Single Parents: A Survival Guide

by Jenny Harrington


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If you are recently divorced or widowed, it can be tough to make ends meet while playing the role of both parents. Throw in economic duress, low education, and having to return to the workforce and it may seem impossible. Yet it isn't, and hopefully these tips will help.

  1. A job is often the most daunting task, especially for someone who hasn't worked since starting a family. The good news is that there are always jobs available, even in hard economic times. Do not be ashamed if you must work at a fast food establishment or other service job for minimum wage. Many of these are national chains that offer wonderful benefits, such as tuition assistance, insurance, paid vacations, and promotions from inside the company. Find something in the job you enjoy, and be the best employee you can be.

  2. Childcare can be hard on any family, especially if the children have not been exposed to it before. First, make a list of any free or low cost resources you may have. If you have relatives nearby that are willing to look after your kids, you are very lucky. The next option is to mine your other single friends for childcare. If you know someone who works nights and you work days, perhaps you can trade childcare "shifts," or several single parent families can work out a childcare co-op. Don't forget your friends who are not single. Many stay-at-home moms are willing to make a few extra dollars watching your kids after school and this can be less expensive and less traumatic than a traditional childcare center. Take her out for lunch occasionally and make sure she knows how much you appreciate her help, even if you are paying her.
  3. If your only option is traditional childcare, look into any state or local programs that may offset the cost. Community centers, Head Start programs, and childcare assistance are available and it is no shame to use them if you need them. Research the center thoroughly, and observe the teachers and care providers before enrolling your child to make sure it is a good fit.

  4. Affordable housing may seem impossible, but it isn't. If your income is very low, look into any programs available. Be aware that using these programs may put you into an area with high crime and bad schools, and you may have to be on a waiting list. It is usually easier to find affordable rent from private landlords, and they may be more willing to lower rent for someone who they can trust to take care of their property. Deposits can range from a set fee to first and last months' rent. With a private landlord, you may be able to work out an arrangement of adding extra to your rent for a set amount of months until the deposit is covered. Deposits on apartments are usually lower, and if you choose that option, you may be able to afford to live in a nicer neighborhood for less. You can also team up with another single parent and rent or purchase a home together. This can work especially well if you work opposing shifts, as you can also alternate childcare. Make sure you have house rules you both agree on and a planned way to discuss and handle any new situations that may pop up.
  5. If you own a home already, the payment and upkeep may seem daunting. You may need to get a roommate or team up with another single parent. You may need to sell your home and buy or rent one that is more affordable. Be proactive and contact a financial counselor or your bank before you fall behind and the bank contacts you.

  6. Do not allow negativity to consume you! Though we often feel events are out of our hands, such as a divorce or loss of a spouse, the way we react to them is completely up to us. Join a support network, stay connected with your friends and family, or join a group of people with similar situations. www.meetup.com is a wonderful tool to find or start groups going through the same situation as you. When bad things happen, many people have a tendency to withdraw from their community. Do not be one of these people! Community is a great tool for someone suffering hard times. A burden is easier to shoulder when there are many helping hands.
  7. After a divorce, avoid negative talk about your former spouse. This harms your children and colors your view on your current situation in a negative light. If you must vent, vent to a trusted friend that understands that your words are never to be repeated. If you collect any support, monetary or otherwise, from your former spouse, always express your thanks. When situations arise because of joint custody, stop and consider your reaction before blowing up. Is cake for breakfast once a month really worth letting yourself get upset and add unneeded stress to your life? Perhaps it would be easier to explain to your children that different homes have different rules, such as mom's home, dad's home, and grandma's home. If you decide that a problem must be addressed, give yourself time to calm down and come up with a list of possible solutions that both parties can agree to. Negativity can be the largest hurdle to overcome, and can hurt you financially as you compete for your children's love and control over a situation you feel you have no control over.

  8. Goals are important. Make a list of goals that you would like to achieve. Do not worry if they seem far-fetched. Review the list weekly and implement one strategy each time to bring you closer to your goals. Small steps can lead to big things. Goals give you hope and purpose, and can make a tough situation easier if you can use it as a stepping stone to something you want.

Finally, do not feel guilty for any of your choices. Do not spend money because you feel guilty that your children are in childcare or because you can not afford to send them to camp. Instead, schedule a picnic or another no cost outing with your children. Do not ignore your own needs because of guilt. Do things just for you, such as taking classes online, taking a bubble bath, or indulging in a hobby you enjoy. Being a single parent is full of challenges, but you can succeed at every one with the right attitude and a plan.


Jenny juggles her online business with her family and many interests. She believes the good life is available to everyone willing to work for it.

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