No one ever said that being a single mom was easy. Many think they know what it's like, but until you actually experience it, you can't really know how complicated it truly is. In fact, it often feels like you are performing a dizzying, non-stop, 24-hour-a-day juggling act. Fortunately, through trial and error, I have found some workable solutions. Here are five important boundary building and time management strategies to make every single mom's daily life flow a bit more effortlessly.
1. Building your "N-O" boundaries with your children
Divorce, or the loss of a loved one, may create enormous guilt for a single mom. But it doesn't mean that you have to say yes to any and all of your children's requests. It also doesn't mean that you have to feel like a mean mamma when you do say no. Being firm is okay; children like structure. They want to know your "no" boundaries. If your child asks you for something that you are refusing, don't try to soften your "no" answer with a follow up, "okay?" Train yourself to be make statements instead of asking a question. If your kids think you aren't comfortable with your decision unless they're comfortable, they'll push back. When they ask for something like a new toy or activity and you can't make it work right away, try my wishbox plan: Have them write what they want on a slip of paper and stick in the wishbox. When they've done something worthy of a treat, let them pull one of their wishes from the box. That way their requests become special rewards.
2. Making time for Mommy
Prioritizing all your to-do's can be challenging. Frequently the me-time activities end up way down at the bottom of your list, or worse, they don't even make the cut. The answer is to create short daily to-do lists. Make the list reasonable and include at least one me-time activity. In other words, only put on the list what you believe you can accomplish in one day. I write my lists on the small sticky notes so they can't get too long. Then when the list is completed, I have the gratification of tossing the sticky note in the trash. You might also want to consider creating an hourly to-do schedule. Plan your me-time activities as you would a meeting or conference call.
3. Engaging your village
Delegating duties is a gift you give to yourself. If you are at the beginning of your divorce proceedings, consider how you can create a custody arrangement that allows you-time with your children as well as time for yourself. Unless your former spouse is physically or emotionally abusive or unfit to be a parent because of drugs or alcohol, you might want to consider a more equitable time share. As much as you might not like him, chances are your kids do. They will want and need their daddy time. Try to consider him as your trusted built-in babysitter. Your non-custodial time can be the perfect opportunity to schedule personal downtime and dating escapades. If that doesn't work for you, or dad is just out of the picture, here are some other options.
- Offer to tag-team time-share with other single moms. This can work well for both moms, as children often would rather play with their peers than adults.
- Consider an after school mother's helper. These are older children, eleven or twelve years old, who live in the neighborhood. They will play with your children and keep them occupied, or be in the house during nap time, while you are busy.
- Enlist family and friends or consider a full time caretaker. If you cannot afford full-time help, inquire with some of the other moms if they're helpers have friends you can hire on an hourly basis.
- Pre-teens and teen children are much more independent and can spend an hour or two by themselves. There are also after school activities and/or sports programs you can get your children involved in.
Don't be afraid to ask for what you need. Be open to accepting the way other people do things to help you and show your appreciation for their efforts.
4. Expanding your time clock
Sounds impossible, right? But you can stretch time by clarifying what is most important to you and creating a life roadmap. Start with you in the middle of an un-lined white page and write out all the wonderful, positive and important things you intend to do for yourself. Include activities that will propel your life in the direction you would like. Once you've determined what to include in your sphere, you can evaluate and eliminate everything that doesn't get you to your ultimate destination. Don't waiver. That way, you an feel comfortable passing on any events or requests that come up that don't make sense for you.
5. Live the guilt-free life
Children are your top priority, but you still have to take care of you too. I frequently reference the airplane oxygen mask exercise. The instructions outline that you need to put your mask on first before you put a mask on anyone else traveling with you. The reasoning for this is because you need to have your wits about you when you are going to help others. It is a solid metaphor for being a single mom. Take care of you first, because is critical to fulfilling all your responsibilities to those around you. Live guilt free in the knowledge that by taking care of you, you are the best you can be, which in turn allows you to do your best taking care of everyone else who is important to you.