Ask Professor Foxy: How Do I Be a Mother, a Feminist, and a Sexual Person?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
I am a divorced mom to a six and a half year old daughter. My relationship with my ex has been over for about two years. I was married for seven years, and in the relationship for 11, so I didn’t really get much experience dating when I was younger. I’m very sex positive, and have used this opportunity to explore my sexuality, explore intimacy, and explore what I really think about dating in general. So I’ve had a bit of a learning curve, but its been fun. I have started considering the possibility that I might want a real relationship again, and suddenly I feel clueless, and hopeless.
What I’m at a loss for is dating around my daughter. I am having a hard time deconstructing what sort of exposure to dating is healthy for her and for me. Up until this point, I’ve erred on the side of keeping my sex and dating life completely and totally secret and separate from my mom life. This has worked fine for the short term, but what I’m realizing as I move forward is that keeping these spheres separate undermines any attempt at building any sort of real relationship from the very beginning of that relationship. Conversely, I certainly don’t want to introduce my daughter to every possible romantic partner on the first or even second or third date, especially not until I’m serious about them or am sure if it will become a longer term relationship.
What scares me about my thinking, and about my actions is all of the sudden, I feel like I have two choices I recognize as the false and sexist dichotomy we all know; the virgin or the whore. If she sees me date anyone who isn’t ‘the one’ (or a ‘revolving door’ of men) I’m a whore and a bad mom and she’s going to have ‘issues’. Appearing asexual, however, damages my chances of ever finding real intimacy (I don’t want to be single until she’s out of the house!) but I also worry that this charade (appearing asexual and pretending not to date) might also ruin her understanding of what it is to be a healthy sexual woman and how to develop happy relationships.
So my question is, how does a feminist single mom be a good role model to their daughter AND date? I’ve always been proactive about helping her to understand and question gender norms. Even the ones we both happily partake in (playing with makeup) we discuss critically and openly. Even sex, and babies, and all sorts of topics that pose some parents difficulties, have not been difficult for me. Why is this one topic sooooo hard for me to figure out?! How do I decide which guys to introduce my daughter to? How do I talk to her about it? How sure am I supposed to be in the prospects of a relationship for her to meet them? Assuming that meeting goes well, how sure before she sees us kiss, hug, or hold hands? Do I ever let anybody I’m not sure I’m going to marry ever (ever?) stay the night? Are these things I’ll just KNOW when I find the right person? Ugh, I’m so confused and scared and worried and afraid of being judged or doing the wrong thing for her. But I know the right thing for me and my happiness is to date, and to give her limited exposure to the fact that I do date, BUT how?!
Sincerely Confused,
Sexy Feminist Single Mom

I don’t think there is one set answer, though I think you can find a lot of experts that will tell you that there is.
I think what matters is honesty within healthy boundaries. Your sex life is not your daughter’s business, but your relationships can be. I am sure she has many people who were just friends of yours. You can introduce lovers/potential lovers as friends. When/if things get more serious and a lover is around more often, you can explain about dating. But you don’t need to jump there.
I would also to keep the same boundaries you have with friends with lovers. For example, if friends stay over your house (and/or in your bed), do the same with lovers. Your daughter does not know all your friends, just the special ones. I would do the same with dates/lovers.
I once saw Robie Harris speak. She writes amazing, amazing books about sex and sexuality for children. In the course of her presentation, she talked about how as adults we tend to be overly explicit in our answers to children about sex and dating, about how we as adults freak out “OMIGOD THEY ARE ASKING ABOUT SEX!” instead of listening to what they are actually asking and addressing that issue.
You don’t have two paths, you have a multitude and many of them are down the middle. She will see you date some men, she will watch you make choices that are the best for you, and that is a good role for your daughter. You will be teaching her that women and mothers are sexual beings and she does not have to choose just one path. And that is definitely being a good role model.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

Join the Conversation

  • Comrade Kevin

    I’ve dated two women who had children from either previous marriages or previous relationships, and both of them made it very clear to me that I was to be their boyfriend, not a surrogate father.
    I was always cordial, of course, with the kids, and usually they warmed up to me rather quickly. This made me nervous in all sorts of ways because I interpreted this to mean that regardless of what I had originally signed on to, I was going to end up being thought of us a parent figure whether I wanted to or not.
    As for sex, well, one finds the time for it, preferably when the kids are out elsewhere or are asleep. The bedroom door does lock for a reason. At times it requires patience to find time for intimacy, especially taking into account how old the kids are, because younger kids often have more constant needs than older kids tend to do. I knew that going in, of course, but my desire to have a relationship was more important than the occasional frustration. Even more oddly, I found myself actually enjoying playing with the kids, appreciating their company, and feeling a sense of connection with them. For the first time in my life I could understand why people actually wanted children, and although that revelation was super scary for me, I think it was healthy for me to at least be faced with a brand new way of looking at my priorities.

  • cmb

    i grew up with a single mom who dated. the biggest issue for me was how her dates treated her and how she reacted to it. one of the guys she was in a long term relationship with was very controlling and this always really bothered me as a kid.
    i kind of wish i’d gotten to see some healthy courting behavior as a kid instead of this continuing fight for dominance.
    all i ever cared about as a kid was my mother’s happiness. if her dates treated her well, i liked them.

  • saintcatherine

    A 6 yo doesn’t know anything about virgin/whore yet, and hopefully she will not ever be indoctrinated into that garbage. All she needs is a mother who is there for her and who keeps her needs at the top of her list.
    I also want to add this: Please consider the fact that most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by adults who know the child. The case of someone dating the parent of the child they abuse is very common, and single mothers are a typical target for predators for this reason.
    This is not said to try to scare or shame anyone. I think it is important to keep that fact in mind, though, when considering how & when & if people will meet the kids and/or possibly stay over night or babysit them.

  • Putin

    A very close friend of mine when my children were pre-teen was a transexual. Sometimes “she” would come over and sometimes “he” would come over under different names.
    I never over-thought explaining that to them, over time they asked if Patrick or Ari was coming to visit. My answer was a simple” one of them is, but I’m not sure which”.
    The kids were never confused by this might be confusing for adults relationship. As adults now they find humor in how they figured out that these two people were the same person.
    I do believe that if you don’t make a big deal out of the relationship the kids won’t. He’s not their new uncle, he’s just your friend.. and if it progresses they’ll figure it out by themselves.

  • instrumentjamlord

    Being discreet about your sex life is important in any case. Even children of intact families don’t need to be exposed to their parents’ sexual activities. (That said, trying to pretend it doesn’t happen at all is a recipe for disaster too, as that makes your sexuality vulnerable to being trampled out of existence by the kids.) Put a lock on the bedroom door, and beyond that your sexuality is not something they need to concern themselves with.
    I would be more concerned about what kids learn about relationships if they develop bonds with your boyfriends too soon, and experience loss around the breakups. The revolving door syndrome affects them even if you keep your sexual activities completely under the radar.

  • Sloppy Sandwich