Articles & Guides
What can we help you find?

10 smart, simple ways to sneak in alone time as a single parent

We got the scoop on how to get alone time as a single parent — even just five minutes a day — plus expert tips for making it happen.

10 smart, simple ways to sneak in alone time as a single parent

Between school, work, practices and playdates, carving out time for self-care can be challenging for busy parents. Add tending to relationships and extended family responsibilities into the mix, and it’s safe to say mom and dad have a lot on their plate. But for single parents, that plate can often feel like it’s overflowing. 

“Without sharing many of the parenting and domestic tasks on a daily basis, the burden can be overwhelming, resulting in frustration, anxiety and loneliness,” explains Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a pediatrician, single parent and author of “Building Happier Kids: Stress-busting Tools for Parents.” Many single parents also carry the weight of their family’s financial needs.

We spoke to experts to get the scoop on the benefits of self-care for single parents — even if it’s just five minutes a day — plus tactics for how to get alone time.

Why alone time is a must for single parents 

You’ve heard it countless times sitting on an airplane before takeoff: “In case of an emergency, parents of young children should put your own mask on before placing one on your child.” This is a wonderful metaphor that speaks to why self-care for single parents is so important.

For all caregivers, the “oxygen” needed to tend to loved ones is replenished by taking time for our own well-being. “Alone time allows our brains and bodies to restore,” explains Awstin Gregg, therapist and Chief Executive Officer at Connections Wellness Group. “A clear brain allows us to have higher thresholds for stress, general tolerance towards challenging events and even be slower to become frustrated.”

“Pushing yourself constantly is only going to cause emotions to boil over at some point, so consider prioritizing alone time a part of good parenting.”

— Stephanie Macadaan, licensed marriage and family therapist

But all too often, single parents actually stop themselves from taking time to recharge. “Often one of the biggest blocks to getting alone time for single parents is feeling guilty when prioritizing their own needs,” says Stephanie Macadaan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. Alone time can feel indulgent and wasteful, she explains, because single parents are often juggling multiple priorities on any given day. 

Finding the right balance of self-care and care for others is key, as well as removing the unrealistic expectation to do it all perfectly, says Macadaan. “Taking care of yourself is taking care of your kids,” she explains. “Pushing yourself constantly is only going to cause emotions to boil over at some point, so consider prioritizing alone time a part of good parenting.”

How to carve out alone time as a single parent

“Alone time and self-care helps you to show up more effectively and authentically in your other roles in life, including being a parent,” says Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, chief medical officer at LifeStance Health. 

Already stressed about finding the extra time? Don’t be. Self-care isn’t something that requires hours of time. “Even just a few minutes here and there throughout the day can make a difference,” says Macadaan. 

Here, experts explain simple ways single parents can get alone time.

1. Start by committing to 5 minutes a day

“Alone time should be treated like an appointment,” says Sarah Ann Banis, a licensed clinical social worker at Connections Wellness Group. “We wouldn’t just not show up to a doctor’s appointment, so we shouldn’t ignore that time we have scheduled for ourselves.” 

If you live by calendar reminders, Banis suggests scheduling “me time” into your phone every day, and she likes keeping it to 5 minutes to start, then increasing the time frame. “If I set aside an hour and don’t meet that hour goal, I can get discouraged or feel guilty,” she says. “Setting realistic goals will help us reach those bigger goals.”

For those five minutes, Banis recommends listening to music, journaling, or taking a quick walk outside. If you get recharged with positive self-talk, she recommends taking a few deep breaths and repeating a mantra like, “I can do this. I am capable.’” 

2. Work together to set boundaries

To ensure you get uninterrupted alone time, working with kids to set boundaries is essential. “Communicate with your kids about the importance of you all having some alone time and have fun learning how you each like to spend that time,” explains Macadaan. 

She suggests making it part of your daily routine. For example, designate time after dinner as “alone time” every night. Make it required that everyone does their own thing, then come back together afterward to talk about how it was. “It will teach them good habits while getting you the time you need.”

Another way of setting boundaries is by making your bedroom your sanctuary, says Jennie Marie Battistin, a licensed marriage family therapist and founder of Hope Therapy Center. Hang a sign on your bedroom door that says they must knock and be invited into your personal space.

For younger kids, Battistin recommends creating a kid-safe room with a special bucket or box of toys that is only accessible during times you’re going to be in your bedroom for alone time. You can then explain that while they get to play alone, you get to be alone as well. “Modeling this helps your child learn to self-soothe in positive ways,” she says. It also increases their tolerance to waiting, teaches the importance of stress reduction, and allows time for introspection so they can get in touch with their own needs.

3. Take bedtime seriously 

Keep kids on a strict bedtime routine so you have an hour or two each evening for yourself. Then earmark at least 30 minutes for relaxation — not tasks that need to get done. Battisin suggests a goal of having kids between the ages of 5 to 10 bathed and in pajamas by 7:45 p.m. For older kids who may not fall asleep that early, create a routine that puts them in bed with a book to read, then set a “lights out” time. Here are basic guidelines by age, according to Battisin:

Kids under 10: Lights out by 8:30 p.m. 

Kids under 11-12: Lights out by 9 p.m.

Kids under 13-15: Lights out by 9:30 p.m. 

Kids over 15: Lights out by 10 p.m.

Keep in mind, timing may shift based on your child’s exact age and wake-time routine. Here’s how many hours of sleep kids need, according to experts.

4. “Go in” instead of “going out”

Hire a babysitter to come over so you can “go in,” suggests Bridgit Dengel Gaspard, a licensed therapist and author of “The Final 8th: Enlist Your Inner Selves to Accomplish Your Goals.” Gaspard recommends letting your kids know in advance that you will be home, but they will be connecting with the sitter while you connect with yourself, whether it’s by mediating, exercising, journaling, drawing or revisiting an old hobby.

“One invigorating way to connect to different parts of yourself is to list three things you used to love to do,” Gaspard says. For example, one client she worked with loved to volunteer at a community garden, so she chose to recreate the sensation of working with her hands in the dirt during her alone time. “She had a fantastic hour serenely repotting her house plants.”

“It’s not about what you ‘should’ do; it’s about what feels right to you.”

— Stephanie Macadaan

Keep in mind that some people feel rejuvenated when connecting socially, says Macadaan, so striking a balance between time alone and time with friends is important. “Everyone has a different tolerance for alone time and social time, so the key is knowing the right balance for yourself,” says Macadaan. “Tapping into your body and noticing what activities provide calm and relief, versus stress and exhaustion is important. It’s not about what you ‘should’ do, it’s about what feels right to you.”

5. Sneak in some quiet time on the go

It’s easy for us all to get in the mode of go-go-go. But next time you’re not truly in a rush, make it a point to make a solo pit stop around the corner from wherever you’re headed. Between errands or before you pick up the kids from their after-school activities, park somewhere private for 15 minutes, and try one of these simple ideas:

  • Carry a journal and take the time to note your thoughts and feelings.
  • Enjoy a favorite snack that you previously stashed in the glovebox.
  • Listen to a few of your favorite songs.
  • Do some relaxing breathing.
  • Engage for 10-15 minutes with a mediation app.

“You might be surprised how this 15-minute alone time hack can refuel you for an evening with the kids,” says Battistin.

6. Reset your morning — or evening — routine

You already know each hour of the day is precious. If you’re a morning person, waking up one hour earlier each day just may be the trick to getting some quality alone time before you have to get everyone ready for the day, including yourself. 

Not a morning person? Experts suggest tweaking other parts of your day to make it easier to adjust to waking earlier. For example, change up your evening routine to include a shower after the kids go to bed. “This morning time-saver can make you feel a little less stressed in the a.m., and it is a great way for you to wind down,” says Battistin. 

7. Get curious

The truth is, sometimes it is just extremely hard for single parents to find time for themselves. Period. Even five minutes of self-care can feel impossible. On those days, one way to find that time is to prioritize what really is important, and delegate what you can, explains Bhargava. 

When you feel stuck, she suggests asking yourself a few questions about your to-do list. For example, can you carpool with someone for soccer practice or for pickups from school? Can you bundle trips to the grocery store or even order online? Do you really need to organize that closet right now

“Asking these types of questions can give you pockets of time — even 20 minutes here and there — that you can use for yourself,” says Bhargava.

8. Start a single parent co-op  

Battistin suggests planning out a child care co-op schedule where one night a week you “swap kids” with a single friend who has kids around the same age. On that day, you’ll get a two-hour evening all to yourself, then when their day to “swap” comes around, they will get a two-hour evening.

Don’t have a large single-parent network? Look into community organizations and mentoring programs that can help to provide support, such as the Boys and Girls Club or Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

9. Have a few go-to self-care ideas in your back pocket 

Self-care moments don’t have to be all or nothing, says Patel-Dunn. To maximize regular opportunities for alone time, she recommends having a few different, accessible activities on rotation when your child is napping, at school or playing outside. “They can be something as simple as going to get a coffee from your favorite cafe, taking a walk outside, listening to music or a podcast or simply having a one-on-one chat with a friend or family member,” she says.

10. Let the little things go 

Bhargava admits, “If the house is messy sometimes, that’s OK.” One trick she’s discovered is only going into her teens’ bedrooms once a week to avoid feeling pressured to clean, and experts agree the mess is not worth the stress. If the budget allows, even a once-a-month professional house cleaning can go a long way towards achieving peace of mind.

Why it’s worth prioritizing alone time

Being able to decompress allows you as a single parent to be even better at contending with the challenges of everyday life, says Banis. Creating boundaries and establishing new routines to ensure you can get time alone on a regular basis will help you be more patient and present with your children.

Think of it this way: “Your child will not remember if their house was spotless growing up; if their parent always cooked dinner; or if the dishes were always clean when they got up the next day,” says Randi Woodruff, a therapist at Connections Wellness Group. Instead, says Woodruff, they will recall how they felt — if they felt loved and cared for. And by addressing your own stress, you’ll stand a better chance at ensuring that’s exactly what they remember.