In the first few months, maybe even a year, of being a sole parent, I would get very impatient with women complaining of being a “single mum” when their partners left for business trips or longer assignments away from home.
No, I wasn’t just impatient, I was right down angry. What would THEY know about being a truly single parent???
Several years on and I find myself much more sympathetic to those temporarily single mums. In fact, I truly empathise with them, because what they are really going through over and over is what I had to do just once.
Getting used to solo parenting is a shock. No matter how much, or how little, your partner contributes to the care of your home and children, sometimes their mere presence is a huge foundation of support that is suddenly pulled out from under you, when they’re not there.
Doing it once was extremely hard work and it nearly broke me. Having to do it over and over again, if your partner is a frequent traveller or works a fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) job, would add up to a lot of stress over a long period of time. Personally, I don’t know if I’d cope.
But I’m not here to just empathise, I want to share with you the strategies I use to survive solo parenting, in the hope that they help you survive those constant changes to your routine.
- Let go of expectations.
Stop expecting the impossible from yourself. Allow yourself to let go of the normal routines, expectations and standards that you live by when you’re both there. The house does not have to be spotless, the uniforms don’t have to be ironed, the occasional soccer practice can be missed and it doesn’t matter if the kids go to bed without a bath a few times a week.
I no longer get stressed if I miss bin night. I just let it go and try to remember for next week. I’ve also become a waste minimalist, so that we can survive a few missed bin nights. Vacuuming gets done once a week and mopping whenever I can remember (thankfully I don’t have little crawling children any more).
- Simplify and focus on quality of life.
My children have done very few after school activities since I became a single parent. I consciously discouraged them from doing too many things, because I did not want the extra stress and effort. For myself or for them. My priority has been to be here for them, to engage in their play if they needed me, to let them have free time and to do family things together when we feel like it.
If you normally have a very busy after school schedule, simplify it, especially if your partner is away a lot. Look for activities that all children can do at the same time. Consider limiting them to one per child. Ask friends for help ferrying them to and fro.
Your children will appreciate the free time to spend with you at home far more than a busy after school schedule.
- Be prepared.
- Stock up your freezer for when your partner will be away. I have a huge freezer that is full of pre-cooked meals that I either make myself or buy from the supermarket. I don’t scoff at shop-bought lasagne, or pre-marinated meat. Sometimes our meals are as simple as tinned spaghetti, toasted sandwiches or sausages in bread, because after a full day, especially if I’m unwell, the last thing I want to do is cook.
- Utilise your slow cooker and make meals in bulk. Double the recipe and you’ll have another meal to freeze for another day. My slow cooker doubles as a pressure cooker, which is a godsend as I can get away with preparing a fairly elaborate meal in minimum time.
- Organise playdates in advance. If you can coordinate one for each child at the same time and they’re not at your place, you have the added bonus of some peace and quiet for a couple of hours.
- Put the washing on overnight, hang it out or dry it during the day and don’t let it pile up until it overwhelms you.
- Ask for help.
I know this can be hard. When I first started work full time as a sole parent, I needed help form a couple of friends to manage my children’s care. They both did it without a drama.
At the moment I am relying on one family to bring my older son home from Scouts one evening a week, allowing my younger son to stay asleep. And you know what, I do feel awkward about it and tried to get out of it a couple of weeks ago, but they really don’t mind and it really makes my life easier.
If you need help while your partner is away, ask your friends, ask your family, ask school and ballet mums and you’ll be surprised by how many will say yes and will not expect anything in return.
- Take time out.
When you’re being both mother and father, the load on your shoulders can feel like it’s going to break you. Don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself to go for a walk, have coffee with a friend, or just hide in your bedroom for ten minutes. Children are little emotional piranhas and take a lot out of us. Time to stop, recharge and get your head together, if even for five minutes, is essential.
On days when it all feels like too much, I take myself out for coffee, or lunch and make sure I go out walking. I no longer feel guilty about closing the bedroom door against my kids, because I just need the quiet. By now, they’ve become quite accepting of that and know that it’s “mummy time”.
Most importantly, remember to take care of you. Do what it takes to get through that sole parenting time without guilt. The world won’t end, your children will survive and your partner is still your partner, even if he/she is far away. Always hold on to that.
What are your favourite tips for surviving single parenting?
Dorothy blogs at A Blog of Her Own about resilience, solo parenting and living with mental illness. A sole parent of two boys, Dorothy is also a freelance copywriter, thinker and problem solver. Since beginning blogging she has launched two businesses and left Melbourne to live in Ballarat, including an online coaching and consulting business at dorothyk.com.au.