Being a working mom is hard. Being a single mom is hard. Being a single, working mom has its own set of challenges and there are days (a lot of them!) that are downright hard. You’re the breadwinner, the child-rearer, the chef-on-demand, the housekeeper, the family accountant, the keeper of the calendar, the on-call taxi service and, on top of it all, you’re expected to literally and figuratively show up for work.
The pressure to juggle it all is huge.
You’re not alone. There are nearly 15 million single moms in our country. The U.S. has the highest rate of single-parent households. 78% of single moms are employed in some way, and 2/3 of these women are working outside the home.
As a single working mom, I know firsthand the challenges of single parenting, employed parenting and the intersection of the two. For the past 5 years, I’ve raised two children and held a full-time job plus multiple side hustles. Balancing these careers with the demands of raising children solo through their elementary-age and teenage years has been overwhelming at times.
Here’s what helps me balance the pressures of single parenting.
As multi-tasking mavens, we often feel like we can do it all. The simple truth is we can’t. It’s impossible to be everything to everyone, every single day. When someone asks what they can do to help, be honest. What would help most? A few hours of childcare? A meal? Help with the yard work? All of these offers of help have been extremely appreciated in my own life so that I can begin to bring my work and life priorities back into balance.
It takes a village
There are times when you may need to be away from your children for an after-hours business meeting, a work trip or may not be able to make it to school in time to pick them up. These situations are less stressful, when they happen, if you have a shortlist of people you’ll call on if you need a hand. It’s a good idea to have a few different contacts who can help out, especially if a request is on short notice.
Prioritize mental health
As single moms, we often place our own needs last. This can cause us to get burned out as we try to do it all for everyone. Recognize the signs that it’s time for a break and honor that need. It can be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes for a coffee and a phone call with a good friend once a week.
Counseling can be incredibly helpful for single, working moms. My time in therapy gave me a dedicated time and place to process difficult feelings so that I was able to be more present when I was with my kids. Even now, five years into the journey, this is a helpful tool that makes me a better mom.
Build a community
Whether you share custody of your children or you have them full-time, single parenting can be incredibly isolating. Despite the statistics, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only single mom in your circles. This was the case for me. If you feel the same, it’s time to start an additional circle! See if your employer has an Employee Resource Group dedicated to single parents, or take up a new hobby that will allow you to meet new people.
I began practicing yoga. This gave me an hour of time where I couldn’t think about work or the challenges of single parenting because I was completely focused on learning a new skill. This small amount of me-time each week makes a huge difference.
Find a supportive employer
Moms make great employees. And great employers recognize both the value and the needs of working moms. Flexibility is incredibly important for single moms who may need to leave early for school pick-up or must handle all the doctor’s appointments on their own.
It’s important to voice what you need, especially if there aren’t a lot of other single parents in your workplace. If you need to make a change to your schedule or the scope of your position, advocate for it. Be prepared to present a solution that will work for both you and your employer.
With flexibility though comes responsibility. It’s important to keep your schedule as consistent as possible so that your team knows when they can reach you and when they may have to wait. At the same time, be firm in your availability. If you have a flexible schedule, it can be incredibly tempting to check-in after hours or respond to emails on the weekend to let people know you’re working as much as they are. Beware of setting this precedent.
The most important lesson I’ve learned as a single, working mom is to extend myself grace. Some days, I slay. Other days are a struggle. This is the natural flow, and it’s okay to have off days. At times, I have to prioritize my career by working late and ordering takeout for dinner. Other times, I prioritize my children by politely declining meeting requests that overlap with my designated parenting time.
I’ve learned that I’m a more present mom and a more effective employee when I compartmentalize. As much as possible, I designate and stick to working hours and parenting hours. Timeblocking my schedule (scheduling time on my calendar for the most basic things like cleaning the house or answering emails) can be especially helpful if I’m feeling like I can’t find time for everything I need to do in a day.
I personally struggle when my attention is divided as I try to work and raise children simultaneously. If feeding my children a quick dinner of frozen chicken nuggets means I can focus the final 30 minutes of my workday to wrap an important project and start the next day on the right foot, bring on the dino nuggets!
You do you
The dynamics in each family are different, and your career path is unique, too. What works for one single mom may not work well for you, but the good news is you’re not alone and can tap into a huge support network of single moms like you. Join support groups at work or church, connect with people on social media who have a similar story, or start a new hobby that allows you to meet new people. Most of all, find the work-life integration that works best for your family, even if it looks different than what works for other single moms.
Kristin Bustamante is a senior marketing executive, brand storyteller and content creator with a serious love for side hustles and the ultimate punny headline.