Single Moms, Shaky Boundaries

When a single mom goes man-crazy, the kids can get caught in her dating misadventures.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Mother-child bonding ain’t what it used to be — at least not when the mother is single and dating. Observes single-living expert Sherri Langburt: "More and more I see forty-something single mothers acting like giddy teenagers: ‘Do you think he likes me?’ ‘What should I wear on the date?’ Only their confidante is not a friend, but their teenage daughter." Langburt, founder/president of singleedition.com, a Web site embracing the singles lifestyle, is just warming up: "I’ve seen mothers kissing men in front of their children, sharing how insecure they are about their looks with their kids, and letting their teenage daughters write their online dating profiles."Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again, points out what in the Donna Reed/Marion Ross-era likely wouldn’t have needed pointing out: "It’s highly inappropriate for teens to be advising their mothers how to date. It reverses parent-child roles and involves the adolescent in emotional aspects of the mom’s life that are not healthy. Your kids should not be your posse."Gloria Rosten agrees. Her kids are not her posse. However, the 45-year-old divorced San Francisco mother has some ‘splainin’ to do about the time she left her 17-year-old son stranded at the airport after he returned from a ski trip in Denver. The reason for the no-show? Mom was getting a mani/pedi in anticipation of her hot date that night.These worrisome tales are not meant to imply that sudden singlehood can make mothers welsh on the notion of mature parenting. Or that their children do not come first in their hearts. But partly due to the anything-goes, uber-confessional attitude encouraged by cultural fixations like reality TV and celebrity gossip rags, little these days seems sacred or secret. Dr. Keith Ablow, author of Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty, explains, "We’re at a critical moment when our best roles and responsibilities are under siege by a kind of permissiveness fueled by technology and the media that prompts us into replicating a reality show in our own existence. But focusing on your drama doesn’t help your children grow up feeling safe and secure."Not that technology isn’t useful for helping a single mother reenter the dating market. Trish McDermott, VP of Love at the social networking site engage.com, explains, "A lot of newly single women invite their teenage daughters to be part of their online community. The daughter can create a profile for her parent and/or suggest a man who she feels might be a good fit for her mother. Of course we’re not advising the mother to then debrief after a date with her 19-year-old!"While Nancy Michaels, a 44-year-old Massachusetts divorced mother of three sets firm boundaries in her home — "My dating life is private, and I won’t introduce a man to my children unless it becomes a serious relationship" — she understands the blurring of lines that can occur if a mother is not emotionally vigilant. Michaels, creator of matchgonewrong.com, explains, "You’re lonely, insecure; you feel sorry for yourself; you want some encouragement, especially as you see men your age going after younger women, but don’t put this on your kids. I’ve seen some of my friends’ children adversely affected by this trend. It disempowers you as a mother when you don’t act like the adult in the household."The consequences of exhibiting questionable behavior, in being an anti-role model, are more than disempowering. It can put your impressionable teen at risk. If she watches you starving yourself to lose weight (it’s estimated that the number of over-40 anorexia sufferers has quadrupled in the last five years), the girl might see this as permission to go on a wacky diet herself. Again, that culprit technology adds bizarre and alarming twists to the breakdown of sound parental judgment that could not have been imagined a decade ago. Single living expert Sherri Langburt adds, "What kind of message does it send for daughters to watch their mothers constantly troll match.com? Worse, I’ve heard two episodes of girls putting nude pictures of themselves on Facebook.

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