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Parenting Lessons … from The Bachelor?

As much as reality TV shows mortify me, I have to admit it—I’m hooked on The Bachelor. I’m one of the millions who love watching Jason Mesnick, the charming single dad and this season’s bachelor, try to find true love. As a single mom who’s on the dating scene, however, I’m a bit skeptical of thirty-two-year-old Jason. I’m not 100 percent sure he’s in it for love.

Case in point, after his appearance on The Bachelorette, hundreds of women tried to contact Jason. ABC got so flooded with requests to meet and date Jason that the network gave him a personal email account. Why didn’t he just follow up off-screen? We all know the answer—because ABC wasn’t paying for his free food and drinks, helicopter rides, fancy dinners, and trip to New Zealand.

Of course, in the real world, as everyone knows, relationships don’t really develop like this. We don’t usually find true love in just a few weeks. And single parents are faced with a whole host of challenges that Jason hasn’t had to deal with, thanks to the conveniences of reality television.

One thing’s for sure; this season’s Bachelor has given me, a single mom, plenty to think about—and talk about with my daughter—when it comes to relationships.

Keep Your Kid out of Your Dating Life
When I first started to date as a single mom, I had an innocent, cute-as-a-button preschooler, like Jason’s son, Ty. She wanted Cheerios. She loved Dora. And, unlike Ty, who’s appeared on several episodes of this season’s Bachelor, she seemed to be clueless about her mother’s dating life.

Experts agree that children should not be part of our dating game too soon. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve made mistakes and introduced my kid early on, too.

But because of Jason’s primetime status, shouldn’t he strive to be a role model to other parents? Maybe he thinks that the attachment won’t be so strong because his son, Ty, is just three years old. That’s where he’s wrong, though; kids are sensitive, and they get attached quickly. Until a couple has had a chance to get to know each other—say, a few months—it’s really unfair to have a child spend time with a boyfriend/girlfriend.

When I heard that Jason was flying Ty to New Zealand to meet the Final Two Women, Melissa and Molly, I got riled up. Not only did he push the envelope on introducing Ty too soon, but it also made me wonder: if a single mom was introducing her kids to a suitor this early on, would viewers be as enamored with her as they are with Jason? Or would they be up in arms?

The Double Standard
That’s the irony of reality TV. Single parents in real life are frazzled from balancing dating with parenting. If we do meet someone who strikes our fancy, we’re scrambling to find childcare. After staying up too late smooching, we don’t get to sleep in with 800-thread count sheets. We don’t live in mansions (unless you count Madonna or Britney Spears). We don’t get free drinks and fancy appetizers at cocktail hour.

But as Jason dated more than twenty beauties on the show, he’s been off the hook as Daddy. Sure, three-year-old Ty flew to L.A. for the initial episodes—Jason’s brother took care of him—but Jason had no real Dad duties in between his dates. 

So Why Do We Keep Watching?
Because Jason is the first single parent on The Bachelor. And I’m dying to know if ABC will ever choose a single mom as a Bachelorette.

It seems like female viewers would be just as intrigued—if not more—to see one single mom being pursued by twenty-four men.

My friend Heidi Raykeil, who runs the blog Naughty Mommy, and whose second book, Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parent’s Guide to Getting It on Again, was just released, recently pointed out, “Don’t you think people would be outraged and overly opinionated if it were a single mom leaving her kid for months to live in a bachelorette pad? From here, it looks like a double standard: a single dad is cast as a sexy hero for looking for love with a kid, where [single moms] have been blasted time and again for being honest about [their] efforts. Am I missing something?”

Even My Kid Is Hooked on The Bachelor
Go ahead and call me a bad mom, but I’ve been letting my tween daughter watch The Bachelor. Maybe it’s selfish, but I’ve let her watch the first half of the show before bedtime.

A writer and mom whom I admire, Kaui Hart, admits that she lets her four-year-old daughter watch The Bachelor, too.

“I think that The Bachelor has given my daughter and me some good dialogue prompts,” explains Hart (who’s married, and whose husband can’t stand the show). “The gender lessons I see on the show are often no better than the ones found in the Disney princess books.”

I happen to agree. Watching The Bachelor with my daughter has opened up a discourse to explain modern day relationships to my savvy kid. In the end, as skewed as reality TV is, sometimes it can offer a teachable, albeit corny, moment for parents.

Rachel Sarah is the author of Single Mom Seeking: Play Dates, Blind Dates, and Other Dispatches from the Dating World  She founded the number one blog for single parents, Single Mom Seeking.

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