating nights off among single parents has become a major dating issue. But there are many ways to make it work. Take it one step at a time. The relationship might not go beyond a few dates anyway, so in the beginning, you can always find time to squeeze in coffee or lunch during the day even if your evenings are reserved for the kids. Slipping out from work early or organizing a play date for your child at a friend’s house will buy you an hour or two. And not being able to see each other often can be good: you’ll spend more time on the phone and email, getting to know each other better, deeper. If things progress? Where there’s a will, there’s way. Hire a babysitter, have a friend or relative watch your children, go out after they’re asleep while a babysitter stays home, or consider asking your ex to switch nights once in awhile (you can return the favor another time). Be sure to ask your date to make similar concessions so the re-arranging isn’t all one-sided.

It’s rare to find someone with whom you have a connection. When it happens, don’t dismiss it because of scheduling conflicts. Take the stolen moments you can find, which are hopefully better than not having him/her in your life at all. In the long run, if your relationship becomes permanent, you’ll create solutions. Custody times can be legally changed, you’ll join your kids together and spend time as one big family, and in the end, kids grow up and don’t want to be with you much anyway (sorry!).

Question #3: Is it really okay to leave my kids home with a babysitter while I go on a date? I feel so guilty.

There are always feelings of guilt to leave children home with a babysitter while you are out dating. Of course it’s ideal to fit your dating schedule around the time you have with your kids. But realistically, if you’re trying to find a partner, there will be times when a date conflicts with your family time, especially if you’re dating another single parent. So yes, it’s okay to get a babysitter because you are making short term sacrifices by going out. You will not be single forever if you get out and devote time now to finding the right mate. Know that you are prioritizing your children’s long term needs (having a happy parent and day-to-day loving step-parent) over their short-term needs (having you tuck them into bed every night).

You also have to accept that it’s not only okay, but in fact absolutely necessary, to do something just for yourself. Think of hiring a babysitter as making a withdrawal from a bank account into which you have deposited so much time, patience, and sacrifice in the past. You’ve input a lot to raise your kids thus far, and it’s good to take a little out now for yourself.