Managing a Household as a Single Parent

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Daily routine for 3 kids + working single mom

April 2008

I'm a working mom of 2 as well (4 yr and 1yr old.) Here's what I do the night before: 1)Pick out clothes for self and kids; 2)Pack own lunch; and 3)Pack diaper bag for daycare. I also ask my older son what he'd like for breakfast (give 2 options) the night before so he has something to look forward to the next day. His favorite is toast and grapes/banana and cup of milk. I shower the night before.

Morning routine (usually up around 7am) Get as far along as possible with dressing self, then I put on a linen robe over my outfit(something non-linty)and then get boys ready. I'll dress my younger son and allow my older son to dress himself,I usually end up helping him, this takes 10 minutes to get both boys ready. Then I put the little one in his high chair and give him his (dry) breakfast (i.e. crackers, cheese cubes, cut fruit, etc) and prepare breakfast for self and older son. While boys eat, I finish getting ready. 10 minutes before we need to leave, I announce that when the clock hand is on the 12, we're going to school and mommy's going to work...We'll do a quick teeth brushing and face wipe. We're out the door by 8:03, boys dropped off at daycare by 8:15 and at work by 8:30.

We're usually home by 5:45 and the boys do a half hour activity while I cook (i.e. ''reading''/coloring/painting/playing with train set for the older son) and the little one goes into his Pak & Play with toys. For dinner we usually have a rice dish (plain rice and stir fry), pasta dish (spaghetti and meatballs), casserole (like a chicken pot pie), hearty soup + cheese toast, etc. Budget permitting, we do take out twice a month. I reserve time consuming meals (roasts and such) for weekends and do what I can with leftovers during the week. (Don't feel guilty for having pre-packaged or frozen foods for dinner, we do this once a week. We usually have dinner around 6:45. After dinner, we ''play'' or have family time until 7:30-7:45 and then begin bedtime routine. younger one gets bathed first while the older one does something independent (usually, it's a 20-min video, his favorite is BOUNCE) and then it's bathtime for my older son. (Don't feel guilty for using videos as a 20 minute babysitter either...) Kids are in bed by 8:15-8:30 and after dishes, I have my own time after 9pm. Whew! Fellow working mom First let me start by saying you seem to have a great attitude which should help a lot.

I'm not a single mom but my husband travels a lot, often for a month or more at a time. So I do have some tips.

Do everything you can the night before. I make lunches while I'm cleaning up from dinner. Things that I need to bring to daycare/preschool I put in the car the night before. I don't bother to lay out clothes because my kids don't care that much and neither do I, but I know some people swear by it. Sometimes, when I absolutely have to be at an early meeting and can't take any glitches in the morning, I dress the kids the night before and they sleep in their clothes. Shoes and socks go on while they are eating breakfast. I take my shower at night after I put the kids to bed. This has the added bonus of them not immediately yelling for me because they know I can't hear them.

I'm lucky in that home, daycare/preschool, and work are all within a couple miles of each other, so when my husband is gone, I do errands and grocery shopping at lunch. I might even go home to fold laundry or clean up a bit. Once in awhile I go home just to have some time to myself. I should go work out at lunch but I'm pregnant and just can't quite swing it now.

I hate going to the grocery store with my kids, so another strategy I came up with was to invite someone over for dinner regularly. She would eat and do laundry and then after the kids were in bed, she would hang out while I went shopping.

Invite other people over for dinner. I've found it is little extra work and my kids tend to behave better and I get some grown-up time.

Keep a big calendar with what everyone is doing and write down obligations as soon as you know them. Being on your own makes it easier to drop balls (at least for me).

We rarely take vacations so I often take a vacation day every month or two to get caught up on errands or around the house or take a nap.

Good luck. Anon

Worried about my ability to manage by myself

Jan 2005

My husband and I will be separating soon and I am very concerned about my ability to care for my young children alone. Their dad will be involved in their lives, but I'm talking about the day to day demands (getting them off to school, dinner, baths, play, etc) which seems to definately be a two person job. I'm wondering if anyone can share advice or experience with some alternatives I'm considering: (1) trying to find another single parent and share living space and responsibilites (though frankly the thought of even more children in the house is scary); (2) trying to find a young woman, student perhaps, and offer free room/board for a certain amount of help; (3) maybe a real ''au pair'' from abroad, but I suspect this is much too costly. Or, any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance. scared soon-to-be single mom

I've been a single mom from the start. Although there are times when a second parent would be wonderful, single parenting is mostly manageable. I do notice that there are things my coupled friends do as parents that I do not. For example, rent a video and watch a movie when the kids are asleep. I just don't have time for that. But, I have a clean kitchen, my child wears matching socks, etc... I think any number of plans to get some extra help could work out: rent out a room to a student, hire a babysitter, etc. I was really worried about getting help when my son was first born, but I found a babysitter at a reasonable cost who is so wonderful that I feel really lucky she's in my child's life. Good luck, and you can do it! happy single mama

During my first three weeks as a single mom (of one child in preschool) I was late for everthing. Gradually I figured out an adjusted routine and adjusted priorities. Don't panic, you'll figure it out too. Do big cleaning and cook in batches when your children are at their dad's or at a friend's house. Good luck. a mom

I can completely sympathize. My husband works so much I feel like a single mom. And, oh yes, we are in couples therapy trying to make it work. We were separated for two months and it was more than I could bear (and I only have one child). Call me to chat for ideas 836-0234.

One idea is this: most international language schools look for host families in the Bay Area. The students come here for 9 months, and want to stay with a family instead of on campus. If you are honest about want you want (help w/ kids), I'm sure there will be a student for you. Language schools pay a small amount to cover the student's food, and expect you to welcome this student into your family (they are not a nanny or au pair). If you want more info, try EF International 430-3209. There are many schools, that is just one. Try an on line search, ''Bay Area language schools'' or ''hosting a student''. Good Luck! Kim

Dear Single mom to be, I hear your concerns. It's very scary at first to think about handing it all, but once you are are in and doing it you will see you might be able to manage. I don't know you and don't know how many kids you have. But I feel like I can handle ANYTHING now. My survival instincts have been tested and they are strong. I am a different person for going through the struggles that I have as a single mom. That's not to say that I'm not tired, worn out, and need a break sometimes. It's certainly not the most perfect situation, but we manage and my daughter is thriving. You will have to think about things in a different way, like making lunches the night before when you are putting the dinner leftovers away, or community baths, etc. And I hate to say it, but I have my freezer stuffed with Amy's frozen pizzas! I rely on friends who are also single moms for sharing advice and tips on what to make for dinner (or we sometimes make dinner together on Friday nights) or childcare sharing. If it does turn out to be too overwhelming, and you have the money, then think of the most important things you need someone else to do for you, like cleaning the house, or doing the laundry (those are my fantasies...). Sounds like you will get breaks from the kids when their father takes them, that's a good thing. Remember to do things for yourself at those times and try not to clean the house! anon single mom

I'm a single mom of three kids. always have been. Never had money for hired help. It's hard. You just do what you gotta do. It's surprising how it all works out. Women do this all the time without any help at all. You'll find that you have lots and lots of inner strength to draw from. single and strong

I don't have advice on how to find or set up a situation where you get regular help at home, although I hope you can. But I do have a reality check on whether it is possible to parent as a single. It is. I am as single as single can be - no family around, no other parent, nothing, and it does get exhausting physically, emotionally, and mentally sometimes, but most of the time it's fine. I think it's a question of getting yourself there mentally. I went into parenting knowing I'd be doing it myself - you didn't. And that is a big, big difference. You didn't sign up for this in the beginning. But you can choose it now, or eventually. I recommend trying, if you don't work something else out that works for you. I recommend re-setting your expectations and setting out on an adventure that you're choosing, because you are. It wasn't your first choice, but it's your choice now. I really think this is critical to your happiness. I see single parents by choice doing better emotionally than many parents with partners who don't contribute. They have to deal with a lot of disappointment and resentment. We don't. Yes, I have to do every little thing, but it doesn't make me angry. Exhausted sometimes, and I have little pity parties sometimes, but mostly I just do it, enjoy my kids, and feel like a strong, capable person.

You may not be able to get there right away, but I really feel very strongly that if you see this as something you can do - take this on as something doable and enjoyable - you'll be happier in the long run, and so might your kids. Good luck! A tired but mostly happy single mom

I'm a single mom of three kids. always have been. Never had money for hired help. It's hard. You just do what you gotta do. It's surprising how it all works out. Women do this all the time without any help at all. You'll find that you have lots and lots of inner strength to draw from. single and strong

Hi, I just wanted to express my support for you. I don't have any easy answers. However it may help a little to know that single parenting is not necessarily a terrible thing. I've been there, and still am.

My sympathies with your situation. I raised my children alone from the ages of 7 and 3 and it wasn't easy, but it wasn't impossible either. The first year is the hardest and after that your stress level definitely diminishes, you develop routines and schedules and, most likely, the divorce negotiations are over so you can finally take a breath. You are extremely wise to ask for help. Keep asking. Don't isolate as it will batter your spirits and your family will suffer.

I favor the idea of getting a college student to help you out with the kids. It's the low cost option and if you can get someone who is studying child development at school it can be a good fit for him or her as well. We had a charming, energetic and optimistic young lady from Austrailia who lived with me and the kids for two years and it was great for all of us. My oldest was in elementary school and my youngest in preschool for part of the day, which allowed her to go to her classes. The continuity of having her there with them for two years really helped ease the transistion from the absence of their father to life with me as their sole parent. We were all extremely sorry to see Julianna go back to Austrailia, but she was kind enough to arrange for her replacement -- another chipper and reliable young lady who stayed with us two more years.

That said, you've got to be extremely careful in checking references both for your children's safety and your own peace of mind. I know everyone says this, but in my experience few people actually ask detailed questions about the caregiver. Think of all the things you are insecure about such as is this person neat, reliable, resourceful in a crisis. Ask for examples of when she came up with an inventive solution to a difficulty such as a mix up in schedules. Find out about the ages and personalities of the previous children this person cared for. It was worth it to me to call Australia for this information! I was so relieved to find out that the children she'd taken care of in Austrailia were still in touch with her and that she visited the family every time she went home. Finding out specfics about her reliability really soothed my anxiety. My marriage ended suddenly and I had to get a job right away.The only place that would hire me was a forty-five minute drive from our house. I had to trust this young lady with the most precious people in my life at a time when it would impossible for me to get home quickly if something dramatic happened. The work I put into this gave me tremendous peace of mind, something that is in short supply that first year unless you work hard to establish it for yourself. But there is hope on the horizon. You will get through this! Within a year I had a job that paid me 35 percent more and was only a ten-minute drive from my house.

If you need any more support, or just want to vent, don't hesitate to contact me. I'm writing a book about single motherhood and I've got a wealth of information at my disposal.

Best of luck to you and your family.

over time (years), my little family became quite beautiful because we had so much quality time with each other. We are incredibly close - the kids adore each other and me, and I treasure them like I never thought possible. One is grown now, fully independent, a stunning human being, and my best friend. The other is on her way. This benefit of single parenting was not what I expected but I am so grateful. At the same time, I understand the strain when they are young. May I suggest you post again and indicate where you are located and how to contact you - a regular babysitter or even a volunteer could be a big help. There are people around who love children and could help, including teenagers. With you

I am not a single mom, but my husband does travel quite a bit for his job. Here are a couple of things I have set up to make my life easier.

1) I have an emergency plan in place (I actually made packets with maps to the kid's schools and a wallet card with phone numbers for those involved in the plan) in case I can't pick up my kids from school, etc. The neighbors are also informed that my husband is away a lot so they know to watch out for us, etc. Unfortunately, I have had to use the plan a couple of times, but it was reassuring to know that I had people to rely on when I needed them, and because we had worked out the details in advance, everyone knew what to do and who to call.

2) When my husband is away, I try to plan playdates with other families who's dad is away. We get pizza or make a simple meal, the kids play and us moms can talk and have a glass of wine. Helps us temporarily single moms don't feel so alone.

3) Have someone check in on you. When my husband is gone, my best friend and my mother call me everyday. Might be excessive in your case, but a call every couple of days wouldn't hurt. Just knowing that someone else is looking out for me makes me feel good.

Good luck anon