When you think of a typical family setup, it’s usually two parents supporting one another while sharing the household and childcare responsibilities. But for many families in South Africa – where 40% of mothers are single parents – family is a single mom or dad tasked with raising their kids on their own.
Parenting is hard work and when you’re doing it alone it can feel like an insurmountable task. We asked single parents what advice they’d give to other single parents to make their lives easier.
You can’t do this alone
You might feel like you have to do this on your own but you don’t. And, actually, you can’t. You need to have a strong support system in place, whether that’s family, a nanny or a group of friends you can rely on. You can also join Facebook support groups for single parents – the bonus of forming relationships with other single parents is that they get what you’re going through. Kids can also benefit from spending time with families with a similar make up to their own.
It’s okay not to enjoy every moment
Yes, your children are amazing but they can also be demanding, loud and exhausting. It’s okay – and completely normal – not to enjoy every moment of parenting. Honest moms who aren’t afraid to admit when their children are driving them crazy are still good moms.
Take control of your finances
Parenting is hard enough, but when you’re doing it on a single income, it can feel impossible. If you’re the sole provider you need to tick all the ‘financially responsible’ boxes: pay off debt, have emergency savings, live within your means. It’s a big ask for anyone. To make it feel more manageable, download an app like 22Seven, which will help you keep track of expenses and do (most of!) the hard work of creating a realistic budget.
Ditch the guilt
Very few of us plan to raise our children alone, so don’t beat yourself up about it. And don’t spoil your kids to make up for what you see as them ‘losing out’ on having another parent.
Say ‘yes’ when someone offers to help
Has your mom offered to collect your daughter from school one afternoon a week? Say ‘yes’. Did a friend mention that she’d be happy to watch your children while you go for a manicure? Say ‘yes’. Generally, people really are willing to help out if they can, so take advantage of it.
Make time for you
Almost every mom I know would appreciate having one night off to do… well, whatever she wants. Team up with a few moms who live nearby, or parents from your child’s school, and arrange for your kids to have a weekly play date so that you’re guaranteed at least a few afternoons or evenings to yourself every month.
Plan for the worst
None of us want to think about what will happen to our kids if we were to die, but it’s probably the most important decision you’ll make as a parent. Write up a Will and nominate a guardian for your children, then tell your closest family and friends about your decision.
Let your kids be kids
When you’re the only adult in the house, it can feel a bit lonely. That makes it tempting to lean on your children for support or companionship, especially if they’re in their teens. Don’t do it – they should be allowed to be kids without being burdened by the weight of adult emotions or decisions.
Get a life
Yes, you’re a parent but you still deserve to have your own dreams and goals. Give yourself permission to have a life outside of your role as a parent, employee, daughter/son or friend. It will do wonders for your mental health.
Share the load
Give your kids chores to do around the house. Not only does it ease the load on you, it’s actually good for them; it teaches them responsibility and, if you choose to link it to their pocket money, it will help them understand the value of money. Kids as young as three can help by restocking the toilet paper in bathrooms or by bringing dirty laundry down to the washing machine.
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Decide what’s really important
Do you dream about being Supermom? Imagine your clean, well-behaved children sitting down to a delicious, organic meal that you’ve cooked yourself in your pristine, perfectly-decorated home. But, honestly, is that what’s really important?
As long as your kids are healthy, vaguely clean and fed, it doesn’t matter if you ordered takeaways twice this week, if your toddler skipped his bath last night or that there are toys strewn across your living room floor. Loads of two-parent households also look like a tip and live on takeaways. You are doing a good job and don’t need to be perfect! Psssst: if you’re a mom, you’re ALREADY a Supermom.
Get comfortable with saying ‘no’
Whether that’s to an extra project at work, doing a favour for someone or telling your kids they can’t have a new toy. You need to take care of your own needs because the old saying is true: ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’. And saying ‘no’ to one thing means you have the time and energy to say ‘yes’ to something else… something that serves YOU, even if that’s just an hour spent reading or watching Netflix.
Every time you successfully say ‘no’ to something you don’t really want to do, you’re creating healthy boundaries – and it gets easier to say ‘no’ every time you do it!
The end of a partnership, even when it’s a mutual decision, can be traumatic. And there’s no reason for you to struggle alone. Talk to a professional if you need to, and ask your kids if they’d like to do the same. A change in family dynamics and living arrangements can take their toll on little ones who may be too young, or to scared, to verbalise how they’re feeling.
Have a schedule
Most kids like a predictable routine because it helps them prepare for what comes next. Schedule dinner, bed time and other activities in advance when you can. Creating a family schedule in a programme like Google docs means that if you have an ex who you share custody with, they’ll be able to check and update it when necessary.
It will make shuttling the kids between extra murals, and being on the same page about who has the kids when, so much easier to keep track of. If you have a tricky relationship with your ex, it may also make it easier to co-parent peacefully as it requires less contact between the two of you.
Relax the rules & remember to have fun
When you’re trying to balance a job, parenting, a household and more, it can seem like there’s no time or energy left for anything else. But you’re meant to enjoy your life. Often single parents feel like they need to be strict enough to make up for the lack of the other parent. It’s good to have house and family rules, but you can relax the rules (for all of you!) every now and then.
It’s okay to let them build a blanket fort in the lounge and for all of you to sleep in there, you don’t have to clean up the kitchen before going to bed and the world definitely won’t come to an end if the kids have dessert for dinner. Remember to have fun every day.