No one ever said parenthood was easy, and that’s never more true than if you’re doing the job on your own as a single mom. Stressful, challenging and sometimes terribly lonely are just a few ways single moms describe their everyday lives.
Yet the second-most common living arrangement for children in the U.S. (after two-parent households) is living in a home headed by a single mom. According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau, out of the 11 million single-parent families in the U.S., more than 80% of those are single-mom households. While raising children on your own can be a roller coaster of financial worries and time management stresses, there are lots of single moms out there not just getting through it and surviving, but thriving.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to make single momhood easier on yourself. We asked single moms for their best advice on conquering some of the most challenging parts of being single parents. Read on for single mom help and tips on how to stay organized, slay your financial challenges, raise well-adjusted kids and keep yourself happy all at the same time.
Get control of your finances
Raising a child on one income can be challenging. Even if finances aren’t tight, the mental space required for keeping track of all the bills can be a lot and even take away from time you spend with your child. Learning how to manage your finances can take a big load off your shoulders.
1. Start a budget and keep it updated
Chris, a mom of one from Massachusetts, says a budget is the key to keeping your head above water financially.
“My big tip is to create a budget, but my most important tip is to keep it updated,” she says. “I would keep creating these budgets but never updating them and then wondering where all my money went. Now I set aside time every Sunday night and update everything so that I am never confused at the end of the month. I don’t always feel like doing it, but I just make myself. This has helped me more than anything.”
Understanding how much money is coming in and how much is going out will help you figure out where you need to cut back and how much you can spend on extras during the month. You can go old-school by creating your budget with pad and paper or try making one in Excel or Google sheets for an easier option. With a little bit of setup time, a free app like Mint can tie directly into your bank and credit cards and make budgeting even easier.
2. Put your bills on autopay
If you know your budget can handle it, try putting monthly bills on autopay. This ensures you don’t miss a payment and incur late fees and will also save you time. Instead of sitting at your laptop paying the bills one by one each month, set up autopay, and have more time to spend with your kids (or with a good book!)
“I was afraid to set it up because I felt like I’d run out of money unexpectedly,” says Liz, a New York City mom of two. “But once I bit the bullet, it was great. At this point, I am used to the money coming out at a set time, and I don’t have to worry about being late.”
3. Take advantage of tax breaks and government programs
“Personally, I’d love to have a personal money manager, but I can’t afford it,” says Monica, a mom from Massachusetts. “I did a lot of research after talking to another mom where I live, and there are things I wasn’t even taking advantage of. Now I look into it every year to make sure nothing has changed.”
Make sure you are taking advantage of tax breaks like the Child Tax Credit and the Child Care Tax Credit, both of which recently increased for 2021. Do your research to ensure that you are saving whatever money you are entitled to when filing your taxes.
If money is tight, there are several government programs and grants available for single mothers.
4. Learn how to say “no”
“I can’t buy everything my kids want,” says Monica. “It’s sad to tell them no, but it would be worse to teach them to care about buying a toy instead of being able to afford our house or food.”
You don’t need to get into the nitty gritty of your finances with your kids, but it’s good to teach them to prioritize what matters in life. It will help them understand the value of a dollar and to be more discerning about what they buy as they get older. If there’s something they have their heart set on, teach them to save up for it or put it on a holiday or birthday list.
Utilize your support system to make child care easier
It takes a village to raise a child, right? Whether you’re a single mom or not, most people realize that child care usually involves many different folks pitching in. You might be surprised by how many other parents want to team up with you to tackle child care — just ask around!
5. Join up with other single moms
“The one piece of advice is to do what I resisted doing forever — make friends with other single moms,” says Pauline, a mom of two from Wisconsin. “There is absolutely no guilt in asking another single mom for help watching your kids now and then because she knows the struggle. She also knows I’ll do the same for her when she needs it. I’m really shy, so it took me forever, but my whole life changed when I got close to two other single moms. We cover each other’s back, always, no questions asked!”
Other single moms will understand your situation more than anyone else could. They will also be a good person to go to for advice when you need it because you won’t need to over explain anything to them.
6. Try a sleepover exchange
“My friends and I are members of the sleepover exchange club,” says Judy, a mom of three in Austin. “Basically, you take the group of kids for a sleepover one weekend night a month and each of the other moms does the same thing on the other weekends. This is how I’ve managed to date; otherwise I don’t think it would ever happen.”
If your kids are old enough and ready for sleepovers, this can be a real game-changer. You can go out or do some time-consuming projects while being kid-free for an entire night. The bonus here: The kids think it’s all for them, and they have a blast with their friends.
7. Start or join a carpool share
There’s no reason for everyone to take the same drive to and from school every day when you can split the duties.
“Carpool is the key to sanity some days,” says Pauline. “When it’s my day, I’m prepared for it ahead of time. When it’s not my day, I get an extra hour or so to do things around the house or get to work early. It’s a small thing, but it helps.”
8. Rely on close family members
“I’m lucky because my mom and my aunt are both in my town and neither of them works full time,” says Chris. “My mom has my daughter two afternoons a week after school and my aunt takes her another two. It’s the only way I can manage my job.”
Some moms worry that family members will feel taken advantage of, but older family members looking out for the youngest kids is a tradition as old as time. Many of us grew up spending a lot of time with our grandparents, so try to put your own worries aside. Have an honest conversation with your family members and see if they are willing to help you out. You will probably be surprised at how willing they are to take on some babysitting time, even if it is just an afternoon here and there.
Get organized to save yourself headaches
Kids like consistency, and setting up a “system” for your family can not only save you time, but it can also help you avoid meltdowns and unexpected curveballs.
9. Get on a daily routine and stick to it
“I run this house like a well-oiled machine, and it’s the only way it works,” says Jo, a mom of three from Maine. “We have a very specific routine for weekdays, and no one is allowed to mess it up, including me. As long as we stick to it, there are no surprises!”
Getting yourself and your kids on a daily routine is not only helpful to you, but it’s good for your kids, as well. Kids like the consistency of a routine, even if they put up a fight about it now and then. Having a set routine in the mornings especially is the best way to make sure everyone is dressed on time and no lunches get left at home accidentally.
10. Try creating a mealtime list system
“It sounds crazy, but I have a rotating mealtime list system that I use,” says Kim, a mom of two from New Jersey. “Basically, I came up with eight different dinner lists that cover one dinner for each day of the week. I rotate between the eight lists. Having eight lists means that there are two months worth of dinners before I start to repeat them. I just pull up a list, depending on what’s going on that week, and bring it with me to the grocery store. I don’t have to think about dinner every day since I already know what I’m making, and I know it’s something my kids will eat.”
Meal planning can help you hold down the chaos that can take over during a busy week, and it also makes grocery shopping a lot easier. Try creating a board for each week on Pinterest for each list and saving each dinner as a pin within that week’s list. If things go totally awry during the week, you can always order a pizza, but at least you have a basic plan to start with and that’s half the battle. Lots of sites like Skinnytaste and thekitchn post healthy weekly meal plans for families.
11. Use online tools to keep track of everything
“I would be lost without Google Calendar,” Kim says. “I use the color coding in Google calendar to differentiate between school things, family things and personal things.”
There’s nothing wrong with pen and paper, but online apps and tools provide certain features that can make a single mom’s life a lot easier. Google Calendar and many other apps allow you to share things with other family members which means everyone is on the same page all the time. If your kids have their own devices, they’ll be able to see tasks, events and lists as you update them.
Join a support group to get help from other single parents
Remember that your well-being is just as important as your kid’s (if not more!) Connecting with others in similar situations can provide you with a type of support you can’t get from non-single parents.
12. See if there are Meetups for single moms in your area
“I belong to a few Meetup groups for my job, so after a particularly challenging week, I decided to see if there were any for single parents,” says Allison, a mom of two in Los Altos, California. “That was a few years ago, and I can honestly say that the moms in my Meetup group are some of my closest friends now. There is no better group to vent to when I need to and I love giving them encouragement or advice or help out with a kid when they need it, too.”
Being a single mom can be incredibly lonely, and having a local circle of moms who are in similar situations can keep you connected to people who live close to you. It’s great to chat with other moms online, but nothing beats being able to meet face to face for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.
13. Check for local Facebook mom groups
“I found a Facebook group for moms in my area,” says Rachel, a mom of three in Brooklyn. “It’s not all single moms, but it still works for me. I’m far from the only single mom in the group, and just having other moms to connect with is helpful. We trade notes about schools, parks, even local grocery store sales. Lifesaver. I’ve met up with two of the other moms in person.”
Local Facebook groups are another option for connecting with moms in your area. It might be tough to find an active local group made up of only single moms, but connecting to any moms in your neighborhood will give you people to talk to when you need advice, have a question or just want to vent.
14. Look for reputable private groups or forums for single parents
“I saw something on the news about a private Facebook group for single parents, and I joined it,” says Chris. “My family is great, but sometimes I need to talk to people who are living similar lives and who I know won’t judge me for feeling frustrated or burnt out.”
Amanda, a mom of two from New Jersey, agrees. “Finding an active online group of friends who could relate was key,” she says. “I have a super loyal crew of IMFs as I call them (Internet mom friends) that I am closer to than my IRL (in real life) moms.”
Surviving Single Parenthood is a popular private Facebook group for single parents. Founded by a single dad, it’s been called a “haven” by the parents who are members. They go there for advice on everything from finances and child care to dating as a single parent. The group even holds a Secret Santa event each year where members send holiday presents to the children of other members.
Make the most of these general sanity-savers
Any single parent knows that there just never seems to be enough time in the day. Learning how to prioritize — and outsource — the many things that need to get done is key to maintaining your sanity.
15. Assign chores to your kids
“Give your kids jobs. Seriously,” says Judy. “First of all, it teaches them the importance of work and contributing, but most of all it will save you work and time. My kids are old enough to each make their own lunches every day now and that is a huge timesaver for me in the mornings.”
Children can start taking on small chores beginning in toddlerhood. As they get older, change up what they’re doing to be more age-appropriate. You’ll appreciate the extra help, and you’ll be instilling values in them that will shape them into responsible adults.
16. Utilize time-saving shopping features
“Yes, I use Amazon Prime and it’s worth every penny,” says Kim. “I don’t mind paying for it because it saves me so much time. Need a birthday present for the weekend? I get it there. Basically I’d rather spend a bit of money to save myself the hassle of running all over town for little things all week.”
If you have the money in your budget to spring for some time-saving shopping helpers, go for it. Look into ordering your groceries from a company like Fresh Direct instead of spending that hour at the store each week. If Fresh Direct isn’t available in your area, consider trying curbside grocery pickup or delivery from your local stores.
17. Outsource what you can
“You really need to think of your own time as a commodity,” says Amanda. “See what you can afford to outsource. Can you afford a cleaner twice a month? Do it! Can you get a sitter even twice a week after school? Do it!”
If you have the cash in your budget to bring in help, look into what would be the most helpful to outsource. Don’t feel guilty about having someone else help around the house if you can afford it. It means more time for you and more time that can be spent with your kids.
18. Plan kid-free time for yourself
“My biggest tip is to make time for yourself,” says Judy. “It’s so important, and most of us won’t do it because we feel guilty.”
Pauline agrees: “It took other single moms telling me to do this, so I want to tell others to do it, too. You need time without your kids. It helps you be a better mom in the long run and you deserve it, too.”
Single moms rarely get time to themselves, but that kid-free time can invigorate you and refill your reserves in a way that really matters. Hire a babysitter or ask a family member or another mom to take your kids for a few hours so you can have time to yourself. Get a pedicure, go to a bookstore or just take a leisurely walk by yourself. Making time to do something that is just for you is something you shouldn’t feel guilty about. After all, happy moms make for happy kids!