When you're raising a child as a single parent, you're handling a lot of tasks and decisions on your own. You need effective ways to find support and make life easier and more fun for you and your child.
Start with these six tips.
1. Develop a Routine.
Keep mealtimes, bedtimes, and the time the family wakes up in the morning fairly consistent. A predictable routine structures your day and helps give your child a sense of security.
You may miss your kids during the workday and feel guilty that your job requires you to spend so much time away from them. But don't make up for it at night.
"Trying to squeeze in more time together by letting them stay up late is not the best approach," says Leah Klungness, PhD, a psychologist in Long Island, N.Y., and coauthor of The Complete Single Mother.
"Kids need more sleep than we schedule into our jam-packed lives," she says. "Also, parents need and deserve some kid-free time to get things accomplished and decompress a bit."
2. Make Time to Play.
No matter how busy life gets, devote time on a regular basis to relaxing and having fun with your kids. Focus your attention on enjoying each other's company and tune out other distractions.
"I often recommend to families that they schedule a play time -- perhaps once a week -- when they turn off the television and phone and spend a half hour playing a game, taking a walk, or throwing a ball around," says Barry G. Ginsberg, PhD, a child and family psychologist in Doylestown, Pa., and author of 50 Wonderful Ways to Be a Single-Parent Family. "It helps reinforce your emotional connection."
3. Seek and Accept Support.
Build a network of people you trust that can help with childcare, carpooling, and even projects around the house.
"The challenges facing single parents are not that different from those of all parents. But it may be more difficult for them to create the community of support we all need to function as parents. They need to be more creative and active in cultivating that supportive community," Klungness says.
Your support team could include, for example, relatives, neighbors, and other parents you meet at your child's daycare center or school.
"You need ‘middle-of-the-night friends' -- people you can call at a moment's notice who can help you in person in case of an emergency," Klungness says. "But you also need people you and your kids can meet up with for fun activities. They may or may not wind up being the same people."
4. Form or Join a Childcare Co-Op
To save money on babysitters and get to know other local families, consider joining or forming a babysitting co-op.
"You can form a co-op with other parents you trust who have kids around the same age as yours," says Jim Anastasi, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist in Mason City, Iowa. "They can watch your kids one night a week and you can watch their kids the next night."
To keep the system fair, members of the co-op "earn" a specific number of points in exchange for each hour they spend babysitting. They can then "spend" these points when they ask another member to babysit for them.
5. Collaborate With Your Kids.
"In a single-parent family, it's helpful if the kids can collaborate with you to accomplish the things that need to get done," Ginsberg says. He suggests talking with them about viewing the family as a team that has to work together.
"For example, if you don't get home from work until after 5, you could ask them to start preparing dinner or assist with cleaning up afterwards," Ginsberg says.
6. Give Yourself Breaks.
Recharge your batteries by arranging for your kids to be with a grandparent or babysitter for a few hours. Though it's tempting, don't use that time to clean your house or get caught up on laundry or work.
"Do something fun with your friends, enjoy some solitude, or watch old movies all day," says Anastasi. "Learn to enjoy life and to model that for your kids."