6 Strategies for Successful Single Parenting
Read Time: 8 Minutes
For most people, single parenting was not the goal when deciding to have kids. Most parents plan to raise children with a partner and have the help of a co-parent. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always turn out the way it is planned. And being a single parent becomes a common way of life for some parents.
Typically, becoming a single parent involves some form of loss. Whether you are single parenting through separation, divorce, or death, you are probably feeling overwhelmed, sad, and a bit scared. These are normal feelings and they are nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that you are concerned about doing your best in raising kids on your own is proof that you are striving to be an amazing parent.
I never imagined that I would be a single parent. And to be honest, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have kids. But after I met my amazing husband, we knew we wanted to be parents. We were thrilled when our children were born. The thought never occurred to me that I would soon be facing one of the biggest challenges in my life: single parenting.
My transition into single parenting came very suddenly and without warning. In October of 2017, my young, strong, healthy, and fit 36-year-old husband suffered a massive heart attack. Despite my desperate attempts to revive him, along with the paramedics, and emergency room physicians, my husband did not survive. And I went home from the hospital early the next morning as a new widow with two young children to care for.
At the time, my children were only 2 and 5-years-old. The thought of facing the rest of my life without my husband by my side was unfathomable. The thought of raising two kids on my own as a single parent was terrifying. But I knew I had no other choice than to move forward and do my very best. As a parent, it really is the only choice you have.
Perhaps you are a single parent and widow like me. Or you are raising kids as a single parent through a divorce. Perhaps you chose to leave a toxic relationship. Maybe you are a single mother by choice. No matter how you came to be a single parent, you are not alone in this journey! Below, there are 6 things to help you when raising kids as a single parent.
1. Make emotional self-care a priority for you and your children
Dealing with emotional grief is hard enough, so when you add figuring out single parenting, it can be extra challenging. Be sure to find ways for emotional self-care for yourself and your child. Counseling, group therapy, journaling, and even just honest talks with your kids can help all of you process your emotions in a healthy way.
Your kids will be looking to you as their role model throughout this process, especially as it relates to handling grief and anger that may arise in them, so taking care of yourself will be key. Remember that if you are feeling sad, lonely, scared, or angry, you can bet that your children are feeling similar feelings. Make sure you invest time for your own healing and self-care. This will set the tone as to how your children will process their feelings. It is also okay to be honest with your children if you are having a rough time, but always remind them that everything will be okay. They will look to you for strength and comfort.
2. Be engaged with and available to your kids
No matter how busy life gets, it is important to make time to engage with your children. You may be your kids only (or primary) role model now. As a single parent home, developing a strong relationship with your child will be the most important thing you can do. You must work to establish that deep connection that will serve them so well, especially as they get older.
Take time to do meaningful and fun activities together. At home, you can read books or play games or let your kids help you cook dinner. On weekends, take a fun “field trip” to get ice cream or go to the park. Maybe even set aside some money to go on a mini-vacation together. Sometimes getting away from the hustle and stress of everyday life is just what you and your kids need to reconnect and create a healthy life balance.
Don’t forget to check in with your kids emotionally as well. When you have a quiet moment, perhaps before bed, ask your child how her (or his) day went and how she is feeling that day. Make sure you take the time to listen and address any worries or concerns. Hold her and let her cry if she needs to. Make sure your kids know that, despite how busy you are, they are your first priority.
3. Create routines and set limits
Setting structure, such as scheduled meal and bed times, is essential to running a peaceful and efficient household as a single parent. It also helps your kids know what to expect and what is expected of them. It is also a good idea to have your children share in the household responsibilities. Even children as young as three or four can handle some easy chores. For example, I started having my children pick up all of their toys and put them away at the end of each day. Even before they could read, I taught them where their toys belonged and set the expectation that everything needed to be put away by the end of the day. If toys or books were left out, the toys went to “mommy jail” (a bin in my closet) and the toy had to be re-earned as a privilege.
Clearly set out household rules and consequences—and be ready to enforce them. As my kids have gotten older, tablets have become more enticing to them. I try to stay away from a lot of screen time, but I know that screen time can be a reward for their good behavior. Now that they’re older, I have assigned each of them new chores and responsibilities to complete each day. If they fail to follow house rules or complete their chores, they may not have any screen time that day. I make sure to follow through on this consequence, despite the tears and begging. It has been very effective for us.
It's also important to make sure that other caregivers in your child’s life are aware of your family’s rules and expectations so that your children are getting consistent discipline when necessary.
Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is essential when you are single parenting. It may seem like a luxury and a waste of precious time when you have the weight of raising kids on your shoulders, but taking care of yourself is something every single parent needs to find time to do.
Self-care can be as simple as taking a long bath after the kids go to bed, ordering take-out instead of cooking, or hiring a babysitter so you can go to the movies with a friend. Decide what it is you need to recharge and don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself.
Intermittent self-care habits are great, but don’t forget that you need to take care of yourself daily as well. Eating good, healthy foods, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly are all ways you can take care for yourself every day. It will help you feel better physically and will be a boost emotionally as well.
5. Find your tribe
Finding a group of people that you can lean on during this time is also one of the most important things you can do when single parenting. If you have a loving and supportive family, do not feel ashamed to ask them for help. More often than not, your family wants to help you but doesn’t know how. Be honest and direct about your needs, and give your family the chance to give you a hand.
If you do not have a family you can depend on, create a “family by choice.” Gather yourself around a group of trusted helpers, such as a go-to babysitter, your best friend, a trusted neighbor, or the sweet mom down the street. These days, many of us live far away from our families. The only option we may have is relying on close friends to give us a hand. Seek out those people and make sure to let them know if you are struggling. Again, they may not know how to help you without your guidance.
If you have trouble meeting people you feel you can trust, join a support group, even if it’s just online. There are many single parent support groups online that you can easily become involved in, and many single parent groups are based on specific locations. Don’t forget to seek out members of your church or faith community as well. Often, churches will have special programs or outreach ministries for single parenting.
6. Find a work/life balance
Trying to raise a family as a single parent while also holding down a job can feel impossible at times. But there are ways you can create a better work/life balance that will meet your family’s and your employer’s needs.
Seek out a family-friendly company if you are on the hunt for a new job.
At the very least, sit down and have a talk with your boss regarding your role as a single parent. Be open and honest about what you may need to change in order to do your job well while also being able to be there for your kids.
Figure out a schedule that works well for you at work and at home, and stick to it.
When you are at work, focus solely on the tasks you have to take care of that day and try not to let family worries or tasks get in the way. On the other hand, when you are at home with your kids, focus fully on them. Once they are in bed, if you need to get some work done, that’s okay, but don’t let work take you from your kids’ needs.
Stay organized and delegate when possible.
Keep an online or paper calendar accessible with your schedule written out. Keep a task list and check things off as you go. Set a timer when you work on a task and turn off all distractions (like email or Facebook). When you have a task that can be delegated to someone you trust, let it go and let them accomplish it.
Ask for help when you need it and have a backup plan.
Create a list of people you can call in case of an emergency. Whether it be a grandparent, a trusted neighbor, or your best friend, have a list of people who can get your sick kid from school or take the kids to their karate class when your meeting runs late.
Raising kids as a single parent may not have been your choice. But you are capable of making a success of it nevertheless! Make sure that you are taking care of yourself and your children, mentally and physically, first and foremost. Then focus on prioritizing your relationship with your kids and how you can make your home as structured and safe as possible for them.
Next, focus on finding your tribe of trusted supporters, then work on creating that work/life balance. It may feel scary and overwhelming at first, but you will find your rhythm in single parenting and you will be okay. You’ve got this!