Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a divorced father raising two early-teenaged sons by myself 24/7. I've put my dating on hold for years now due to lack of time. After working professional hours and giving my kids the attention they need, there's barely enough time left to take care of myself, much less giving a woman the proper time and attention in marriage.

Dating has been very difficult. Since my free time amounts to most Saturday evenings, I have gotten too many "you're-nice-but-too-busy" responses in the past to assume that one night per week would be enough once things got serious.

Each year I get a bit more efficient, and each year the kids get a little more independent. But at this rate I still won't have large chunks of time until the kids start going off to college. That scenario leaves me frustrated.

My question: Should I wait until then, or should I risk dating again with the time and energy I have now?

Mike

Dear Mike,

We can appreciate the ambivalence you have about changing the status quo with your sons by beginning to date. You're right that dating requires a time commitment that you aren't ready to make at this point in your life. However, as much as your kids need you, you also need to be able to develop a personal life.

If you were newly-divorced, we would tell you to put your personal life on hold for a few years to heal from the break-up of your marriage and help bring stability to your home. But from your letter it seems that you've been divorced for a while. In that case, it isn't necessary to wait until your kids go to college to begin to date.

If you develop the right game plan, you can have a personal life a lot sooner than you expect.

For starters, that means allotting more than a few Saturday nights a month. As mothers, we know that the obligations of work, parenthood, and running a home can easily take up all of our waking hours (and then some). But we have also learned that it is possible to carve some hours of personal time each week, and build a family routine around that, just as family routines are build around a parent's work schedule and children's school and activity schedules.

We don't know how much responsibility your children have around the house, whether you have household help, how much time you devote to chauffeuring them around, or the extent of your work obligations. However, even young teens -- whether boys or girls -- can have some household responsibilities. In fact, most kids can take on more than we as parents give them credit for. And it's a good idea for busy parents to outsource, within their means, in order to spend more quality time with their children. You may want to hire a service to run errands for you -- like picking up dry cleaning and getting the car serviced, cleaning or cooking, or even organizing your household and your paperwork.

We suggest implementing a two-stage plan to give yourself a personal life. First, work on helping your children become more independent by giving them more responsibilities at home, as well as finding ways to have other people assume some of the routine chores. This will help you feel less stressed and at the same time help your children become less dependent upon you for things they can easily do themselves.

Next, have a talk with your sons about making some personal time for Dad to recharge his batteries. You can choose one weeknight a week and every other Saturday night and build the family schedule around this. You can ease into this gradually, if you want.

Even then, you may not want to use that time for dating right away. Instead, take a class, go to the gym, a museum. After your children get acclimated to this routine, and you are more comfortable with the idea of guilt-free personal time, you can consider beginning to date.

We hope this has been helpful, and wish you the best of success,

Rosie & Sherry