The rising popularity of Web sites such as Meetup.com make it easy for local single parents to connect off- and online

A beautiful thing happened on Sunday afternoon for single Moms and Dads.

A rare moment during their ultra-hectic lives as single parents, more than 30 divorced fathers and mothers got the opportunity to socialize and connect with each other while their kids took part in the festivities of a Halloween bash held at Fun Station USA, Travis.

The group of single parents welcomed the chance to swap stories and bond over their shared experiences while their children, dressed in Halloween costumes, were off enjoying unlimited parachute and bumper car rides, arcade games, a costume pageant and a talented balloon artist.

Many strangers before the event, the group of divorced parents met through an increasingly popular Web site called Meetup.com, which helps to bring together people with similar interests and who live in the same vicinity.

Through the Web site, Carla Giordano, a 37-year-old single Rossville mother with two kids, Michael, 9, and Jenna, 7, formed the Staten Island Single Parents Meetup group back in March. Today the group has 48 members.

Ms. Giordano decided to put together Sunday’s event, which was sponsored by Richmond County Day Camp, as a way for single parents to mix and mingle, hopefully form connections as well as show the kids a good time.

"This is the first actual event that I’ve attended, so I’m kind of new to this," Kevin Moran, a Dongan Hills father, said.

Divorced for four years, Moran said he joined the group because it has activities for both single parents and their kids, something which allows him to spend quality time with his daughter, Summer, of whom he has joint custody, as well as to get to know other people in similar situations.

"What is nice is this gives Summer a chance to meet new kids," he added, smiling as he watched his 10-year-old daughter, dressed up as Disney’s Hannah Montana, race from ride to ride. "And it doesn’t hurt that there are parents here who have gone through similar experiences. There’s definitely something to be said for that commonality."

Michelle Schiraldi and her 7-year-old daughter, Katelyn, who was dressed in pink scrubs and a surgical mask, became a member for similar reasons.

"I really joined this group so that my daughter could meet other kids that live like her," she said. "I don’t want her to grow up feeling like she’s the only kid in the world who doesn’t have a dad that lives at home with her," added the Rossville mom, who has been divorced for seven years.

BETTER THAN BEFOREIndeed, the Meetup get-togethers are certainly a departure from the stereotypical divorce meetings of years past.

It used to be that single parents would have to scurry around to find a sitter for their kids for the evening and then head off to a slightly gloomy room at a church or community center. And it was there that they’d sit awkwardly among others who found themselves in the similar situation of being young, single and divorced with kids.

Fortunately, these days single parents can use the Web as a resource to find like-minded divorced parents with whom they can share their experiences. Sort of like a 24/7 support group, parents can log on any time of the day and connect with other single parents who are searching for community, friendship and maybe a little romantic passion, too.

What’s great about Ms. Giordano’s group is that she aims to host regular local events, where parents can meet with their kids in tow and enjoy a day of bowling. She also hosts adult-only events, like at a restaurant where members can enjoy good food and conversation and can unwind from the daily stresses of single parenting.

Like many of her counterparts, Ms. Giordano struggles with the daily herculean task of juggling work and parenting her two kids. She’s caught up in preparing meals, doing homework, carpooling to baseball and ballet practices, all the while attempting to ensure that her kids are emotionally well-adjusted.

Yet, amid all this flurry of activity, Ms. Giordano is intent on resurrecting her social life.

"As for the dating scene, it’s horrible after divorce, people look at you differently, like you are an easy target or prey," Ms. Giordano said. "I’ve been a single parent now for three years, and what I’ve learned is that, yes, it is very hard at times.

"While you need to focus on your children," she continued, "you also need to try to have some sort of a social life, which is exactly the reason why I formed this group," she said, adding that she believes the group is a great way for divorced parents to help each other with the ups and downs of single parenting.

IT’S A CHALLENGEWhen asked about her social life, Christine Caruthers, a divorced, 30-something mom, living in Eltingville with her 11-year-old son, quips that at this stage of her life she is, "currently looking for a convent that will take slightly used women and children."

But all kidding aside, Ms. Caruthers, a newbie to the Staten Island Single Parents Meetup Group, admits that dating after divorce has its own set of challenges and the learning curve is a lot trickier than she had anticipated.

"I’ve never tried online dating because I am too scared of winding up in a body bag," Ms. Caruthers joked. "A few of my friends have set me up but nothing that ever worked out … I have a busy life and sometimes it’s difficult to get a sitter."

Divorced for seven years, Ms. Caruthers said that, as the custodial parent, most of her son’s care falls squarely on her shoulders — which doesn’t leave her a lot of time to "look for Mr. Right."

"I’ve never had a serious relationship since my divorce," she said. "I have dated a few guys (separately) over a period of time and it’s been difficult trying to balance all the different parts of my life," said Ms. Caruthers.

She said some guys don’t understand that her son comes first and some feel the need to give her advice. She feels "torn from being pulled in both directions" of pleasing her children and her dates.

"Then there’s the constant running around and late hours [of dating]," she said, noting that she is not as young as she used to be. "I’m actually exhausted from trying to keep a social life."

She decided to join Ms. Giordano’s group in hopes that she will meet other single parents like her — parents who do everything alone and who want friends who understand what it is like day in and day out to be a single parent.

Plus, it just might be the best way to meet a man who, because of being in a similar situation, fully understands the stresses of single parenthood.

SINGLE IN STATEN ISLANDSilver Lake resident, Loretta Kennedy, a 40-something mother of four kids, ages 14 to 21, knows how difficult it is to juggle parental duties and find time to squeeze in a social life.

Separated from her husband more than four years ago, Ms. Kennedy said she did her best to make sure her kids felt grounded in the fact that she always had their best interests at heart before she dipped her big toe into the dating pool.

"I started dating about 18 months after my separation, mainly to combat the loneliness that I experienced when my children were with their dad," Ms. Kennedy said. "My friends were all married and weekends were difficult."

After one relationship she had post-separation ended, Ms. Kennedy decided to form her own Meetup group, the Single in Staten Island Meetup Group.

The group, which welcomes older singles as members, was formed in August. Already, it boasts 80 members, who hold discussions online as well as meet in person at adult-only events.

"Singles groups are a great way to meet others without the pressure of a one-on-one date," Ms. Kennedy said.

And it isn’t only about romantic connections, she observed.

"Meeting other divorced women has been just as helpful to me as meeting men, probably more so," she added. "I’ve made some wonderful women friends along the way who have been able to empathize and who have been a constant source of support, guidance and love when days aren’t so positive."

Still, Ms. Kennedy encourages more men to sign up with the group.

"I am certain there are many men out there who could benefit from this type of group as well," she said.

"I am hoping there will be many lasting friendships that develop from my new Single in Staten Island Meetup Group," she said eagerly. "And maybe some romances, too!"

SOURCE: Staten Island Advance and California Divorce and Family Law Blog