We all know that raising a child or children is not always easy, but being a single parent can bear its own specific challenges. Here are some tips I wish I had known about when I became a single mom to help you embrace single parenting without losing yourself.
1. Accept help
As a single parent, we tend to think that we need to handle everything ourselves – and believe me, I’m talking from experience. For years, even if people offered to help, I’d try doing things myself to avoid bothering others. Even though I sometimes still struggle with accepting help, I have learned that there’s nothing wrong with letting others give you a hand.
There are many ways to get help. Obviously, family and friends are often the first to offer their time to look after the children or jump in in other situations. Depending on your children’s age, getting them to participate in housework can be a good option, too. Not only will it take some of the burden off you, but it will give them a sense of responsibility and belonging to the family.
2. Build relationships
When parenting with a partner, we tend to be more self-sufficient in terms of relationships. As a single parent, being the only adult of the family can sometimes be difficult. Therefore – and especially if you are like me and don’t have any family members around – it’s essential to build relationships in order to make sure you don’t isolate yourself. It’s always nicer to go to the playground with a friend and their children: the kids can play together and you can spend time with a friend at the same time. It might be difficult to reach out to people in the beginning, especially if you are an introvert, but you will see that being more outgoing and talkative will quickly show results.
3. Take care of yourself
As a parent, and even more as a single parent, we can quickly lose ourselves in parenthood. What we often struggle to understand is that our well-being and needs are just as important as our children’s. Sometimes, we even forget to take care of our basic needs such as eating a proper meal or getting enough sleep.
We need to understand that taking care of ourselves is also a way of taking care of our children. E.g., a happy or better rested parent will be more patient, attentive, and loving than a mom running on empty. It sounds logical when we say it, but our well-being is usually at the very bottom of our priority list.
It’s OK to get a babysitter in order to take time for yourself. It’s OK to let the kids watch a bit more TV once in a while to get some rest or do something important for you.
4. Stop feeling guilty
Guilt – the mother of all negative emotions for solo parents. We feel bad for taking time for ourselves, for not spending enough time with the kids, or for being a single parent in the first place. Of course, if you messed up in a certain situation, it’s important to acknowledge it and fix what can be repaired. But truth is that we usually beat ourselves up for things we cannot even control.
The first step is to distinguish between the two types of situations and the second is to learn to move on. Otherwise, lingering feelings of guilt can quickly get in the way of living up to your true potential as a parent.
As a single parent, you have to realize that you cannot do everything and, most importantly, that you cannot (and don’t need to) replace the missing parent.
The key here is not only to prioritize but also to set the right priorities! As previously explained, your well-being should be among your highest priorities too. Prioritizing also means that you accept that some tasks might be neglected – be it only temporarily. In other words: You need to let go of perfection. The kids are in bed, you feel exhausted but the kitchen needs to be cleaned? Then consider leaving the cleaning for the next day and making sure you get the rest you need. Your children want to stay a bit longer at the playground but you will have less time to cook? You might want to opt for eating sandwiches for dinner that night.
Of course, everybody has different priorities, and we cannot stop cleaning the house or have sandwiches for dinner every day – but I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at. Define your priorities (despite what other people might think) and live your life accordingly.
6. Be organized
When people ask me how I manage to handle everything, I usually tell them that they would manage too if they had to, and that being organized is key.
Plan ahead as much as possible, be realistic about what you can accomplish and introduce routines. Not only will it help you get things done but it’s also very important for children to have daily rituals. For more time-management tips, you can read my article: Smart Time-Management Strategies for Parents.
7. Plan in quality time
Obviously, time is precious as a single parent. The good news is that it’s not so much the amount of time you spend with your kids that is important, but how fulfilling it is. On the one hand, there is the family quality time and, on the other hand, the one-on-one time you spend with each child.
For me, it’s very important to make sure the three of us spend time together – which is not always an easy task given the eight-year age gap between my two sons and the fact that my eldest (almost 13) wants to spend more and more time with his friends. Again, the amount of time is not that relevant here. In my opinion, the most important is to do it on a regular basis and to have fun. It could be playing a board game, go for a walk to get an ice cream but also go on a trip together.
Spending alone time with each of your children is just as important. Spending 10 minutes a day with them individually can already have a great impact on the rest of the day. Try to schedule this time smartly to make sure you can focus on one child. E.g., when the little one is sleeping or the sibling is doing another activity.
8. Put the pressure off you
When raising children without a partner, self-doubt can sometimes become overwhelming as we are taking all the decisions on our own. Of course, it’s normal to sometimes second guess yourself, but it’s also important to be able to keep a sense of proportion and not question everything you are doing.
Remember to be good to yourself and give yourself permission to fail or to figure things out. Accept that parenting is a process of trial and error – and not only for solo parents. You are doing the best you can so stop comparing yourself to others and trust yourself. Your children will be thankful for your authenticity.
Even if being a single parent is often challenging, there are many ways to overcome difficulties and live a happy life with your children. Remember that parenting as a couple bears its challenges as well and that life is what you make out of it.
What are your thriver tips for (single) parents?