Finding a partner as a single mother
Dating can be challenging terrain for anyone. For single mothers, though, finding a new partner is particularly complicated. It requires time, energy and attention, and it must compete with childcare for all of them. In some cases, an ex-partner can add an extra layer of complexity to the repartnering process — at least if the ex-partner is a highly-involved father.
In their new study, Lawrence M. Berger, Lidia Panico and Anne Solaz asked whether the involvement of the non-resident father affects the probability of a mother finding a new partner. Using data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, the researchers show that the frequency of contacts between the child and his biological father is not in itself something negative for the repartnering opportunities of the mothers. It seems to depend on the type of relationship the former couple had at the moment of the child’s birth.
Indeed, especially for women who were not married or not cohabiting with the biological father at the moment of the birth, they seemed less likely to form a new cohabiting relationship when fathers were still strongly present in the child’s life. For instance, they were 70% less likely to marry or cohabite with a new partner when the non-resident father sees the child at least five times a week than if he had no contact at all. Interestingly, when the biological father had fewer contacts with the child, the likelihood to repartner increased.
Conversely, for those women who were married or cohabiting with their former partners at the time of childbirth, the researchers found that a father’s involvement still did not affect the likelihood of finding a new partner. Consequently, this negative association between father involvement and repartnering is only for couples that lived separately at the moment of the child’s birth and only when repartnering is into a residential union (where the mother and the new partner cohabited or are married). Finally, child support did not affect either group, suggesting that the relationship was the important factor.
The authors suggest that the presence of a highly-involved biological father may simply lead a single mother to perceive less need to find a father figure. However, they also speculate that “these parents may be engaged in fluid and uncertain relationships, and that the ambiguity thereof may discourage” mothers from finding (and/or keeping) new partners. That is, she may already be navigating a complicated landscape of personal and parental relationships requiring what is left of her time, energy and attention.