The Single Parent's Primer

Some hints, tips, and advice – including nine survival strategies for single parents – to help you face the challenges of parenting without a partner.

By  Patrice Karst
Updated: May 17, 2017
Children and Divorce

Here are nine survival strategies for single parents:

  1. Let go of the need to be a perfect parent, immediately.
  2. Once a week, get a baby-sitter. Do a trade with another parent, whatever, and go out alone or on a date or with friends. (You need it. You deserve it. Do it!)
  3. Make lists. Pay bills on time. Return phone calls. Stay organized, then it won't all seem so overwhelming.
  4. Develop a support system. Make this a big priority. Make friends. You need others, and, yes, they need you too.
  5. Be easy with yourself and everything will be okay. Trust me, you'll get through it.
  6. Use the phone or go outside whenever you are feeling lonely and isolated. Reach out to people. You are not alone unless you choose to keep yourself that way.
  7. If, after trying therapy, depression or anxiety are really getting the best of you and nothing else seems to work, consider asking your doctor for medication. Read my lips: "There is no shame in getting help to make you feel better." Do not for a moment believe you are weak if you decide you need this. It can really work wonders.
  8. Do not, however, overuse drugs or alcohol as your survival mechanisms. Believe me, it will only make things feel worse in the long run – much worse.
  9. Lastly, look for the light. No matter how dark the tunnel may often appear, the light is there. Find it. Oh, and watch for those mean, yucky little gremlins that hang out in your mind sometimes. Just tell 'em to get lost.

No Room for Misery Makers

It's okay to have friendships where you spend time commiserating with one another. In fact, it's downright necessary and can be a lot of fun. It is not, however, conducive to your growth or happiness to hang out complaining all the time. Nor is it healthy to have totally negative people around sucking your juice.

Please pay attention on this one.

It is vital to create good company in our lives, so be around people who:

  1. Have hopes.
  2. Have dreams.
  3. Have goals.
  4. Have humor.
  5. Have joy.
  6. Have some peace.

I'm not saying you have to associate only with Pollyanna types, but if you find yourself with people not willing or interested in moving out of their depths of whining, complaining, misery, and it's bringing you down, kindly dump them and move on. Your own well-being depends on this!

Money Issues

I wish I had some brilliant, miraculous answers. I don't. Just some thoughts on what has worked well for me.

I think it's a much better mindset to ask yourself how you can create more money coming into your life rather than asking yourself, "How can I scrimp and save just enough to get by?" Having said that, I won't offer you any budgets or lectures on how to become prosperous.

Just one tip, though. Ask for the "single parent discount" wherever you go. If you can get over any embarrassment about this, it's unbelievable how well it works. Not always, but at least 25% of the time, I've gotten breaks on child care, classes, products, services, movies – you name it. It's fun and, darn it, we deserve it!

If you're entitled to child support, make sure you get it. However, peace of mind is priceless – sometimes it's worth getting a little bit less and not battling night and day with your ex. (Please see "Dealing with the Ex," below.)

Consider sharing a house with other single parents. There are many benefits to this beyond the lower rent or mortgage payment: companionship, extended family, fun for both you and the kids, and a wonderful sense of support.

There's nothing like making it on your own, though, for feeling really strong and independent. Keep reaching higher. Go back to school if that's a desire and an option. I know it seems impossible sometimes, but where there's a will, there's a way. Money can't buy love, but it sure does make things easier. Good luck.

Some Household Hints

  1. It's your haven. Make it pretty, safe, and warm. This really is do-able. Create a place that feels good to be in, because you're going to be there a lot. Flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores – all groovy places to get cool stuff. Make it a family project.
  2. Keep it organized: dishes washed; the place neat. I'm telling you, this will do wonders for your "craziness" factor.
  3. If at all possible, once a month line up an inexpensive maid to do the heavy-duty, grunt work. Then, all you have to do is keep it tidy.
  4. Have house rules. Post them. Make sure the rugrats/teens stick to them. Update as necessary. Give them chores. No ifs, ands, or buts. If they wanna eat, they've gotta pull their own weight. (Kids under two are excused.)
  5. Keep "their" space and "your" space separate. You absolutely need a place you can retreat to. Keep it beautiful. No toys or crap inside. Get a lock and a "Do Not Disturb" sign.
  6. If you work a nine-to-five job, try, if at all possible, to get most of your chores and errands done during the week so that your weekends can truly be your time to relax and have fun with your kids.


Thoughts on Child Care

You'll need it. Use it. No guilt. Seek out loving people to care for your child. You can find them and it's worth researching. Ask around. Ask lots of questions. Check it out. Be as involved as possible. Look for scholarship help if you need it.

Make the time they spend with you count. This is most precious to children, but they also need outside activities and other kids. Preschools, home day-care facilities, camps, after-school programs, etc. provide opportunities for your children where they can feel safe and affection for other caregivers besides you. They will also learn independence, social skills, and how to obey other people's rules. Besides, where else can they do all that cool art and music stuff with their pals?

I don't know why people have such a negative slant on child care. I think it's a very positive experience. My son has loved it, and, the truth is, most of the kids are much better adjusted than many stay-at-home children.

Dealing with the Ex

If your ex is still involved in your children's lives, I have some very definite suggestions that might help.

I know that your situation is very different, but as long as your ex loves them, is not abusive, intoxicated, or drugged, as long as you feel that your children can be safe with him/her, lighten up and be grateful. Kids do need both parents and benefit from your ex's company. I know s/he pisses you off. You think s/he's a slime, a lousy spouse, a pain in the ass –blah, blah, blah. That's why s/he's an "ex." If s/he were great, let's face it, you'd probably still be together. But s/he gave you your children and s/he really is not a totally bad human being. Move on with your life. Stop being at war with your ex. Life is too short and too stressful. You don't want endless battles. And please don't talk badly about him/her in front of your children. It simply isn't fair. S/he is their parent.

Sometimes, just accepting who s/he is will free you up so that you can make positive changes in your own life. When you ease up and stop telling him/her what a shit s/he is, or (just humor me here and give it a try) even try giving in once in a while, you can almost be guaranteed that s/he'll become a much nicer and more workable co-parent. Stop having to be right all the time. Instead, choose happiness for all of you and try to get along. Hard as it is (and I know that it is), ask that s/he be blessed. You share your children together. S/he hurts too. Find common ground: move to a new level of communication. This can be done, even in the worst of situations. However, if you or your children are in any kind of danger, get legal help.

I have seen miracles happen when ex-spouses stop treating each other horribly. Do it for yourself. Do it for the kids. Encourage your ex to be part of their lives. Try to heal. Life can be good again. Believe it or not, you may even become allies. You and this person are connected for life, and that's a long, long, long time. How do you want that life to be?

Teaching the Important Stuff

No matter how busy you are, please, please, please make the time to teach your children the truly important stuff. Reading, writing, history, and math are only a small part of what they need to learn. Here are some guidelines. Teach them:

  1. To be kind, loving people.
  2. To honor their agreements, have integrity, and be responsible for their actions.
  3. To value life – their own, other people's, and the lives of all living things.
  4. To be respectful and tolerant of other people's beliefs, skin colors, body size, disabilities, needs, etc.
  5. In this day and age, especially when the world can look so bleak to youngsters, let them know there are still many wonderful possibilities, adventures, dreams, and opportunities awaiting them.
  6. Teach them to have some form of spirituality – connection to the Earth, to the Universe, to God. Without it, nothing has much true value.
  7. Of course, teach them that love is still the most important thing of all.

Remember this, too: the best way to teach has always been by example.
Maybe it's time we all take our own refresher course?

What Matters Is Love

No matter what you read or hear about the ill effects of children raised by single parents, don't buy into it for a second. It is simply unfounded, prejudiced, fundamentalist rhetoric, where the object is to guilt-trip you. Sure, optimally and in a perfect world, we would have all liked to raise our kids with two wonderful, loving, available parents. And sure, as a result of being single parents, we may not always have as much time, money, or three perfectly balanced hot meals every day as we would have liked.

But you know what? What matters is love. As long as our children are safe, fed, warm, joyful, and grow up knowing we love them unconditionally, they'll be luckier, healthier, and happier than most. Don't be a perfectionist.

Never let your ideals ever undermine your knowing that your children are doing great. Love them. Love them. Love them. Everything else will fall into place.

Yes, You Are a Family

It's imperative to let your children know that what makes a family a family is love, security, and happiness – not how many people live under one roof. Just because your family may look different from some of their friends', it is still your family.

Make sure to befriend other single parents and their children. Make sure that your children have friends from families like yours. Create rituals and special events that they can cherish always and holidays they will remember.

Do things like other families: go camping, take vacations, and go to gatherings. Get together with your extended groups and spread the love. Get creative. Find books that depict positive single-parent homes or make up your own stories. Have fun. A family is such a special creation; enjoy every moment.

single motherThis article has been edited and excerpted from The Single Mother's Survival Guide by Patrice Karst, a single mom, writer, and inspirational speaker. Although it was written for single mothers, single fathers can also dip into this funny and helpful book when looking for advice and encouragement. "Part One: The Basics" contains an assortment of short essays and checklists dealing with the challenges of single parenting; and "Part Two: The Workbook" offers simple ideas and fill-in-the-blanks lists to inspire you.

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August 10, 2006

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