• Balance is the key word in the heading. The first thing to consider is how many hours you need to work to make ends meet. The second thing to consider is how much money you would like to have above making ends meet. And then the decision on the table, if you are lucky, is whether to work less hours and make do with less money or work more and have more money but less flexibility and time.

    Your Village
    It takes a village, or so the saying goes. This is never more true than with single parenting. Look around at your family and friends and make a list of who is available, when they are available, and what they are willing to help with. If your children are school aged their friends with a stay-at-home parent might be ideal for after school pick-ups and play dates when you are in a pinch. Aunts, cousins, grandparents – pick the people you trust and make that list.

    Children learn more from your examples and actions than from your words

    You need to arrange for responsible trustworthy childcare. This is an absolute. Again – you want to have your friends and family pitch in when you are in need but don’t expect them to carry the load daily.

    In order to avoid falling into a life of rushing, frustrations and chaos you will need to be organized. Planning ahead will make a world of difference. It benefits your children to have a routine and it helps you to avoid feeling helpless or out of control.

    Meals: Make a meal plan for the week, compile a shopping list and stick to it. Cook on Sunday for the week – prepare one or two proteins, chop vegetables, and put it all into the fridge for quick snacks and meals. Know which days of the week you need to send snacks and lunches to school and refer to the list every evening to prepare for the next day. And by Thursday, when you are all tired of the leftovers/same variation of one protein, have a fun meal night – macaroni and cheese, grilled cheeses, something the kids like and is quick and easy for you.
    Weeknights: Have an evening plan that the children can fall back upon – come home, snack and talk about your day. Homework can be done while you prepare/re-heat dinner, eat together, bath, books and bedtime. Make sure the children pack their backpacks and pick out their ‘tomorrow clothes’ before bed. And after the kids are in bed you can clean up the kitchen, prepare snacks and lunches for the next day, and wind down yourself.
    Just in case: Keep a small supply of water bottles, paper plates, dried fruit/nuts, a box of cake mix so that if your child comes home announcing the need to bring something to school the next day for their class you will have something to send without heading to the market. It may not be the something they are requesting but at least your child will not have to go in empty handed.

    When the Kids get Sick
    The biggest stress and dilemma for a single working parent is when a child cannot go to their daycare or school. What do you do? First thing, if it is an option for you, is to call your ex to see if s/he is available. If not, look at your list of family and friends to see who is on your list for last minute sick babysitting. Grandparents, great aunts and uncles, older/retired family friends who you trust completely are ideal for this job.

    School Holidays and Random Days Off
    You are not alone, groaning at the second or third staff improvement day, or at President’s Day, five days off for Thanksgiving, etc. Days off are the bane of a working parent’s existence! So look at the school calendar at the beginning of the year and decide which days you will take off. Then see if there is a school camp/program over the longer breaks. When you see where your gaps are you have a couple of choices – arranging play dates with classmates is an easy option. The children are all off so someone must be home somewhere. You might trade off with another parent whom you trust – you take one holiday off and take all of the kids, and they take the next one. And if play dates are not an option you are back to your arranged childcare or your family/friends safety net.

    Be clear about what your work hours are, when you are available, and when you are not. And aside from an emergency or rare exception, stick to those work hours. If you have to lean on friends and family for daily issues they may be less available when you really need them. Boundaries also apply to life outside of work. Learn how to say no to volunteering and additional activities if you do not have time and feel over-stretched. Martyring yourself is no favor to you or to your children, who will ultimately suffer if you are stressed out and exhausted.

    The Upside of Being a Working Parent
    Not only will working give you a sense of confidence and accomplishment (and money, of course!), it will give you the independence you desire. It also sets a wonderful example for your children – that you are a hard worker, successful at what you do, appreciated by others, dependable, and (hopefully) happy. Children learn more from your examples and actions than from your words, so if it teaches them to be dependable, responsible, organized, committed, and hard working then you’ve done a great job raising them for success in the world!

    Taking Care of You
    A happy parent makes for a happy child. I can’t emphasize this enough. So be sure to eat healthfully, exercise (even walking during your lunch hour if you have no other opportunity), go to sleep at a reasonable hour and schedule time with friends. Balance in your life will assure balance with your family.