Dating: What to say about my kid?

As a single mom dating, how much should I reveal about my child's mild intellectual disability?

Published April 15, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Hello Cary,

I am a single parent looking to get back into dating, and perhaps even to meet someone that I fall madly in love with. As I have not had much luck out there in the real world I have decided to try out online dating websites.

I have an ethical dilemma. My child has a mild intellectual disability. Obviously there are men out there who would be willing to date a woman who already has a child, but when should I mention that my child is not what they may expect (in many wonderful ways, I think). If I mention this upfront, I doubt anyone will ever want to get to know me at all, but if I don't mention it up front I feel like I am being misleading.

Thank you for any insight you may offer,

Single For Nine Years and Counting

Dear Single,

I don't think you are being misleading if, in talking with someone you have just met, you don't immediately mention that your child has a mild intellectual disability.

When should you mention it? You should mention it when you know someone well enough that you feel comfortable mentioning it. As to how to present yourself in this online dating forum, I would avoid wherever possible the tendency to list your attributes and deficiencies, as though you could be reduced to  a checklist.

You are not a checklist. You are not a collection of features, benefits and bugs. You are not a commodity for purchase. You are a human being who loves and is loved; you are a parent and perhaps also a sibling, a child, an employee, a friend.

You are a human being who is taking the courageous step of going out in to the world to expose yourself to others to see if a relationship can develop. And until you have gotten to know someone -- until you have an actual relationship of some sort, what business is it of theirs if your child should possess a mild intellectual disability? And of this disability: Think about your child. How would your child prefer to be described to a stranger? What does your child love? What are her or his passions and interests at this stage of life? What would he or she like people to know about her? Why not make the particular qualities you love in your child be the ones you mention? Why should this one unflattering and rather sensitive aspect of your child's life be the thing that first defines her in the eyes of others?

What obligation do you owe to strangers so they know what they are getting into, should they develop a fondness for you and want a long-term relationship? Well, that goes to the heart of what a long-term relationship entails. It entails forming a relationship not only with you but with your larger world -- your family and interests, your history, your settings, everything that makes up your world. Every human being exists in such a context. All lives are complicated. No life is free of difficulty. The difficulties and obligations of our lives differ only in degree. And anyone who would rule out having a relationship with you because of the status of your child is not someone you want to have a relationship with in the first place.

So there's nothing at all wrong, in my opinion, with simply presenting yourself as you are. You have obligations and commitments just like anyone else. With each person you meet, you may disclose as much or as little about your life as you wish. If you find delight, inspiration and love in an encounter with another being, then great. If someone falls in love with you then they fall in love with you.

Think of your child above all. How would your child want to be described? That she recently made a wonderful drawing of animals in the forest? That she loves running, climbing trees and playing video games? Or that she has a mild intellectual disability?

If you approach this with high ideals and compassion for others I think it will go just fine.

By Cary Tennis

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