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4 Smart Ways for Single Dads to Balance Work and Life

4 Smart Ways for Single Dads to Balance Work and Life

As if anyone didn’t already know this, America’s esteemed Pew Research Center relates that half of working parents find balancing work and life responsibilities either “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult.” Even sadder, 46 percent of fathers in the study report they spend “too little” time with their children.

Fathers need time with their children in order to feel whole and full in their family relationships. Time spent with children is one of the most entertaining and enriching activities available to us. As Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told his hometown paper, The Jaynesville Gazette, this past summer, his time at home with family is “his oxygen,” the thing that both drives and centers him.

We wholeheartedly encourage fathers to devote as much time to their children as possible. It’s good for everyone, including the ex-spouse. Use these ideas seasoned single dads rely on to balance work and life.

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1. Create a schedule and share it with your boss and coworkers.

While creating your parenting plan with your co-parent, share your options with your boss and coworkers and ask them to approve ideal hours for you. Once the parenting plan is in place and running, make sure to stick to it from the beginning. If the boss says you need to be at a meeting outside of these hours, mention that you’re fully available from 8:30 to 5:30 only.

Soften the blow by offering to get the meeting notes from another person on your team or have other options on the ready. Plan the scenario and your response in your mind so it flows naturally when the situation comes up. Setting these limits early on helps everyone adjust.

2. Make your identity as an involved father clear at work.

In an interview with NPR, working dad Corey Dade laments the fact that people don’t really ask about his children at work. He’s seen women get phone calls during meetings and leave with no repercussions. He wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing that.

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To make your role as a father plain, find opportunities to discuss what your children are doing; share what they showed you on YouTube or even the struggles of parenting. When coworkers and supervisors get used to your parental responsibilities, the occasional work-from-home sick day or early departure due to a recital goes over more smoothly.

This said, however, don’t fall into the trap of portraying yourself as dad-the-martyr. Don’t jockey for praise about being an involved dad. Most dads these days handle their share of the parenting duties because their ex-partners work part- or full-time, and because they want to have an involved hand in raising their children. Single parenting men and women sometimes present themselves as long-suffering, and it only turns colleagues and bosses off. Be positive about your parenting duties, but don’t paint yourself as a hero for carrying them out.

3. If your job isn’t going to work with a reasonable parenting schedule, find a new job.

In their book The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn and Flourish, pediatricians and long-time child advocates Drs. Berry Brazelton and Stanly Greenspan lay out seven needs that parenting gurus and parents cannot explain away. Number one is the need for on-going, nurturing relationships. Number five is the need for limit-setting, structure and expectations. Number seven is the need for stable, supportive communities and cultural identity.

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While all seven require substantial time investment, just listing these three should convey the energy and time children require. Discipline is exhausting, as any parent will tell you. Setting limits requires creation of those limits and the application of consequences when they are crossed. And yet, children need it and even crave it. Setting up a reasonable discipline program is one of the best things you can do for a child.

Creating friendships in the community and cultural identity involves significant time spent socializing and planning. Friendships wither and die when not tended to. A 60 to 70 hour workweek does not mesh with a parenting style and schedule that provides a child’s basic needs.

This means that fathers determined to be an active presence in their children’s lives may consider down-sizing their job. Some fathers move from work as a partner in a busy law firm to being the in-house counsel at a smaller business. Teachers go to job sharing. Sales people with 100,000 yearly airline travel miles switch to in-office positions or even marketing or customer service. There is no shame in letting others “get ahead” for a few years while you raise decent and happy human beings. Besides going to the zoo and on hikes is fun and expands you as a person.

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4. Find sources of help.

When the divorce first occurs, friends and family draw close asking if there’s anything they can do. Too many single fathers put on a brave face and say, “we’re going to do just fine on our own.” While this is a great message to send the children, keep in mind that many friends, relatives and even acquaintances, may want to play a larger role in your and your children’s lives. A little outside help does not indicate weakness. It shows you’re working to take care of your children’s needs in a responsible way.

If you don’t have friends and relatives close by and/or willing to pitch in, you will need to build your support community. The good news is that America is moving into “the sharing economy,” where community is valued over the size of the house or job title. There’s even a non-profit working to move Americans to more of a focus on family and community rather than material possessions.

The Center for a New American Dream’s Collaborative Communities program helps people engage in their neighborhoods to share resources and tackle projects together. Swapping your availability to take a neighbor child to her soccer game every other weekend could win you a ride home from school and babysitting for the afternoon from a part-time working parent. Kids need to get together and play outside, using their large motor skills anyway. Connecting via video games is one way to be social, but the cul-de-sac basketball pick up game is just as fun.

The good news is that the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends reports also found that Fathers have nearly tripled their time with children since 1965.  If you make your children a priority and are willing to shift your life around, you can find the right balance for you, and your kids.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via image.shutterstock.com

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Peter Mueller

Founder of Father's Rights Law Center

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Published on September 21, 2018

11 Smart Pieces of Advice to Help You Thrive as a Single Mother

11 Smart Pieces of Advice to Help You Thrive as a Single Mother

Becoming a mother is one of the most difficult challenges a woman can take on in her life. Whether this happens the “natural” way, with the help of science, or through adoption, being in charge of nurturing another human being is a herculean task to take on.

Typically, when we think about parenthood, we imagine two parents sharing the responsibility and having each other to lean on. However, according to the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 are being raised by a single mother.[1] This is a significant portion of the population that often gets overlooked.

If you are one of these mothers raising your children on your own, you are undoubtedly aware of the additional challenges that motherhood has placed upon you, including the constant struggle to find sufficient time, energy, money, and support.

For single mothers who find themselves bogged down by their daily responsibilities and struggle to stay afloat, don’t be fooled by the belief that you have to do all. It is possible to thrive and live as a single mother if you take advantage of all available resources and adjust your priorities based on your situation.

1. Find your community and ask for help

As the sole caretaker of your kids, going through the successes and struggles of parenthood can feel isolating and lonely. You have probably developed a strong sense of independence because you’ve had to go at it alone.

Being self-reliant is necessary in many situations that you have to face, but do not fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need support from others. If you have family nearby, strengthen your relationship with them by visiting and talking more often. Find time to catch up with old friends or co-workers, and don’t assume they don’t want to hang out if they are not parents themselves.

Would you prefer finding mom friends[2] who have more in common with you? Use resources like apps, Facebook groups, and community events to meet local moms in your area.

After you have established a support group that you can depend on, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is NOT a sign of weakness or incompetency to admit you can’t do it all, and others are probably more willing to lend a hand than you think.

If you feel uncomfortable burdening others, suggest trading favors such as taking turns babysitting. Because after all, helping is each other is what community is all about.

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2. Make peace with the past

Before you can move forward, you must make peace with your past and not let it define you or rule your life. Whether your journey to single motherhood was through divorce, death, or never having a relationship the father, it is crucial that you leave behind the feelings of abandonment or betrayal you may be struggling with.

You cannot change the past and the hurt you had to endure, but you can use the strength that you gained from overcoming those obstacles to work towards making the best life for yourself and your child. Learn from the past but live in the present and look towards the future.

3. Make plans and set goals

The daily repetition of trying to balance work and home life can make you feel like you are on operating on autopilot. However, it is imperative to set goals for yourself and to keep working towards self-improvement.

In your personal life, you can set a fitness goal (train for a 5k), a reading goal (read 20 books in a year), or a travel goal (take a trip to Europe). At your job, you can set career goals such as gain leadership experience, get a promotion, or earn a degree or certificate.

Spend time creating a realistic plan to on how you can go about achieving these goals. Not only will working towards these goals make you a more well-rounded and successful person, they will bring more purpose and fulfillment to your life.

4. Look for role models

A great way to jump start your plans for the future is to find a role model or mentor who is further along in their life or career experience. This person can be a great resource when you need guidance on what types of goals to set for yourself and how to achieve them.

It’s also important to have people to turn to for encouragement during difficult seasons of life. Someone who has been through it before can provide the most genuine reassurance that tough times will get better and that staying positive is best approach.

5. Rethink your priorities

Single parents have twice as many responsibilities to take care of, so priorities and expectations must be adjusted accordingly.

Know that you are not superwoman and striving for a perfectly clean home, no dirty laundry, and home-cooked meals for your kids every day is not a reasonable expectation. It’s okay to take shortcuts sometimes, like serving your kids cereal for dinner or waiting until the next day to wash the dishes.

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Don’t compare yourself to anyone else and let go of the guilt that you feel for being the only parent that your kids can count on. Give yourself a break and don’t sweat the small stuff.

6. Make time for me time

Even though it can be difficult to find, making time for yourself is critical to maintaining your sanity and well-being. Without a built-in partner to take over, finding time to be away from the kids must be done intentionally and planned in advance.

If you are sharing custody, use the time away from your kids not only doing productive things but also making sure you are taking care of yourself. Sleep, exercise, and balanced diet are not things that can get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Also make time for fun activities, such as hobbies and creative outlets.

Even though being a mother is the most important job you have, don’t let it be the only thing that defines you. Time for yourself is more difficult to find if you are the sole caretaker of your kids.

Use the resources that you have to devote time to self-care, and you and your kids will thank you for it in the long run.

7. Stay organized

With so many things to juggle, great organizational skills are an absolute must in order to keep everything moving smoothly. Use apps such as Mint for your finances, Mealime for meal planning, and Cozi as a family organizer for everything from appointments and shopping lists to after school activities.

Maintain constant contact if you are sharing custody so that it is clearly communicated who will be responsible for what when it comes to your kids. Follow consistent routines in the morning and nighttime so that your kids also know what to expect on a daily basis.

8. Be flexible (Don’t be a control freak)

Although it is important to be prepared and stay organized, things don’t always go according to plan.

When kids get sick and have to stay home or babysitters cancel at the last minute, allow for flexibility by having a contingency plan for childcare and with your employer.

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For example, make a list of people you can call when you need last minute childcare, or talk to your boss in advance about working from home when emergencies come up.

Most of all, don’t let unexpected changes stress you out and ruin your day.

9. Learn to say no (Don’t feel guilty)

Single mothers have limitations in time, energy and resources that families with two parents wouldn’t be able to understand. Because of these circumstances, it’s important you let go of feelings of guilt and stop trying to do everything and be everywhere.

You don’t have to say yes to every single birthday party your child is invited to. Your kids don’t have to be involved in sports and extracurricular activities every night of the week.

Limit the things you do to only the ones that are the most enjoyable and meaningful for you and your family. Doing more things does not make you a better mother; simply a more tired one.

10. Live within your means

When you have to raise your family on a single income, budgeting and spending within your means becomes more important than ever.

If you have outstanding debt that is accruing interest, make it a priority to pay those off as soon as possible. Outlining a budget is the best way to visualize how much money is being spent every month on various things and what is left over.

Find ways to save money on the necessities by looking for sales at the grocery store, buying some things secondhand, planning out meals.

After the necessary bills are paid, determine how much can be spent on luxury items such as eating out, vacations, and going to the movies.

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Don’t let finances be a source of anxiety for you and your family. Keep your bank account in good shape while teaching your kids how to spend money responsibly at the same time.

11. Spend quality time with your kids

The time you spend with your kids is so precious and much more limited as a single mother. Make the time that you spend with your kids count.

Rather than sitting in front of the TV, take them on fun and budget-friendly outings to the park, the playground, or a museum. Use meal times as the perfect excuse to ask them about what they are learning in school and the friends they spend time with.

When your kids ask you to play with them, look at it as a privilege and an opportunity to bond with them, rather than a distraction or waste of time. Be present when you are with them, with no work or multitasking on your mind. Your relationship with your kids will absolutely reap the benefits.

Final thoughts

Being a single mother is not an easy job. That’s why it’s important to use all the resources available to you in order to make this job a little bit easier.

Using technology, an organization system and a supportive community are just a few examples of things you should utilize to your benefit. It’s also important to shift your mindset and be more practical when it comes to things like priorities and finances.

Most of all, don’t forget about your own self care. Only when you take care of yourself can you best take care of the people you love.

Single mothers are some of the most hard-working people out there, and you deserve to have a happy and fulfilling life.

Featured photo credit: Alvaro Reyes via unsplash.com

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