April 10, 2008 — -- She's smart, fun, and attractive. But she's saddled with kids.
The single mother may be the center of her children's orbit, but she is often a universe away from finding Mr. Right.
Such is the premise of a new television reality show — "Single Moms" — which will air this June on TLC.
"We found a show that we think reflects something that a lot of our audience is going through," Brant Pinvidic, TLC's senior vice president of programming told the New York Post this week. "There are a lot of single parents out there."
The show is based on a popular Swedish show — "Ensam mamma soker" — which follows three women in search of love.
The U.S. network will choose bachelors from applications submitted online. In the Swedish version, the single mothers are introduced to bachelors through personal ads.
An estimated 10.4 million women are single mothers living with children younger than 18, up 3.4 million since 1970, according to the U.S. Census.
Of all the women who are custodial parents, about 44 percent are divorced or separated; 33 percent have never been married; 22 percent are married and 1 percent are widowed.
According to singleparents.com, "the deck is stacked against a single parent from the get go." When balancing housework with childcare and visitation schedules, there is hardly time to think about dating.
A plethora of books and advice columns suggest how the single mother can juggle dating with children and prudent protocols to follow once the relationship gets serious. But this reality show touches a feminine nerve — how to find the boyfriend in the first place.
"You can probably meet a man in a bar, but that's not the kid of guy you are looking for," said Jennifer Wolf, a Michigan parent coach and advisor on About.com.
Sadly, the greatest challenge facing single mothers is their own sense of guilt, according to Wolf, particularly when they are under society's pressure to find a mate.
"Single women have so many responsibilities that are pressing, and they don't let up at all," said Wolf. "They have to carve out some time for themselves. Dating and having a social life is part of taking care of yourself."
Wolf recommends single moms sit down and "really think through" the kind of man they envision becoming part of their family. "Then you are more likely not to make a decision in the moment that you would later regret. There is more clarity."
The "million-dollar question," according to Wolf, is how to find a man who shares the same values.
"Put yourself in a position where you are coming across the kind of men you are looking for," said Wolf, suggesting church or community events or activities for singles.
"You open yourself up to a higher quality man," she said. "Someone who is not afraid to take it slow and get to know your kids and make a commitment when the time comes."
By taking time, single moms avoid the anxiety and "looking desperate," Wolf said. Men also shy away from women who immediately ask, "What's your job — or what can you do for me?"
Online dating is another way to get to know a person better before they meet, but that can bring its own dangers. FBI agents have warned that lonely, struggling women can be easy targets for pedophiles.
Last year, ABC News reported that 24 million Americans went online looking for love. One single mother who married after meeting on a dating site later discovered her husband was molesting her daughter.
One Web site — Solomother.com — recommends single mothers run a background check or run a potential boyfriend's name against the database of sex offenders.
"Just because a guy makes your toes tingle, don't forget your common sense," advises Solomother.com. "If something about him makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, don't make excuses. Just run like hell. You can apologize later if you have to."
The stakes are higher for women than for men, because they usually have full-time custody of their children.
Only about 16 percent of single parents are men, according to the U.S. Census bureau — about 3.2 million fathers, many of whom do not have primary custody and therefore more opportunities to date.
"The woman is thinking about protecting her children and what potential role the man will have with the children," said Wolf. "This is not necessarily the top priority for a majority of men."
Yeshiva University professor Louise Silverman, who teaches family therapy, said the difference between single mothers and single dads is often a financial one.
"Men are the dominant group in our culture," she said. "They make more money and have more status and more power than women."
"It's much more prestigious for a woman to have a man than to go out alone," said Silverstein. "It's much more complicated because men can marry down with age and income and women cannot."
Younger mothers are usually more motivated to get married again, she said. Younger divorced women "tend to marry as quickly as possible," yet older women hold off longer.
Divorced men remarry the quickest, "because every one needs a wife."
Men also have the upper hand when it comes to meeting prospective wives. Numerous television shows from "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s to "Full House" in the 1990s to today's "Two and Half Men" portray single fathers sought out by eager girlfriends.
"Men who are single dads and good dads, in terms of not only providing for the children, but nurturing them in an emotionally connected way," are attractive to would-be girlfriends, according to Silverstein.
Given the challenges women face in the dating scene, TLC's new television show may have some vicarious appeal for single moms. But therapists don't recommend volunteering for the casting call.
Reality shows, which rely on the drama of conflict and embarrassment, may be entertaining, but hard on their contestants' personal lives.
"Take a show like 'Moment of Truth' where the point of the show is watching someone in trouble," said parenting coach Wolf. "In the end, it ruins people's lives."
"You can't control what is public when you are out there," she said. "Not only are you vulnerable, but so are your kids."
For more information, go to singleparents.about.com.