Introduction – How I Became a Single Mum
I met my son’s father, who I will refer to here as Tom, when I was 27. It was a whirlwind romance which saw us moving in together after only 3 months. We were in love and enjoyed many holidays together, planning our future. We never married but we were planning to some day. Some cracks in the relationship started to show after a few years. We worked through our issues and I fell pregnant at 30. When my son, who I will call Andy, was 3 years old, Tom left us. He said he was going overseas for just a few months to see some family members who had become ill. It turns out this was a lie. He went overseas for another woman, stayed for an entire year and when he eventually came back, he was married to her.
This was by far the most difficult period of my life. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was now a single parent and I also had no financial support. I had no choice but to continue working full time, managing a child care centre, looking after our dog Billy and keep myself together emotionally, for the sake of my beautiful Andy.
I decided very early on that while this was a huge struggle, I refused to let it get the better of me. I chose to try my very best to have a positive outlook and change my life for the better.
Navigating my life as a single mum has been a huge learning experience for me, and I’m still learning but I truly believe that the following 10 tips have helped me to thrive and live my best life, rather than just survive and struggle.
I hope they can help someone else out there too..
1. Make Time for Yourself
This is essential, not just a luxury. You will need it! I’m not talking about 15 minutes in the shower, time spent doing your hair or going to the bathroom. These are hygiene requirements, rather than actual time to yourself. You will need to find some time, whether it is getting up early, before the kids wake up, or having time to yourself in the evening, after they go to bed. It could be while they nap in the day, or it could be that you leave them at day care for an extra hour after you finish work so you can grab a coffee and have a walk around the shops, or do some reading or exercise. Relaxation has a multitude of health benefits and I truly believe that it is this time to myself that keeps me going.
For some single parents, they may be in a shared custody situation where the other parent takes the kids for a weekend or for part of the week too, which means that getting that time to yourself will be a lot easier, making you a better parent once the kids do come back to you. If you are not in a shared custody situation, you might need to find more creative ways to make that time, hire a babysitter, ask family or friends to watch the kids or organise play dates for the kids. Invite some of their friends over first, so that on another occasion, hopefully that family can return the favour.
Time without the kids to relax will without a doubt, make you a better parent.
2. Ask For Help When Needed
Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help! We all need help sometimes, especially as a single parent. There will be times when you are sick, times when the kids are sick and my favourite; when you’re all sick together! You may need to reach out for help from family members or friends for various reasons and you will be glad you did. Most of the time, our family or friends are happy to help. I know I used to have a hard time asking for help at one stage, because I felt like I should be able to manage it all on my own. I have always been very independent; I moved out of home when I was 18, worked 3 jobs to put myself through university and took pride in the fact that I didn’t need help from anyone. Single parenting is different; you simply can’t do it all, all of the time.
If family or friends are unavailable, I have always found Andy’s friends parents to be quite accommodating at times too, and I’m always happy to return the favour. On one occasion, I needed to spend a Saturday updating my First Aid qualification as a work requirement and Tom was unable to take Andy. I asked friends and family but they were unable to take Andy. I asked one of his friend’s parents if she wouldn’t mind having him for the day and she was more than happy to; needless to say the kids were overjoyed and wanted me to stay away even longer!
There will be times you will need to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask and to widen the circle of people you can ask, start inviting your kids friends over for play dates. That way, those families can hopefully return the favour some day.
3. Get Enough Sleep!
Let’s face it, when we don’t get enough sleep, it’s hard enough to look after ourselves, let alone the kids too. I’m one of those people who needs at least 8.5 hours sleep every night, otherwise I’m cranky, irritable and I have poor decision making skills. I’m also very lucky that Andy takes after me and mostly loves his sleep. There have been nights however, when he was teething and wakeful every hour during the night, and I still had to turn up to work the next day, very sleep deprived and drained.
I find that on the nights when I want to stay up late just to squeeze in more ‘me’ time, and still need to get up at 6am to go to work, everything is just that much harder. I don’t have the energy to cook a meal or do grocery shopping, I’m snappier than usual with poor Andy who, like many other kids his age, asks hundreds of (mostly annoying and useless) questions throughout every hour of the day you are with them.
Do yourself a favour and get a good night’s sleep so you can power through the next day and the week ahead, making you a better parent, more productive at work and home and boosting your immune system to prevent you getting sick! For more info on why sleep is so important for our bodies, click here.
4. Be Kind To Yourself
Whether it’s because you are sleep deprived, stressed, there has been a lack of down time or you are getting sick, you will not have it all together every day, so be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you need to take the easy way out now and then.
For me, sometimes that might look like getting take away food mid week because I don’t have the energy to cook up that big meal I had planned and prepped for. It might be that you tell your kids they can watch movies all day long, just so you can lie on the couch with them and not move for the day.
I take comfort in the fact that 90% of the time, I cook healthy meals, encourage Andy to get active, acting as a role model myself, I limit screen time, encourage his friendships, spend quality time with him and try to teach him important lessons about money, about life and his emotions.
Recognise within yourself when you just need to be kind to yourself and take that easy option. And don’t feel bad about it, rather treat it as a coping mechanism and a temporary necessity to keeping it all together.
5. Follow Your Dreams
Single parenting doesn’t mean giving up on your hopes, dreams and aspirations. You can still be ambitious and be a great parent.
I have still advanced myself in my career, learned new skills, continued to read to educate myself and I’m currently chasing new dreams of writing, reviewing children’s books and I hope to write my own children’s book some day.
One of my cousins studied for a second degree while working full time as a single parent to two boys. She completed her degree and is now working in her dream job in the medical field. Maybe as a single mum you will be more time poor, but it may be that you actually have a bit more time up your sleeves while the kids are with the other parent. However you happen to manage your time, it’s important for kids to see their parents chasing their dreams and aspiring for more too. We need to set a good example for our children and teach them that we are individuals with interests, passions and ambitions, we are not JUST parents.
Following your dreams will encourage your children to follow theirs too.
6. Spend QUALITY Time With Your Kids
It’s could be easy to fall into the trap of routine, routine, routine and while I am a lover of routine to a degree, I also believe that we need to spend quality time with our children, making memories and doing fun stuff. If weekends are full of team sport, chores, grocery shopping, more chores and then TV, it can become very mundane and parenting can become like just another chore.
I believe it is so important to intentionally plan fun outings and special moments, even if it’s just fun at the playground, movie nights with popcorn, swimming together, dancing in the lounge room together or a family bushwalk. Make sure that your kids are having fun with you, not just following instructions and routine.
Quality time together will help to further build those strong bonds, is important for your child’s emotional development and for all of your wellbeing.
7. Connect With Other Single Parents
Most likely, you are not alone in your thoughts, struggles and challenges. There are many single parents out there – mums and dads. There are groups on Facebook that single parents can join for support or to connect. There are many single mums on Instagram who support each other, give advice and lift each other up. It’s important to connect with others who are in a similar situation to us. It can help so much when you are having difficulty coping, or you just need to vent or chat.
As a single mum, I find one of the biggest challenges can be not having someone there at the end of the day just to talk with as an adult, and discuss ideas, talk through daily events and debrief after a stressful day.
I met a couple of single mums at Andy’s school but I found it a bit difficult to connect with them on a personal level. The Facebook group for single mums really helped me when I had questions or concerns that I knew I couldn’t really ask any friends or family as they couldn’t relate.
Who knows, you may even meet an extra ‘special’ single dad who you connect with really well.. ; )
8. Take Care of Your Finances
This one is SO important and something I should have taken care of much earlier, but I am also so happy with how far I have come.
You may need to see a financial advisor or a solicitor, especially if you’re dealing with splitting assets or money with your ex.
I highly recommend doing the following to get your finances in order;
- Write down all of your expenses as well as all income, to figure out where all of your money is going
- See if you can cut bills or costs somehow
- Start selling any household items, appliances, clothes, kitchen items, anything you no longer need to make extra cash.
- Build an Emergency Fund for unexpected costs
- Build a sinking fund for all regular bills
- Try to get rid of all credit cards and rely only on sinking fund and emergency fund
- Invest money, even small amounts. Apps such as Raiz or Spaceship allow you to invest small amounts to dip your toe in the investing water.
- Read, read, read – about personal finance. Books such as The Barefoot Investor are so easy to read and can make a huge difference in how you manage your money
- There are some great resources online. You could try moneysmart.gov.au as a great start as they have some very useful online tools for managing your money.
These are just a few suggestions and even I haven’t reached all of these goals. I have paid off all consumer debt, I have started investing, I read about personal finance and listen to finance podcasts in the car on the way to and from work to improve my knowledge. I am planning on cancelling my credit cards as I’m rarely using them now. I have built my emergency fund to $6k and my sinking fund to $1k. My goal is $10k and $5k, respectively. I have worked out my regular expenses and I sell A LOT of stuff online, including other people’s items for a small commission.
It’s also important to teach your kids about money early. The earlier they learn that debt is a dirty word, that they know how to save for the things they really want and that they need to work to earn money, the more financially literate they will be in the long term.
Don’t be a struggling single mum – with just a few changes in your money management, you can go from just surviving to thriving, with a PLAN for your money. Control your money, or it will control YOU!
9. Make a Will
This is something I have only just completed in the past week! I didn’t want something to happen to me without a plan for my boy and for my money.
We never know when our time will be up but there is only a few certain things in this world, and unfortunately, death is one of them.
I think making out a will is something a lot of us avoid but thinking about my family trying to make decisions after I’m gone, because I never made the time to get a Will drawn up was not something I wanted to put them through.
It is quite a simple process but the prices that different solicitors charge can vary a lot so do some research. I paid $220 for a basic will, and paid $330 extra to add on Power of Attorney as well as Guardianship, which I think was worth it, considering that the alternative may be that my family would need to pay $1000’s to apply through the Supreme court for guardianship, should something happen to me and I can’t make decisions about my own health and wellbeing.
Yes, you can complete a Will for free through Australia Post but the general recommendation out there is that it is better to get one done properly through a solicitor. Look at the LegalAidNSW website for more info on making a will.
As a single parent, this is something we don’t want to think about but it is vital that this is done so you can nominate who would handle everything if you are incapable of making decisions, or once you pass away.
10. Have a Social Life!
Lastly, as a single mum, you are still a woman, a fun loving adult and a friend and family member! You need to make time to have a social life. This can be with or without the kids but make sure there is time for both!
As said above, you can connect with other single parents and organise to socialise with them or just keep your important close connections with your own friends and family. You need a support system around you, and chances are, your friends and family need you too! Treasure those relationships and make time for catch ups and social times. You will feel so much better after you make time to be social and your kids will probably love the social events too.
It’s easy to feel alienated sometimes as a single mum, especially if there are no other single parents in your social group but the important thing is just to keep your treasured relationships, make time for those that are close to you because to have great friends, you need to be a great friend!
I have been a single mum for the past 7 years now and I still have days where it is a struggle, either emotionally or physically. I would say though, that most days are wonderful and I’m in a much better place now than I was when I split from Tom.
I am still learning and ‘winging it’ as most of us parents do but I stand by my 10 tips above and they have helped me to get to a point where I no longer feel the struggle. I feel like I am in control and I wake up each day feeling hopeful, yet happy.
I sincerely hope my tips will help other single mums out there and if they do, please leave a comment and let me know! I would love to hear from you!