Yes, there are many stay-at-home-mothers (SAHM) out there, and there are many people writing about the ways to stay sane while being home with your kids, ways to stay motivation, and ways to stay balanced when you are home all day. But what about the single mama’s who are also SAHM? I am one of them, and I must admit, most sites do not have information to help me.
I hope this article changes that. As a current single mama who recently left my full-time job to stay home with my toddler, to say it is challenging, would be an understatement. There are days where I feel so empowered and lucky to be home with my little boy, and other times when I want to pull my hair out and sincerely miss getting dressed to leave for work in the mornings. But then I look at my little guy’s face and my heart softens up again. I think this is just part of life in general: we struggle with the familiar and always wonder about our options, even if they aren’t reality. Our life can be great, but there is still that unknown aspect of “what if?”
Being a single parent has a host of challenges that coupled and married parents simply do not face. Budgets are often much tighter, resources are slim, time is strained, mama is “on” all day and night, there is lack of adult support for mama, and of course you are the only one who is carrying all the weight of child-rearing, housework, bills, and time management. It is one of the most difficult things I have done so far in my life, and this is my second time around the single parenting block, as my oldest is now 20 years old and a thriving adult. So, I feel somewhat qualified to share some of what has helped me to make it through alive.
Although I left my job to stay home with my baby, I am still a full-time student, and I am working part-time with a non-profit organization. Very, very part-time, and a job that I can do most work from home and bring my little guy with me to meetings and events. This, I am very fortunate to have in place, as it helps me to be balanced. I mention that I am a full-time student, because I believe that its critical that single mama’s do something to stay engaged with adults, and as a form of stimulation for the brain. Let’s keep it real, being home with kids all day can leave you feeling left out and behind in the adult world. You question if you are doing the right thing by being at home, and wonder what you’re missing. If you engage in taking classes or a hobby, this can help to relieve some of that anxiety. It helps to form some sense of balance as you navigate those days when your toddler is throwing constant fits, the house is a mess, you have a headache, and the bills are piling up. So, if you are a SAHM and do not have any activities that are just for YOU, then its time to get that sorted out. Get involved in something, whether it’s going back to school, a dance or exercise class, book club, or even Bible Study once a week. You must know someone you can trust who can watch your little ones so that you can have at least one evening a week to yourself. You will come back feeling refreshed and able to tackle another day with mashed potatoes all over the floor and back of the couch (how does food even get there)?
On to the day-to-day grind.
If you are anything like me, you thrive off of routine and order. Well, this is perfect if you run a boot camp, but you don’t, you are caring for little babies and kids who may have some sense of time, but mostly do not care about our agendas. Without fail, I can have the day planned down to the minute, and then my baby naps later than I desired, which means he wake up later than normal too. Or the diaper explosion occurs either right before we get in the car or while we are in the car. Either way is not cool.
Of course, if you have one of those perfect babies who follow routines to a “T,” then please ignore my experience. My babies have both been high-energy, busy bodies, with unique temperaments that make me question my abilities as a mama. You know, those kids who can be such sweethearts one minute and then turn into the hottest mess in creation next to the Roadrunner, the next. They test every ounce of patience we have. Yes, this describes my kids and I am unashamed to express it and they know it. But we still love them so much.
With all of this said, do keep working on a routine and schedule. It may take years to really get one in place, but it is worth the effort. Try to make things as predictable for your little ones as possible, and work to keep your visible stress levels down too, because they are masterminds at picking up when we are overdone, and this will make the longest day even longer because they will be upset because we are. Try to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the same time. Aim for bath time and bedtime to be predictable so that they know the evening routine = bedtime. Include play times and outside stimulation. Kids love to play outside, in just about any weather, so get outside. Everyone has a park, library, zoo, or stores nearby. The fresh air will help them to get some of the boogies out of their system, and it will also help us to burn some calories. Well, it’s likely only going to be a few calories, but its better than nothing, right? And during those naps, resist the urge to do too much. Sometimes you will need some down time too, so use it wisely. Even take a nap with them if you’re overtired. It’s ok, the dishes and laundry will get done. I promise.
Here are some suggestions to survive as a single and SAHM:
- Make sure you have internet access at home. There are many programs that can help to make this service low-cost and affordable. You likely have a cell-phone, so obtaining WiFi in your home is not all that difficult. Having regular internet access is important and will help to pay bills quickly, locate resources and information, check emails, attend school and/or keep up with your hobbies, and of course you can find you favorite movies and tv shows. Get and keep home WiFi.
- Find local resources in your area. Once you start looking, you will find so many programs and resources that can help to make things easier for your life and budget. Take advantage of everything you qualify for. Food shelves, daycare and rental assistance, play dates for babies, story time and the local library, daycare in fitness centers, etc. There is a lot out there. As a single mama, you cannot be ashamed to ask for and seek help. We need it.
- Do a little bit of everything, everyday. When we do not do laundry for two weeks, we will have about four weeks of laundry to do. If we wait until the end of the day to wash dishes or clean the kitchen, then what should take 10 minutes now takes 30. Do a little bit every chance you get and it can help minimize the cleaning and organizing chaos later. I know it sounds like more work to constantly clean up something all day, but it’s really sanity and time-saving. Then your bathroom is at least clean when you have an unexpected guest. And you will have an unexpected guest when the bathroom is less than presentable. Guaranteed.
- Get dressed in the morning, and every single morning. Except for the occasional day that you hang around in your pj’s, make it a habit to get up and get yourself together, before the kids are up if you can. I’m not talking about getting dressed up like you’re heading to a party, just get showered, clean, hair combed, a little makeup (if you wear it), and feeling put together. It goes such a long way to feel at least partly human and feminine before your baby spits up all over you or you are covered in oatmeal. It’s also a mind shift. You will feel more confident about tackling your day if you feel good. Try it if you doubt it.
- Use government assistance, but sparingly. I’ve been there, I understand that it can be really difficult to make financial ends meet, and government benefits can help a lot. Apply for and use them responsibly, meaning that you use them for short-term use only. Keep working on ways to become financially healthy and independent, building up your education level, gaining volunteer experience that may lead to a higher paying job down the road, etc. Do not allow the welfare system to govern your ability to independently care for yourself and your family. Use the help if needed, but make and keep a plan of action to be free of assistance in the near future.
- Become an expert on your credit rating and score. Although you aren’t working full-time right now, your credit is still essential. Do everything you can to address all of your bills, avoiding collection and default activity. Collections and judgments can remain on your credit report for years, making it extremely difficult to obtain anything. Pay all of your bills on time, and most importantly, if you cannot, communicate and make payment arrangements. Suck up your pride and call up your utility providers and explain your situation. There are many programs designed to help with your necessity bills. But you won’t have access if you do not ask. There are also many programs available to help with credit building and repair, many low to no cost too. Once again, now is the time to do your research and build up your resource list. You will need your good credit, so doing the work will be worth it.
- Maintain positive relations with your X, as much as possible. If your child’s father is in the picture, no matter how much you might despise him, if he is good to the kids allow him to be a father. (If there has been physical and/or emotional abuse, or court orders involved, tread lightly here, I am not saying you should try to fix these types of situations, please use wisdom.) Yes, we may be bitter that he is not as involved as we would like, or that he doesn’t want the family that we want, but he is still their father. If your drama with your X is based on simply not letting go of what “could have been,” then its time to let it go. Besides all of this, carrying on with arguing and fighting takes away from the energy and focus you need to be able to be a great, single, SAHM. Do not allow anyone or anything to steal your joy away from these precious moments, including him. On the other side, if your communications with your X are severed, for good cause, leave them there and stay focused on your future. No need to live in the past.
- Create and maintain a strict budget. Cut coupons, reduce spending, and count pennies. It all makes a difference. Cook meals at home, run major errands once to twice a week to save on gas and mileage, and become comfortable with just being at home. Get out a sheet of paper, or use a computer software program/App, and get your finances in order. Being a single SAHM does not allow for additional stress that follows unnecessary financial burdens. If you continue to live like you work full-time or have a steady stream of income, and do not, you will feel the pain of this decision. Wear the clothes you have in your closet, plan for vacations and shopping WAY in advance, and invest in a coffee maker. Your local coffee shop can become a bi-monthly to monthly trip as the $5 you might spend there adds up too quickly for the budget you need to maintain. Believe it or not, even the richest people have a budget, a set amount for their daily, weekly, and monthly spending. So, do not buy into the perception that creating and maintaining a budget means you are stupid or poor. You are not. Sure, money is tight, but the smartest thing you can always do is to set up a budget to avoid money and spending pitfalls. And the dumbest thing you can do is just spend like money is growing on trees. So, ignore the urges and practice wise spending and saving.
- Carefully enter new relationships. I am talking about all relationships here, intimate and friendships. Without a doubt you will meet a new person who seems great for an intimate relationship. This is fine, but resist the urge to move too fast. You have kids and a life of your own, and this new person needs time to grow into this, and you need time to assess if they are really the right fit. Being single and home with kids all day can cause the mistaken belief of loneliness. (Remember: loneliness is not the absence of affection, it is a lack of direction.) So, we can start thinking that we need someone in our lives much more than we really do. The same can be said for new friendships. Sometimes new friends can be a great source of support and encouragement, which is a two-way street. Other times, new friends can be a drain of our energy and resources, or can take our focus away from our homes and children. Try to make friends that you have things in common with, and with those people who respect the challenges you are facing, even if they do not experience the same circumstances.
Yes, you can survive being a single and stay-at-home-mother. But you will need to be intentional and deliberate in your actions. You will need to seek help and support that other people around you may not need. Days of fatigue and sick kids, being sick yourself, money challenges, battles with loneliness, broken relationships, and doubting yourself and decisions, will be the ups and downs along your path.
Just try not to forget that your role and presence as a mother is most honorable and significant. You are sacrificing and being present to be able to love your children in the ways you feel are important. Keep this thought in mind when the difficult days come, or you’re too tired to pour another bowl of cereal.
This is all just a season, as our kids grow up so quickly, and one day you will look back and miss the days when you couldn’t use the bathroom without keeping the door open.
Be encouraged my fellow single, SAHM!