Parenting is a challenge, even when two adults are in the home. Single parents face many of the same issues as two-parent homes but have additional challenges that can make parenting harder. I’ve spent some time as a single parent, so I know what it’s like to feel like you’re balancing it all; the image of an octopus on top of a unicycle juggling comes to mind. The critical thing to remember is that you don’t have to do it alone as a single parent, but it often feels that way. One of the biggest challenges is you may not know where to look or ask for help. So, I’ve compiled a list of tips for single parents that I found helpful; hopefully, you will, too!
1. Ask for Help
Asking for help seems simple on the surface; however, many of us find it challenging. I know I hate asking for help. There is this surreal image, especially for moms, that we should be able to do it all ourselves. It’s simply not true. If you have the means, hire a cleaning service or babysitter, have groceries delivered, or utilize a dog walker to take some of the pressure off you. Responsible teenagers make great babysitters, often costing less than college students or adult sitters.
If spending extra isn’t realistic, enlist friends and family when possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; the worst thing is someone saying no. I lived in Chicago for four years and had no family nearby and no close friends when I first moved there. However, over time, I met a few people willing to pitch in and help in an emergency. Another great idea is to swap babysitting with other parents. This way, everyone gets free babysitting and time to accomplish tasks or have some alone time.
If you belong to a religious organization, they are often an excellent resource for childcare or assistance in other ways.
If you don’t ask, no one knows you need help. So all you can do is try!
2. Create a Support Group
Creating a support group coincides with asking for help. Learn who you can lean on and for what. Some friends and family might be unable to babysit due to location or schedule, but perhaps they are always there for a phone call when you need to vent or want advice. Others may be able to pitch in by picking up groceries, passing down clothes and toys, or swapping babysitter hours with you.
Some single parents find it helpful to join online chat groups. However, be careful when seeking advice from strangers online. The shield of a screen between a person and their recipient often encourages people to say things they wouldn’t face to face. But, if you can find the right type of group online, having a place to interact with other single parents can be helpful.
3. Encourage Independent Play
Many parents, especially moms, feel guilty when they can’t or don’t want to play with their kids. However, encouraging children to play independently improves their social-emotional and cognitive development. And sometimes, you cannot stop what you are doing to play, or you don’t have the energy. As a parent, you are not responsible for entertaining your child whenever you are home with them.
Encourage your child to play independently. Explain to them that you have work you need to finish or need some “mommy quiet time,” as I call it, and make a commitment to play with them later, then follow through on that commitment.
It’s also OK to let them use electronics. There are a lot of studies on the detriments of young kids and too much electronic time. But we live in a digital world, so being realistic is also important. As long as your child isn’t spending most of their day glued to a screen, two hours of tablet time instead of one is not the end of the world if you need extra time.
If you feel like your kid needs to be near you, as my youngest often does, give them an activity in the same room where you’re working, provided they engage in their activity independently. Sometimes, they need to be close to you.
4. Ask For a Flexible Schedule
Asking for a flex schedule was rare, but it is increasingly common post-COVID. If you need to cut childcare costs, be home every Tuesday and Thursday by 4 p.m. for baseball practice, or need more time with your kids and at home, consider asking your boss for a flex schedule.
Many companies are allowing work-from-home days. Or your boss may let you work a four-day week or remotely unless you have a meeting or presentation. Of course, not all jobs have this option or flexibility, but it is worth considering if yours does!
Of course, working from home doesn’t solve all problems; I know I’ve been working at home for the past three years! Finding that delicate home and work-life balance is difficult, especially when the kids are home. But it is nice to know I don’t have to schedule doctor appointments, gymnastics classes, or anything else around seeking time off work.
5. Stop Trying to Do It All
Take a break. You don’t have to do it all. This is an excellent tip for single parents and all parents! Leave the humungous pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Leave the pile of laundry unfolded. Go through the drive-through if you don’t feel like cooking. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly all the time. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly ever!
If your kids are old enough, get them to help out around the house. Toddlers can put their toys away. Older kids can help set the table, do laundry, take the trash out, and help with the pet.
We put too much pressure on ourselves to do everything perfectly; it’s one of the perils of a social media-influenced world. So, give yourself a break! You’re doing a great job, I promise!
6. Make Time for Yourself and Make Time for Your Kids
Time for yourself and time for kids are equally important. You cannot be your best self if you’re stressed, tired, and unfulfilled. Find a hobby outside the home, go for a walk, or meet up with a friend once a week for coffee or dinner. It’s essential to find time for yourself that is restorative and meaningful.
Likewise, your kids need time devoted to them. Put the phone and tablet away and spend time with your kid interruption-free. Trips to the park, board games, puzzles, or playing make-believe are excellent ways to engage with your kids. Creating a special time when your child gets your full attention will also ease the guilt you might feel when you’re unable to play with them.
August 9, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry