When I had my son, I honestly didn't know what to expect and the chaos that'll follow.
You get plenty of advice beforehand, and though you think you've got it figured out, you really don't, until you're actually going through it. Juggling work and parent life is difficult and definitely a bit of a struggle.
For me, personally, juggling was something I had to get used to and work out for myself. One of the best ways I found that helped me is to simplify my life by combatting life's clutter. Simplifying can mean many things to different people, to me it was getting rid of the things I didn't want or need and having a more organised way of life so I could truly focus on a healthy, happy, productive life for my son and me.
Initially, I thought that identifying what's truly important in my and my child's life was the first step, but instead, I found it easier to first discard what was not important and work from there.
Here are 7 tips that helped me in simplifying my life as a single parent;
01 - SIMPLIFY YOUR HOME
Decluttering is the best way to simplify your home, especially when you have kids. Decluttering would mean you'd have less cleaning and putting-away to do daily. Take one weekend every month to declutter - give away, throw out or sell things that are no longer needed in your life - clothes, toys, furniture, decorative items, crockery, books....anything basically.
I strongly stand by Marie Kondo's "Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy."
Even when you see something in the store that instinctively you'd like to get, take a minute to think if you really need the item and how it will benefit and bring value to your life. If you can justify it, then go ahead.
Decluttering my home this way has not only saved me money but time. Not only my home is decluttered, but my mind is as well so I can focus on the more important things. I have one less thing to think about and more time with my child.
02 - PLANNING & ROUTINES
I'm a planner by nature, and I'm thankful that I am, as planning, as stressful as it seems, will in the long term cut your stress levels drastically.
As a working single mom, planning has saved me time on many occasions. Whether it's meals, school pick-ups and drop-offs, grocery shopping, filling gas, going to the bank, homework, work, meetings, outings, family gatherings, laundry and anything else that I had to do, big or small, having a plan helped me a great deal.
I'm such a pain in the ass about planning that I have a route map in my mind for grocery store visits so I know exactly what I'm getting, at which aisle, so I don't waste precious time. Maybe that's just going a bit overboard but hey it worked for me. It saved me time and I was out of there before my son had the opportunity to get bored or throw a tantrum!
Bear in mind; plans can and will change and, sometimes, it can throw you off course, but that's fine - make adjustments as and when needed!
In addition, having a routine and structure was beneficial during my son's younger years. He learned to expect certain activities at certain times - breakfast, playtime, story-time, bedtime - we were routined to a tee. This helped in reducing stress, anxiety and tantrums.
03 - BE REALISTIC
Striving for perfection is hard work and most times, unrealistic. Being a parent, especially a single one is not easy, and we all have our own struggles. It's pointless to strive for perfection when you know whilst trying to do it, you're also trying to contain yourself from having a meltdown.
Instead, be realistic about your expectations. High expectations can lead to disappointments which leave us feeling like shitty parents, incapable of anything much when all we're actually trying to do, is, our best.
Set up realistic daily routines that you can actually follow and create some space to allow for some modifications if these routines seem unachievable.
Be kind to yourself!
04 - PAY YOUR BILLS ON TIME
Monthly bills come around every month, and sometimes, we delay payments, at least I used to, especially when my son was much younger and finances were a bit tight.
Delaying doesn't mean it'll go away it just means it's still there, still on your mind and you'll get around to it when you get around to it. Why create that headache for yourself when you can set a time and date where you sit down and clear all your bills - one less thing to think about.
I've had times when I've delayed paying my bills, and it rolled over to the next month, and before I knew it, my electricity was cut. Having a baby with no electricity in the house is not a pleasant experience. I had to stay with my parents for a few days until payment was made and reconnection was done.
Making sure your bills are paid on time will also avoid the unnecessary hassle that comes with it.
05 - PICK YOUR FIGHTS
I may have had moments in my parenting life when I wanted to strangle my son. When he was young, he was an incredibly picky eater. Not only was he picky but, he took a long time to finish a meal, like an hour-long, long. I read all the books and took all the advice, but my son would rather starve than sit for a meal. It used to be an endless battle, with both of us just ending up frustrated and angry.
After many years, (yes, many - actually many, many years, I tried so hard!!) I decided, it was no use fighting him and just letting him eat when he was actually hungry. Not exactly the best but I managed. I ended up more relaxed - I trusted that he wouldn't die nor be malnourished. We were both happier.
Now he eats well, but refuses to make his bed or clean his room - it's never-ending really!
Sometimes children demonstrate many 'testing' behaviours and attitudes. I decided earlier on that this is just part of their process of growing up. It's always better to try to understand the whys first before you jump in head first to try and correct it.
If we keep fighting with our children over everything, we'll all be in for an emotionally draining and exhausting time, not to mention the effect it'll have on our relationship with them. I learnt to ignore the minor issues and only focus on the more significant ones. As they say, don't sweat the small stuff! It will keep you sane.
06 - CREATE A BUDGET
Being a single parent and in a one-income household, comes with its own challenges especially when you're struggling financially.
It's daunting trying to take control of your spending and planning for the future, but it's not impossible. It is especially prudent to start with a simple but realistic budget.
I did this from the beginning, and I must admit, it was hard to stick to, and most months I was off here and there, but it allowed me to have a bigger picture of my finances and track my spending.
I succeeded in living within my own means though barely, but I didn't have anything left-over for savings. Only over time and little by little, did I manage to start a savings fund.
Tracking my expenses meant I knew in which areas I was spending too much and to fix my spending accordingly.
07 - ASK FOR HELP
As a single parent from the very beginning, let me say this, it's not easy doing it alone. If you have done it, then I salute you!
For me, I asked for help left, right and centre. It was due to my long work hours and/or I had to travel for work in many instances. In some way or another, my whole family has stepped in to help and support me and I'm grateful to have had them be willing to do so.
As soon as I knew it was getting a bit difficult for my family to always be on standby to help, I sent my son to daycare. It was not an easy decision to make, but a decision I had no choice but take.
The fight you have within you, needing to work and be with your child at the same time is something all working mothers go through. It can't be avoided, but it can be managed. Feeling guilty when asking for help is normal but should be put aside, especially if your choices are limited.
Enlisting other people to help out just means you are trying to be a better parent because, with their help, you can at least be rest assured that your child will always have someone taking care of them. Nothing slips in between the cracks of your child's childhood.
Yes, I have missed out on certain milestones in my son's life, and I used to beat myself up for it, but then again, my circumstances were such that it was impossible for me to choose to be a stay-at-home mom and I've learnt to accept that. Though I was not there with my son, someone who loved him just as much was, to celebrate these milestones with him.
I believe that there's no such thing as the perfect parent. We are all trying to do our best, the best way we know how. We are all trying to find our way to be better parents. We all make mistakes. We all do things that we regret. Just learn from your mistakes and move on and, forgive yourself.