Navigating child care as a parent, no matter the time of year, can be challenging. From work conflicts to varying partner schedules to unexpected sick days throwing the entire household into chaos, cruising (or sometimes speeding at what feels like 90 miles-per-hour) on the struggle bus is real.
But for single parents, child care conundrums can prove to be even more difficult, and they can spark more financial stress than they would in coupled parents.
“Unlike those in two-income households, the stress and financial cost of child care make us want to consider leaving the workforce too, but we have no other income on which we can rely,” says Christine Michel Carter, author of “MOM AF.” “Many of us are living below our means and saving — but should be saving a bit more. We’re also budgeting, working to reduce monthly bills, traveling and eating out less and reducing our use of credit. We’re controlling what we can, but the lack of affordable child care is an issue we can’t control.”
Feel like you can’t catch a break? Here, single parents share their methods for meeting some of child care’s largest challenges.
1. The challenge: Finding child care
Like many single parents, money is tight for Carolynne Harvey, single mom and founder of Dream Baby Sleep. That being said, connecting with (and maintaining relationships) in her community, particularly with other single parents, has been instrumental in finding care.
“I’ve always tried to find a mom friend at my daughter’s school who was open to babysitter sharing,” she notes. “As a working single parent, affordable after-care during summer break was always hard to come by. Sharing a sitter with another working parent is a great way to save.”
2. The challenge: Paying for clothing, food and other supplies
Andrea Arterbery, a single mom and freelance journalist, relies on local community services and programs to help clothe and feed her son, particularly during the busy back-to-school season. She recommends other single parents do the same.
“Do your research,” she says. “Watch the news and read newsletters from the city to see what resources are available for you and your kids.”
She says that, oftentimes (including for her school district), schools will provide free meals and clothes for kids if parents ask. “Try to make time to do the research to find resources available in your area to find the things you need.”
3. The challenge: Feeling guilt for not “being involved enough” at school
One of the biggest challenges for single parents is dealing with feelings of guilt, explains Anton Shcherbakov, co-founder of ThinkPsych and licensed clinical psychologist. “Whether it is not having enough energy to be playful with your children or feeling like you are not spending enough time with them, it’s a constant struggle,” he says. “I think this feeling is particularly strong for single parents because their time, energy and money is often even more limited than those who have a partner.”
Harvey understands this sentiment well. “Back-to-school is always exciting and stressful,” she says. “But if none of the school class volunteering opportunities aligned with my schedule, I’d meet with the teacher and ask for other things I could do [instead]. I’m a strong believer that if you don’t have a village, build one.”
4. The challenge: Struggling to get work done remotely when the kids are home
For remote-working single parents saddled with an unexpected child sick day, getting to all of your agenda items and staying focused can be a challenge. Harvey says it’s important to set boundaries and rules in those instances.
“Being a working parent is hard, being a working single parent is next-level hard,” Harvey says. “It’s always a nightmare finding adequate affordable child care to accommodate a rotating parenting schedule.” She notes that, even if a babysitter or nanny was present, her daughter would still want to see her, knowing she was in the next room.
Her solution to keep her daughter from continually asking for Mommy: “I’d ask her to make a pile of toys she wanted to play with with me when I was done working instead of coming into my home office,” Harvey says. “I’d also schedule a snack or lunch with her. As she got older, I’d ask her to write down her questions and slide them under my door.”
5. The challenge: Managing workplace biases against single parents’ work ethic
“The biggest challenge single parents face when it comes to working (both remotely and in-person) is overcoming the biases put upon them,” explains Carter. She says that many single parents she speaks to in her advocacy work feel as though they’re judged for seeking more flexible schedules or are seen as less devoted to their work.
The solution, she says? Keep your receipts handy. “Keep a weekly tracker of feedback from projects accomplished, because if performance was judged as exemplary there, there’s no excuse for biased feedback and snide comments,” she shares, pointing out that you have the proof you can perform.
6. The challenge: Feeling guilt when kids use their phones to entertain them
“I have no problem saying that as a single parent, my co-parent is Apple,” explains Carter. She notes that, when her kids go back to school, she works with them to help regulate their habits and use their phones in a healthy way.
“One unconventional rule I have: When they come home [from school], they must spend 30 minutes decompressing before jumping into homework,” Carter shares, adding that this sometimes includes screen time. “A conventional rule is they have an iPad bedtime which is usually one hour before their actual bedtime, to decompress from the screen.”
The bottom line: Carter tries not to punish her kids for screen use, ultimately, because “they didn’t buy them, I did!”
7. The challenge: Feeling as though your sole identity revolves around caring for your child
Taking time (and money) for free time as a single parent is easier said than done, naturally. But as Carter explains, just a once-per-week, three-hour session can do a lot of good.
During this time, she can catch up with her friends, get a pedicure or just go for a run outside. “I don’t think single parents really think about how much time we spend with our kids in the house,” says Carter. “It is exhausting to just be in the same area, and if you can budget time to escape, it makes all the difference!”
8. The challenge: Even a once-per-week session to yourself doesn’t seem doable
For Elizabeth Mitchell, an early childhood teacher and single parent, on those days (or weeks) when “me time” seems unimaginably difficult, she calls up other single parents in her community.
“I try to organize social events with other single parents where I can invite people to our place or plan day dates where I have kids over to play, in exchange for my son going to their place next time,” she says.
9. The challenge: The dishes keep piling up
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Aterbery says. “I’ve learned not to be hard on myself. I don’t beat myself up anymore if the clothes don’t get put away after I wash them. I take it one day at a time and am learning to enjoy the journey.”
Another tip Aterbery hopes all single parents embrace? “Don’t be afraid of therapy,” she says. “Prayer, therapy, family and my tribe — this is what helps me get through the (sometimes hectic) days.”