Single Parent Households:
Tips And Resources For Making It Work
Article By | Lizzie West
Being in a single parent household can mean compromise and sacrifice in some areas of life. But, it doesn’t have to feel like something is missing. Not having a partner to help out is absolutely a challenge, but there are constantly new resources available for parents looking for help and ways to cope with the challenges of time management and maintaining strong relationships among the whole household.
Keep anger in check
Especially if this is a recent change to your family dynamic, these circumstances are challenging, which can be overwhelming and frustrating at times. This is completely understandable. However, it’s not constructive to anyone in the household to stay angry about something that you have little control over. Give yourself some time to feel mad, but express that anger in healthy ways through support groups, journaling, exercise, or another healthy coping strategy. Then, let go of that anger so you can spend quality time with the your kids as well as allowing yourself to be more productive at work. The most important thing about dealing with your anger, is making sure it’s not misdirected and it doesn’t negatively effect your household or your job.
Foster an environment of gratitude
By spending a few moments offering thanks and praise for a job well done, it will encourage more team work in your household and will also help develop more appreciation between the kids as well. Keep things fair and take a moment to really make eye contact, offer a pat on the back, or a much-needed hug along with a positive statement to help your kids feel like their part in keeping things running smoothly is not only important but appreciated. Also, encourage your kids to be grateful for each other, even though they may argue at times. This goes a long way, and through consistent practice, making gratitude the foundation of dialogue in the house will really help keep things from feeling chaotic. It also eventually cuts down on fighting. This also applies to appreciating the things that you have instead of constantly focusing on the things you don’t have. Learning your kids’ LOVE LANGUAGES so you can show them gratitude in a way they will relate to is huge and is a great way to teach them to build strong relationships growing up. (QUIZ HERE) Learning what someone else needs in order to meet that need and conversely learning how to effectively communicate your own needs is something that so many people struggle to grasp.
Keeping a routine is a great way to lower stress. It makes expectations clear on how things will happen, it teaches discipline that will translate into a more productive adulthood for your kids later, and it will keep the little time you have together from feeling like you’re constantly playing catch-up. If the kids know that when they get home from school it’s expected that school work is the first priority (maybe a snack before), followed by chores, then they can spend the rest of their time on games and socializing. They should hopefully help them know what is expected and contribute to their success in school and at home. To help them understand why this is important, use your own job as an example. Let them know that your responsibility as a parent is to prepare them for the world. And, in the world, you have to manage your time to keep your household functional before you spend time treating yourself. But that makes the free time feel even more relaxing because it was earned, and they won’t always feel like they’re trying to catch up. They’ll always feel prepared and ahead of the game. Here is a FAMILY CALENDAR with a ton of resources to help you get a routine going. This doesn’t have to be boring – you can add family walks, game nights, or movie nights into your routine so there is something scheduled to look forward to as well!
Substitute negative talk for positive talk
Talking about the current circumstances with your kids in a negative tone will only promote the idea that the life they have right now isn’t a good one. If you focus on the good things, and the fact that you have each other, and that you have a place to live, food to eat, and income to keep those things, everything else is just icing on the cake. While it’s totally acceptable to feel what you’re all feeling, encouragement toward finding a reasonable and attainable solution for dealing with those feelings, instead of letting them take over, it also a great way to strengthen family bonds. Talk it out and look for the silver lining. Some days it feels like you really have to squint to see it, but it is always there somewhere.
Keep expectations reasonable
Depending on the age of your kids, their responsibilities will change. Younger kids may only be responsible for putting away their own things and wiping the counter or table after they make a mess or eat. A great way to help them take ownership of these things is to utilize a lower cabinet for their supplies in each room, kitchen, gameroom, and bedroom. Make the areas they are responsible for accessible. And when you’re cleaning the kitchen as a family, they will know where their things belong and are able to start doing their part early on. It becomes a normal part of their life instead of something that is sprung on them later. As they get older, they will no longer need those lower cabinets and their responsibilities will escalate with their age. It is also nice to encourage having pride in their accomplishments, which includes their job, school, and chores. This is not just helping you, but helping your kids to grow up and be functional adults. It won’t start out perfect, and you may need to show them how to do things a few times, but they will learn and even create their own ways of accomplishing tasks. Check out THIS SITE with some examples of age appropriate tasks kids can complete.
Take a few moments to breathe and *play*
It’s not all work and no play, and it’s okay to be spontaneous at times as well. When things feel like they’re getting stressful and are seemingly unmanageable, take a moment to just veg out. Have a family move night with popcorn and movie candy (you can get small boxes like they sell at the theaters for about $1 for an “authentic” experience). Another good way to de-stress is going for a walk, or playing a game. Outdoor games are fun and something like playing catch can be modified for just about any age group. This is also a more health conscious option. Here are a few ways to stay active at home that can help you to relax.
Something I still remember as a kid was when we would come home from school after an especially difficult day, my mom would play cards with us. We didn’t play anything particularly difficult, but we would splay across her big bed, and she smooth out the sheets with her arm and deal whatever game we were playing. It was mostly Go Fish or a non-gambling version of Blackjack. Then, we would laugh and joke. Afterward, we would get back to life and taking care of our responsibilities. Looking back on it now, it was time for us all to decompress and reset. Find your way to reset when things get overwhelming and be consistent. Having a way to reliably let go is life-changing.
This applies at home and at work. And right now, this may be the same place for many people that are working from home. Have easy breakfast and lunch options already available for kids and establish rules about noise level and such while you are on working hours. If you’re working outside the home, establishing boundaries with things like unnecessary overtime and reasonable responsibilities is huge and can translate to a happier and less stressful home life in the long run. These boundaries are also a way to talk to your kids about consequences for their actions. Boundaries exist for a reason and there are consequences for not respecting established boundaries in every aspect of life. Learning these things early will not only teach them to respect boundaries but how to also express their own boundaries as they get older in relationships and their own workplace as well.
Establish some easy meals
Make the Crock Pot your friend. And teach your kids to fend for themselves and make something other than Hot Pockets. Even learning to make macaroni and cheese is better than nothing. If you keep a few go-to items in the household, it will help them to feel independent and save you some time. And don’t forget balance. Leave some healthy offerings as well. Eventually, they may really love to cook and make you dinner!
What to do when your kid says “My friend’s parents don’t make them do that”
Let them know that every house is different and that your goal as a parent is to give them small tasks now and work up to having to run their own household someday instead of expecting them to take it on all at once without any help or time to learn what needs to be done. You don’t want them to be overwhelmed with all of that while also learning about a new work environment or about managing a relationship. Learning and doing these things now will lessen their burden when they go off on their own, because running the house will become second nature instead of another huge undertaking to add to their plate of responsibilities.
Find a local single parent group for emotional support, new-to-you ideas on time management and parenting. And lastly, build an army of support. Be a member of the army so you can help other parents and they can help you. Maybe you are assigned to a big project at work that will keep you working late for a few weeks. Call on your single parent army to help out by checking on the kids (if they’re older) or picking them up from their daily activities if they’re younger. Then, offer to help them out for a few weeks after your project comes to a close. Check neighborhood group apps or Facebook groups. The College Station/Bryan area has a few single parent Facebook groups that are general and also associated with specific schools or churches. And even getting to know the parents of your kids best friends is a good idea to help grow your support group. Since you’re created an atmosphere of gratitude and appreciation with your kids, other parents will likely love having them around. Also, finding reliable and responsible child care is key. Asking around to see what others do and why they are happy or unhappy with those options will help nail down a solid childcare choice for those that need it. And remember, if it is an option, really try hard to establish a healthy co-parenting relationship with the other parent.
At the end of the day, just know your limits. And know your kids’ limits also. What a lot of this ends up boiling down to is communication. Take time to talk to them about their lives, thoughts, feelings, and how they’re dealing as well. Even without a pandemic to worry about, life is challenging enough. Share laughs, conversations, and hugs and give them memories to look back on as adults that will provide smiles and also pride in their accomplishments. Remember that you are acting as an example of how you want your kids to grow up and act. They will utilize you as their guide, especially because you’re all they’ve got. And eventually, they will feel pride in being in your family, because they learned so much and feel more prepared for the world at large.
Pat yourself on the back, because you just keep going and figuring it out.