You have work responsibilities, school events, dinner to make, a house to keep, family obligations– not to mention keeping in touch with friends and taking care of yourself. Checking everything off the to-do list each week can be a challenge. How do you know what you can’t ignore and what you can let slide? And when you can’t let it slide, how on earth do you get everything done? Establishing a work-life balance is a challenge for even the most organized parents. But when you add to the mix the fact that you don’t see your kids every day –making the time you do have that much more precious– keeping things balanced is vital.
What’s a solo parent to do? The answer lies in creating some new habits and leaning on those who can help.
Align Your Priorities
Start thinking about what might happen as a result of every decision you have to make. When presented with choices, ask yourself, “Is this going to support my goals or help me stay aligned with my priorities?”
Knowing your priorities “makes you much more aware of where you’re spending your time and [how] apt [you are] to change it,” says Donna Del Signore, business and life strategist and creator of Moxie 360.
Apply this idea to both work and life choices. Do you really have time to take on another project at work? Think about whether your time spent at work is aligned with your professional goals. Then make sure work time doesn’t overwhelm your personal goals and time with your family. Because your family time and your you-time is crucial to your happiness.
Though this could go without saying, planning often gets thrown to the curb. Think ahead about school events and your work calendar. Do your kids have conferences, clubs or sports after school? If you’re not able to serve as taxi for a given event, have you made arrangements for another parent to carpool? Look a few weeks down the road and make sure you’ve got your work schedule plotted out so you can attend as many of your child’s events as possible.
Weekends tend to be catch-up days for many, but when you alternate weekends with your ex, you want to make the most of the quality time with your child.
“My daughter and I love to go out on little adventures together like biking a new trail or attending a local event or visiting the water park or pumpkin patch,” says single mom Sheri Atwood. Create a calendar together and write in some of the activities you want to do on weekends together—and then make time for them!
Rise and Shine – Early!
You’ve likely heard it before, but Kerri Zane, single mom lifestyle expert and co-parenting authority, reiterates that starting your day at least a half hour earlier than your children do can be the ticket to success. “Use that time to get a chore done, like a load of laundry or straightening the house. Do your workout, or simply organize the rest of your day.” With your children asleep, you can get things done without stressing about spending time with your child—and without interruptions– enabling you to accomplish tasks that much more quickly.
Use Your Village
Who is in your village? For many single parents, it includes close friends, siblings, parents, even former in-laws. Anyone you can lean on in a time of need. If you have a big work project coming up and know you may need support outside your home, put your village on alert. Let village members know that you may need some additional support in the coming weeks—help with carpooling, transporting kids to soccer practice or even just a shoulder to cry on.
Zane recommends even taking it a step further. After all, children get sick at the most in-opportune times, don’t they? “Have someone you know on call 24/7 and come help you out if one of your children gets sick in the middle of the night, the other is fast asleep and you need to run to urgent care or the pharmacy.”
Let Go of the Guilt
You are human, so don’t beat yourself up if you feel frazzled or have to say no to something. As a solo parent, you’re doing double-duty most days as it is. Even when your children are with their other parent, you likely find yourself playing catch-up while they’re away. Feeling guilty doesn’t do you any favors.
“Guilt creates stress, which creates derivative behaviors. Stop holding yourself to an impossible standard. Would you create unreachable bars for your kids? No. So don’t do it for yourself,” says April Masini, relationship expert and author.
It’s okay to set boundaries and know that you can—and should—say “no” from time to time. “Create boundaries with phone calls, emails, texts, social media and commitments,” says Del Signore. And when it comes to turning down requests, “reinforce your positive thoughts about whatever commitment it is; but it’s okay to say that your schedule just doesn’t have the room.”
But definitely do this– start each day with a positive attitude and stay true to your priorities and goals. You don’t do anyone any favors if you’re overbooked and over-stressed– least of all yourself.
So take some of the pressure off, take care of the most important things first, slow down, easy does it. As a wise person once said: “Sometimes good enough is… good enough.”