Some single parents have never had the other parent around, so they’ve only ever expected to get on with things alone. However, other single parents have had the experience of being part of a nuclear family and having a partner to share the load. For them the transition to an extended family—them with the children and the father in another residence—has been a painful one. Whatever your experience, there are some skills you simply must have as a single parent. Here are my top five:
1. Be Organized
The first rule for success in anything is that YOU are 100 percent responsible for YOU. Now, we can excuse ourselves and say I slept late, I didn’t get that note from my son’s school, I forgot it was at 4 o’clock, I’ll do it tomorrow or I don’t have the energy. But these attitudes will not help you or your children to move forward to the rewarding and rich life that comes from being responsible and organized.
Getting organized means planning ahead. Look at the year, the month, the week and define what would make it excellent for you and for your children. Then break these aspirations down into easy actions. So if it’s a holiday in June you want, then you know you’ll have to book ahead and ensure there’s enough money set aside to finance it. If it’s improved reading you want from your five-year old, then you know you’ll have to dedicate twenty minutes every evening to sit down with him and practice. If it’s getting to grips with the practicalities of running a house, then think who would know the answers you’re looking for (a friend, the gas company, a plumber) and get on the phone. Be bold—every positive action you take will build your confidence and contribute to an even brighter future.
2. Get Working
Everyone’s circumstances are different, but I’m including this instruction in my top 5 because it’s my experience that working and earning are directly related to independence and confidence. It could be a part time job in a shop—something that fits around your children’s school times. It could be a full-time position in your field of expertise—something that requires extra support for your children’s care. Whatever it is, having a regular time when you’re committed to leaving the house and integrating with other adults, coupled with a financial reward for the commitment, creates a healthy contrast to our often children-focused evenings and weekends.
3. Build a Support Network
You can’t parent, work, study, do house chores and planning with one pair of hands and one brain. Even if you’re a superhero, everyone needs time to themselves. Having back-up for when our routine gets out of kilter or when an illness gets on top of us is an essential part of successful parenting. Help can come from friends, family, school parents, neighbors—build and cultivate these relationships. It can also be hired ahead of time using childminders, nannies, babysitters, cleaners, and odd-job services. Make sure you research these in advance so that in the moment of need you can make a safe choice.
4. Practice New Skills
There are so many jobs I used to think, that’s usually a man’s job—it must be complicated. But over the past six years I’ve learned that almost NO job fall’s into that category. Polishing floors, painting, organizing house renovations, replacing car tyres, assembling furniture, even changing locks—I’ve done them all and I’ll let you in on a little secret … they’re all easy peasy. Sure, I had to ask some questions of my dad, my brothers or the nice man at the DIY shop. But when I come away with the solution and get the job done it’s extremely satisfying and very empowering.
5. Learn to Laugh at Yourself
Just in case you’ve got to number four above and think I’m a sort of “superhero—she’ll tackle anything” kind of person, I just want to share a little moment I had last year. I was in one of those huge DIY superstores trying to find a bulb socket to replace a faulty light I had in my hallway. I had narrowed it down to two and I thought I would call my builder friend to explain what I needed and to help me make the right decision. My phone cut out just after I’d started to talk. I was left stranded in this huge store feeling helpless and hopeless and thinking, why isn’t there someone who can just do these “blue jobs” for me! Then I cried, standing right there in the lighting aisle! I wept my little heart out.
I can look back now and laugh at that story. But at the time I was truly overwhelmed! And there are many times I’ve messed up, got times wrong, had to ask for help, ended up in tears or handled a situation insensitively. And you know what I’ve learned? There’ll be loads more. We are not designed to be perfect. However, with humility and the right mindset (one where we cultivate an “attitude of gratitude”) we can enjoy our successes and laugh at our “learning experiences” (even the cringe worthy ones!) along the way.