Get Work-Life Balance Tips for Single Parents

actress Margaret Lockwood and her daughter playing outside
1946: British actress Margaret Lockwood (1911 - 1990) plays outdoors with her 5-year-old daughter Julia, who later followed her mother into show business. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Nearly 14 million single parents navigate work-life balance every day - without a co-pilot. Whatever their circumstances - divorced, separated, widowed, never married, or solo by choice - parents raising children on their own are linked by many of the same challenges, trials, and rewards.

If you're part of the community of solo parents, keeping these tips in mind can help you stay focused on your happiness, health, and the special life you and your child share.

Draw a Circle of Support Around You

Single parents are united in their need for a loving social network. Yet many feel "out of the loop" and yearn for empathy and reinforcement. If you feel isolated, reach out to an extended family of friends, neighbors, and community organizations such as a parents group or your place of worship.

Remember, too, that people who care about you may want to play a larger role in your life but may fear they're being intrusive. Don't be afraid to step forward and ask for help: You do so not out of weakness, but out of love for your child. If a friend offers to lend a hand, by all means, accept. You will find a way to reciprocate the kindness in your own way.

You may also want to talk to another parent you know and trust about trading child care. He or she may feel relieved that you asked, and glad to take you up on the offer.

Babysitting co-ops work this way on a larger scale, where a group of parents who know each other exchange free babysitting services.

You might consider joining a co-op of friends or starting one of your own.

Know Your Backup Plan

The faucet goes on the fritz or your car spews smoke just when you're facing a looming deadline. Your babysitter cancels, a family emergency arises in the middle of the night, or you suddenly come down with the flu.

You can help defuse chaos ahead of time by compiling a list of people you can call on a moment's notice. Program emergency information into your cell phone and keep a copy in a visible place. Give copies to your family, friends, neighbors, and your child's caregivers.

Make Your Health a Priority

Between alarm clocks, homework, traffic, deadlines, and dinner, single moms may forget to factor in their own well-being. These pointers may help you remember:

  • Fuel your body. In the midst of coaxing your child to choose cauliflower over corn chips, it's easy to become lax about your own choices. Shirk fast-food fixes for healthier alternatives you can prepare ahead of time and freeze for the upcoming week. If you are lucky enough to live near a farmers' market, start a weekly ritual of browsing the stalls with your child: You'll get the fresh produce and air your bodies need.
  • Factor in fitness. If exercise looms like a chore you'd rather cross off your to-do list, be a kid again and play with your child: Turn up the music and dance. Jump rope. Rollerblade at the park. Regular activity will reward you with more energy, a better appearance, and a happier mood.
  • Get your rest. "I'll sleep when my kids are 40." As a parent, you might have summed up your sleep philosophy with wry humor. But experts agree: Sleep is serious business, and not getting enough is linked to a host of problems. Scheduling a regular bedtime free of distractions will help you and your child function at your best.

    If you are overwhelmed with anger or sadness, however, it is important to confide in a therapist and to perhaps seek out a support group, where you can work through feelings of frustration, depression, or anxiety.

    • Ease your mind. If you're not a single parent by choice, you may find yourself mulling over the past or regretting decisions that can't be reversed. Instead, give yourself the gift of closure and, ultimately, liberation. Focusing on quality time with your child and staying connected to healthy-minded allies will boost your morale and help keep you strong, centered, and living in the moment.
    • Reserve regular "me time." Let yourself linger on the lulls in the day. While your child is napping or at a school play rehearsal, for example, use the hour to call a friend or curl up and read in a cozy chair instead of doing dishes during downtime. Ask a family member or friend to babysit while you attend a yoga class, sip coffee at a café, or browse the shops in town. Regular time for yourself will help you de-frazzle and reward your child with a happier, more energized mommy or daddy.

      Have Some (Frugal) Fun

      No matter what your financial picture, low- (and no-) cost activities can become favorite rituals:

      • Pack a picnic. Mealtimes become memorable when they're served up on a blanket in the park-or your living room floor. A dinner that spontaneously becomes a 'tea party' or family picnic will help carve out some extra play time with your children.
      • Books and beyond: Explore your local library. Become regulars at your community branch, where younger children will likely be thrilled to become 'card-carrying' members of society, and older kids may be in for a surprise: In addition to the free book, e-book, music, and movie rentals, many libraries offer special programs and events for babies through adults.
      • Surf your community's web site. Outdoor concerts, festivals, theatrical productions, free-admission day at the museum: Discover what free or low-cost events are happening near you.

      Find Your Niche

      From informal to structured, online to in-person, faith-based to non-denominational, a variety of programs connects single-parent families. Depending on the organization, activities may include educational seminars; play and study groups; field trips; potlucks; service projects; dinner dances; and much more. Parents Without Partners, the most high-profile single-parent organization, has chapters in most states, and thousands of members throughout the U.S. and Canada.

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