Who is the unsung hero who said parenthood is the toughest job you’ll ever love? Truer words were never spoken, but ask any single parent and they’ll tell you about the innumerable challenges childcare can present to someone who is going it alone.
You may be raising kids in a single-parent household, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Here are seven child care problems and ideas for solving them.
Maintaining a Work-Life Balance
As a single parent, you know how precious your employment (and paycheck) is. Different companies have different cultures; some allow for more flexibility and others demand a set schedule. Recognizing what will fly at your company and the behavior that will cost you a promotion gives you the framework for creating a support system to keep your child safe while you’re at your desk.
“Face scheduling problems head-on and set up your support systems ahead of time,” suggests Leah Klungness, Ph.D., a prominent psychologist and single-parent expert.
Week-day child care may include a day care center, nanny, babysitter or combination. Many parents find themselves trying to fill the gap between the end of the school day and the workday. If you have school-aged children, find out if your child’s school offers transportation to a local after-school or study center where you or another caregiver can pick them up in the evening. Do your best to maintain a set routine for the work week, so your child knows what to expect and can count on a solid, comforting routine that includes homework time for them and time together with you, even if it’s only for a bedtime story.
Dealing With Inevitable Emergencies
Even the most iron-clad plans can throw you a curve ball. Who hasn’t received that dreaded call from the school nurse about a child’s spiking fever or vomit-soaked dress? Life happens, especially with kids.
Schedule a time to speak with your HR department or boss about the possibility (or probability) situations may crop up which require you to make a speedy exit. Let them know your job is important and ask if this will affect your standing at work. Make suggestions for systems you can put in place ahead of time so your workload doesn’t suffer and your boss feels taken care of, too. It’s also a good idea to have the phone numbers of several people on hand that can pick your child up in case of an emergency. Make sure the school has their names on file so there are no wrinkles at the door.
Traveling for Business
Even if your job does not include the need for frequent travel, professional conferences or staff retreats may come up, requiring overnight stays. Having a plan in place can help to alleviate both your and your child’s anxiety.
If the trip is during the week, try to arrange for overnight care in your own home so your child’s routine isn’t disrupted. If you have a family member who can stay with your child, this can be a great bonding opportunity. Another option is to arrange a sleepover for your child at a classmate’s home, offering reciprocal childcare at another time.
Before you leave, prearrange a time to speak with your child via telephone or Skype while you’re away. Small children will also enjoy the opportunity to learn about the place you have traveled to. Bring back a souvenir that makes them feel a part of your experience.
You’re getting ready to leave for work. But, just as you’re reaching for your PowerPoint presentation for an important meeting, your caregiver calls in sick. For a single parent, a sick child is bad enough, but a sick nanny can be even worse. That’s why it’s incredibly important that you take the time now to set up your backup care plan, so you aren’t caught off-guard when plans change.
Some employers reimburse for — or even provide — backup child care as a work benefit, such as through Care.com’s Care@Work program. Check with your HR department to see if your company offers any kind of child care benefits and, if so, how you can get enrolled.
It’s also a good idea to identify one or two neighbors who have flexible schedules and can either pinch-hit for the entire day, or who can stay with your child until the backup care provider arrives. If you do rely upon friends or neighbors in emergencies, make sure you reciprocate with a favor or show your appreciation with a home-cooked meal or baked treat.
Getting Personal Time
“Single parents tend to be helicopter parents because we feel guilty,” says Stacie Martin, a Dallas-based, single parent advocate. “We tend to take care of everything, to make up for our family structure, rather than finding balance.”
Between caring for the kids, house and job, this type of behavior will have you burnt out without a second to yourself during the busy work week with no time left to recharge. You need — and deserve — a break, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day. If your child is old enough to understand, let them know your body needs a rest, Martin suggests, and soak in a tub or read quietly while they do their homework or play in another room. If they’re still very small, carve out some quiet weeknight moments for yourself after they’re asleep.
This is not an indulgence, but a necessity. The more refreshed and relaxed you are, the better your household will run.
Finding Child Care for a Night Out
You probably look forward to downtime with your children on the weekends, but building in some play time for yourself should also be part of the equation, at least on occasion. If you’re planning a date night, reach out to friends and schedule reciprocal sleepovers. “This is a win-win situation and a cost-savings, too,” says Martin.
If your weekend plans do take on some regularity, consider hiring an energetic and fun neighborhood teen to babysit your child. Teenagers typically charge lower rates for their services than more mature caregivers and can provide lots of playtime for your youngsters.
Paying for Child Care
It’s no secret that child care can become pricey over time and, if you’re living off of one paycheck, the costs are more draining. Your child’s safety must always be your first concern, so skimping on quality care isn’t an option.
You may be worried about overstaying your welcome and asking for help from family and friends too often. If that is the case, create a quid pro quo arrangement with the people in your life, so you are lending them a hand as well as enjoying their support. Reciprocal child care and nanny sharing are also great options. Find out about sliding scales, payment plans and scholarship programs to the local day care center or nonprofit study center.
Learn more about 14 Ways to Save Money on Child Care
For single parents, life can sometimes feel like one big juggle, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re a family and in it together. It may not always be easy, but with planning and support, you just might find yourself sailing through your days with laughter, ease and more joy than you thought possible.
Corey Whelan is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, N.Y. A single mom, her work can be found here.