Mette Theilmann from Predictable Parenting shares her tips on how to juggle parenthood and work as a single parent.
As a parent of three and a family coach for 18 years, I know how tough it can be juggling parenting and work. Worries about balancing everything — financial challenges, career fulfilment — can all add stress to our daily life. But doing it solo brings these challenges to a whole new level! There's no one to help with a crying toddler or an angry teen; you stay at home when they are sick and work at the same time; you set the rules and get things done by yourself - a single parent does it all.
One positive aspect is that you decide how you want things done which makes things a bit easier on you. And maybe knowing it’s all on you can actually make you feel empowered. You are responsible, capable and resourceful and sometimes it’s easier not having to involve another adult in decisions - you can do what you want. So let’s work on becoming more creative and flexible.
Tip 1: Time is your enemy - prioritise. We can’t make more time in the day, but we can choose how to spend it, and with whom.
- Plan (and write down) when you will work, do household jobs, be with family and attend to your own needs. And don’t fudge this last one - it’s NOT a luxury to schedule time for things that make you feel happy and well. It’s even more important for single parents as they don’t have the buffer of another parent when things get tough. Keeping well and looking after yourself is vital.
- Delegate: you don’t have to do it all alone. Ask your kids to help with some chores (walk the dog, set the table, etc.). There are also people out there who would love to help if you just ask - sharing school runs, babysitting - so you can catch up on work, rest or see friends. You are not alone. So if you’re not doing it already, get better at reaching out and asking for support. It’s not always easy to ask and many of us feel we need to be a superhero all the time! It’s a strong (and smart) move to ask for help so try letting people know when you could use some assistance, get specific with what you need help with and put it out there. You may be pleasantly surprised by the response!
- Be strict with your time: allow yourself to give each task your full attention, where your mind can absorb what you are doing right now. When working, be 100% focused, everything else is scheduled for later. When you’re with your child, give them your full attention, this sends a signal that they are the most important thing in your life at that moment.
If you get distracted physically or mentally: stop, breathe and reset. Write down what popped into your mind or note in your planner and get back to what you need to do right now. Let it go, knowing that you will come back and do it later.
- Embrace stolen moments: If you notice something that needs attention you CAN leave it for now and just spend time with your kids. Go outside, spend time in the garden, sit and rest – don’t feel that when you’re doing ‘nothing’ you need to do ‘something’. You can relax and recharge. Sometimes, doing nothing is the right thing right now.
Tip 2: Radiators, not drains. Don’t waste time on people who drain you, suck your positive energy or always want something without giving anything in return. You need people around who give you energy, make you feel good and who can support you as a solo working parent.
Surround yourself with people who make you happy, make you laugh and help you when you’re in need, who genuinely care about you and your situation.
Tip 3: Work as a team. To make it work you need a team: your kids, your friends, family, maybe even a new partner.
- Have weekly family chats to create a structure of teamwork and co-operation - talk about family/work/life structure and what your family life looks like.
- Explain what you need to do at work, the expectations from work and discuss this with your children (depending on their age).
- Let them know how you need them to support you, respect and accept this new family structure.
- Explain boundaries and how you will manage things: ‘I will be working full time so I need you to take part in family responsibilities so we can spend time together. I can’t do it alone so I need your help.’
- Discuss how you might have to cut down on certain expenses in order to afford a holiday. Maybe you have downsized and need to share and respect each other’s space more.
- If you need support from other family members or friends, communicate regularly so you are clear about the setup and your needs. And how you can support them back in return - it goes both ways.
Tip 4: Let go of perfection and comparison.
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ - Theodore Roosevelt
We are often our own worst critics and single parents can feel they are falling short in some areas. You can’t always do everything other families seem to be doing. One pair of hands and one income has a practical impact and we must accept that. The ability to let go and be ok with ‘enough’ can be a very helpful strategy in single parenting.
- The house doesn’t need to be spotless at all times, you don’t need to keep a show home. Focus on the important things and accept that your house is tidy enough!
- Every birthday cake and meal doesn't have to be homemade; it’s ok to grab a ready meal, a supermarket cake or go out for a burger after a long day working.
- Your child doesn’t need to take part in every activity or club going, no matter what other families are doing. It’s ok to say no and keep things manageable for YOUR situation.
And lastly, please take a moment to acknowledge yourself on the amazing job you are doing. You are working, running a household AND raising a child. On your own. And that is something to feel very proud of.
Mette Theilmann is a parent and family coach, author and founder of Predictable Parenting. Find out more here.