If I had a quid for every time someone asked me how I cope as a single parent, my bank account would actually have a number before all the zeros for a change.
It’s a question I hate being asked, for 2 reasons.
- Because it can’t really be answered.
- I think it’s quite an intrusive question.
Can you imagine asking a couple how they cope having to parent together? It’s probably not something anybody would think of doing. But when you’re a single parent some people assume it’s alright to ask. A bit like when you’re pregnant and strangers think it’s ok to touch your belly/bump. Nobody would walk up to any other kind of stranger and feel their belly.
Maybe I’m just overly sensitive. Maybe people really are just curious about how single parents cope. In my experience though, its usually judgy older people who ask how I cope. And they usually ask when Ruby’s having one of her many (in)convenient tantrums over absolutely nothing. So its not really a question, it’s more a way of telling me that I’m quite clearly not coping… like I don’t already know that ffs!
Here’s a phrase I hear a lot from people who haven’t had children :
I don’t know how you cope!!
It sounds like it could be a sympathetic statement, but it’s not. Its what people say to me whilst thinking that their own children (if they had any) wouldn’t be throwing a tantrum because a size 3 foot won’t fit in a size 11 shoe. Irrespective of how pretty the shoes are.
If you haven’t had children yet, take that smug look off your face, because you will also be facing daily tantrums over inconsequential things in a few years time. Single parent or not. No child is perfect.
Except for the puppy. She’s my favourite.
How do you cope in the holidays?
Another helpful question. I cope because I have to. Same as any other parent around the world. There isn’t really any other choice, you can’t just quit.
Well, you can. But assuming you don’t want to quit, someone asking you how you cope is probably one of the most unhelpful things a stranger can say to a parent. Especially at the start of the long summer break. Because it’s not as though it doesn’t already feel like an insurmountable time period or anything!! Piss off Karen.
I will be doing a separate blog about how to cope in the school holidays, so keep an eye out for that one if you need some tips.
I want to quit!
There have been (many) times where I HAVE wanted to quit, and feeling like that is perfectly normal. Its the feeling I get when I am totally overwhelmed by everything I have going on. I tend to reach the ‘I want to quit’ stage when the house is a tip, there’s loads of washing to be done, nobody will say what they want for dinner and someone is crying/throwing a tantrum. The other thing that does it for me is sensory overload. I’ll never understand the fascination of having YouTube on the tv whilst playing games on laptops with the volume at 100%. And then trying to talk over all the noise. It’s too much!
When I reach the quitting stage, I have to force myself to think about my priorities. If its dinnertime, then my priority is getting people fed. If its tackling the washing because we have run out of clean underwear, then its putting a load on. Priorities change depending on time of day or what’s going on.
I like to remind myself that I am not superwoman. I can’t do everything at once, and neither can 2 parent households!!
Dinnertime, bathtime, bedtime, tidy up time and every other time, are just as crazily chaotic in 2 parent households as they are in single parent ones.
So the most important thing you need to know about coping as a single parent is that;
You WILL cope.
I know that ‘coping’ means different things to different people. Personally, I think I’m coping well when everyone is where they are supposed to be, on time and with all the stuff they need. Because this means that I have been listened to, I’ve organised things properly and so there is minimal stress.
But that’s not to say every day is like this. It wouldn’t be normal.
There are days when I’m screaming “put your bloody coat on” like a banshee, and getting calls from school because someone forgot their PE kit.
To you, ‘coping’ might mean something else entirely. Your own coping bar might be set a helluva of a lot higher than mine is, or it might be set a bit lower. And that’s ok too because every parent is different. Every family is different and every situation is different.
Even if you’re going through the worst day imaginable, you will get through it. The children will go to bed, and you can use this time to catch up on stuff, or relax. Whichever you choose, once you’ve gone to bed and woken up on a different day, you will see that you can cope, and that you have coped.
Strategies for coping
This isn’t an exhaustive list, these are just some of the things that I do to help me cope a little better. They will differ slightly depending on the ages of your children, how many you have and how much time you have each day.
To do lists
I am a massive fan of a to do list. But I tend to have more than one list on the go. I have lists called;
- things I really have to do today (urgent)
- stuff I need to do this week (important)
- things I have to do at some point (procrastination*)
The first list is mainly for day to day mundane things, like feeding the kids and animals, making beds, filling in homework diaries, sweeping and mopping.
The second list is for things like scrubbing the bathroom, putting away clean washing, hoovering and taking the bins out.
The third list has things like clean out the car, declutter all the rooms and clean the windows. Basically things that do have to be done but that be put off for ages 🙂
*I’m also a huge fan of procrastination.
Take time out for yourself
This is really important. Sometimes you just have to say “fuck it” to the housework and watch an episode or 2 of your favourite series. Preferably when nobody else is in the house, so you can have a cuppa and packet of biscuits undisturbed. This hasn’t been possible for me for a long time. So I like to park up outside school about 45 minutes before I need to. Grab a coffee from the Costa Express, and watch a bit of Netflix on my phone or read a few chapters of a book.
I don’t even care how sad that sounds, because that 45 minutes is MY time. And, this often comes in handy on really wet days because it means I actually get a parking space fairly near school. (Don’t judge me for driving, my girls go to a school that’s not in our catchment area.)
Yeah I know, another list. Mine isn’t a specific shopping list per se. It’s more of a list of things we have run out of that gets added to this list as and when we run out. I have a terrible memory, so I find this easier. Yeah, I know, a lot of people are organised enough to have meal plans and shop accordingly. I don’t. I tend to buy whatever is on offer when I’m in the shop, and base our meals around that. It helps keep the cost down.
Lean on others for support
Whether it’s a friend, a parent, a sibling, a parent group or even an online community, you need someone to sound off to sometimes. Often people outside the loop can see solutions to problems in a different way. Even if they can’t, and can just offer a sympathetic ear, it’s good to know that you’re not alone alone.
I ‘met’ an incredible group of women online 11 years ago just after I found out I was pregnant with Emily. Even though we’re dotted around the UK and the US, we’re still as active and supportive towards each other as much as we were back then. We’ve been through so much together, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them. I love you Septembryos!!
Once your children start school or nursery and they start to form friendships with other children, get on the playdate circuit! This is great for so many reasons.
- Your child gets to socialise with other children
- You get to talk to another parent whilst your children play
- You might make some amazing friends
- It’s much less isolating meeting up with someone at a library or museum or soft play than going on your own.
And once you get to know the other parent(s) better, you can start alternating between having the children at your place, and then the children going to the other place. This will give you valuable time to get on with a few jobs when your child is at their friends, and helps the other parent out too when you have their child.
With older children who enjoy sleepovers, swapping them with a friend means all the parents get a chance for a lie in. Which is invaluable – especially if you’re a single parent with children who don’t have weekends with the other parent!
Laugh. A lot.
Seeing the humour in every day life really helps me to cope. I’ve made peace with the fact that I am a disaster area, and that my good ideas are often far from good. You can read about one of these disasters here.
A friend of mine keeps a jar in her living room, with a stack of post it notes and pens. Whenever her children do or say something that makes her laugh, she notes it down with the date and the childs name, then pops it into the jar. Every now and then, when she feels like she is struggling to cope, she pulls out a handful of the notes and reads them. Just remembering the funny things really helps her, and takes her focus away from whatever crap is being thrown at her.
I always say I’m going to copy this idea, but then I forget.
Another option is to start a jar and fill it with all the little moments that you’re proud of. This could be things like;
- Toddler staying dry all day
- Threenager trying a new food and liking it for a change
- Flipping a pancake perfectly
- Trying a new activity out
- Getting an award at school
- Learning to ride a bike
They don’t have to be things the children have done, you can add in anything that you have done that you’re proud of too. The idea is to build up a bank of happy, funny or proud moments that you can delve into during the times you’re struggling to cope.
I do understand that in some situations you need a bit more help to cope. I wish that I could have recognised when I needed help earlier. There are loads of places and people that you can turn to. Don’t ever feel ashamed or anxious about seeking help. The whole point of these people and organisations is to offer help, advice, support and solutions. They exist because loads of people need them. They have the experience, training and resources to help anybody learn to cope with pretty much anything.
So who can you turn to?
This depends on what kind of support you need. I’ve tried to list as many avenues of support that I can think of, but I’m sure there are many more out there.
General help and advice
Babies and children under 5.
Your health visitor is a good place to start because they will be able to refer you to services specific to your area. They can help with everything from weaning, breast or bottle feeding, development, teething, sleep, sling libraries, parent & baby groups, immunizations, emotional support and more. If they can’t help you directly, they will know exactly where to signpost you to. You can find your health visitor’s details in your Red Book or by calling your GP surgery.
If your child goes to nursery, preschool or a childminder, you can speak to their named key worker (or childminder) for advice. If you are struggling with a particular behaviour, they can give advice on strategies for dealing with it and work with you to make sure there is consistency going forward addressing it.
Parent and baby groups are also a good source of information and support. You can find ones local to you online, either Google or sometimes advertised on Facebook groups or community noticeboards.
Children aged 5 – 11.
Once your child reaches school age, the health visitors aren’t really involved so much. You can speak to your childs teacher or teaching assistant at any time, you don’t have to wait until parents evening. Schools also have at least one SENDCo. Don’t be put off by the title. It does mean special educational needs and disabilities coordinator, but they are usually responsible for the wellbeing of all children. You can request to see them at any time too. Again, they are an amazing source of knowledge and experience and will be able to refer you on to more specialised organisations if they feel you would benefit from it.
Schools will never do anything without your permission, unless there is an immediate risk of harm to the child.
Children aged 12–18.
Things change a little once your child hits high school. This is mostly because there is a much larger intake of students from many primary schools. Your child will most likely have a form tutor and subject teachers. There will still be at least 1 SENDCo. Your first port of call is the form tutor, and then you can speak to the year group leaders and/or SENDCo. This team will be able to involve other agencies if you feel it would be beneficial.
There are also a fair amount of youth organisations around aimed at supporting teenagers. You should be able to find out information about ones local to you on the internet.
Physical, mental and emotional help for children.
You can discuss any of these with the professionals listed above, but you can also visit your GP for advice. They don’t just deal with sickness, they can refer you to CAHMS, educational psychologists, specialists, physiotherapists and much more.
Help for parents
You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Looking after yourself is just as important as looking after your children. I know that saying is a bit of a cliche, but it’s really accurate. It’s so hard to give children your all when you’re feeling 100%, and even harder if you’re not. You need to make yourself one of your priorities.
It doesn’t matter if you want to lie in a bath, have a cat nap, eat a family bag of revels, go to the gym, do an evening class, visit the hairdresser, go for a run or sit and enjoy silence for a while. You need to find something that’s just for you, that makes you feel better. And try to build it into your routine. Once you start making time for yourself, you will be able to cope a little better.
And the happier you are, the happier your children are.
Please, if you find yourself struggling with depression, low mood, anxiety, issues with eating, being very tearful or very stressed go and see your GP. I personally left it far too late to seek help on a number of occasions, which I deeply regret. There is no stigma attached to mental health problems anymore.
There are a lot of great organisations out there that can help when you’re finding it difficult to cope. Far too many to mention them all, but I have added some links below that might be of interest.
Gingerbread. The single parent charity.
Family Lives. Support for all parents.
The Working Parent. Advice for all parents juggling work and parenting.
Barnardo’s. Charity offering support and comprehensive advice to parents, carers, children and professionals, on a huge range of topics.
Home Start UK. Supporting parents in their own homes to help them cope with all aspects of parenting.
Young Minds. Mental health resources for young people and for their parents too. Includes urgent help.
Mind. The mental health charity for adults.
Samaritans. Online, telephone and email advice for everyone struggling to cope.
Dads Net. Online community of Dads offering advice, support and articles from a Dad’s perspective.
Mums Net. Online community of Mums covering every topic under the sun, advice, support, competitions and more.