This post was written to help myself make sense of the situation, and hopefully will be helpful for other single moms to overcome their own overwhelm. I offer a few tips and tricks to help make life calmer and more manageable.
Being a PARENT can be overwhelming. Taking the responsibility of another tiny life on your shoulders can not NOT be overwhelming, right? Now try to do that as a solo parent – being the only one responsible for the day-to-day safety, security, happiness, and health of those tiny human beings. In that case, the word OVERWHELM doesn’t even start to describe how you feel.
But because you are singly in charge of the survival of those littlies, you cannot allow overwhelm to defeat you. When there isn’t another parent to pass the ball to when you feel ill-equipped to push it over the finish line, you need to fight back and do it fast. Overwhelm cannot get the better of you.
Why is single parenthood so overwhelming?
The hardest part about being a single parent is not having anyone to step in and take over when you are overwhelmed with the situation.
Many dual parents will argue that being a single parent cannot be that much harder. And I agree – in certain cases being a solo parent can be more of a walk in the park. You know, if you have enough financial resources, staff such as a housekeeper, nanny, driver, someone who helps to cook meals and keep the house tidy and keep a diary of all your kids’ appointments. Then of course, no bigger deal. In that scenario, single parenting should be easy.
Unfortunately, in most single parent households, the picture looks a lot different. Usually, we struggle financially since we more often than not have to run a complete household on the income of one parent. Even if your co-parent helps financially, there are still financial strains. We are also time-poor. There are only so many hours in the day, and you need to divide them between your own work, taking care of the kids, taking care of the house, taking care of the admin, and scrape a bit of time together to also take care of yourself. And the biggest challenge (in my opinion) – disciplining the kids. Especially as a mom this can be hard.
When you are stretched thin, anxious about your never-ending to do list and worried about money/time/discipline/etc. it does not take much to push you over the edge. It might be something small and insignificant, like your 3 year old refusing to undress herself to get into the bath, or your 5 year old refusing to drink the milk she asked for because it is not the right temperature (all real-life examples I might add) that makes you snap.
When you are overwhelmed, small things become big things, and big things become impossible.
Because this is an all-too-frequent feeling, we need the right tools to not only help keep overwhelm from occurring but to defeat it when it rears its ugly head. Tools that you can incorporate into your daily schedule so that you can also become the cool, calm, and collected parent you always hoped you would be.
Tools to help defeat overwhelm:
- Become a list-maker
This is a blessing as well as a curse. When you need to remember all the things, it becomes easy to let smaller appointments or responsibilities fall through the cracks. Lists are great ways to remember what you promised to do, what you should do and what needs to be done. If you combine this with a priority scale, and even a code-system to differentiate between actions, reminders or appointments, then lists become your saving grace.
They become a curse when you keep on adding things to the list and feel your anxiety levels rise proportionally. Lists should not be a fantasy wish list – you cannot just keep adding things to it. Here is a secret very few people know: there is no trophy for the longest to-do list. You are not going to win any rewards. Stop mindlessly adding things.
Your list should read like a goal statement – there should be a clear subject, with a realistic timeline, definite outcome, and a level of difficulty attached to it. Without these things, you are simply listing things for the sake of listing things. And that will only add to your overwhelm.
If you do end up with a long list of things to do, all important, then break the list up into smaller sections so that you only see a fraction of the things on the original list. As you tick things off, you can replace them with new items.
This is my single most important tool, and goes hand in hand with my list-making. When I make my list, I group similar points together, in order of importance. I then schedule time for each of these groups, with a clear cut-off. As an example, I would group all of the actions that can be done on the computer together, i.e. R.S.V.P. to a birthday party, do payments, answer emails, etc. Then I group things that have to do with phone calls together, etc. This way I can tick a few things off without wasting time moving between tasks. For work-related actions this is especially important. I would do all of my social media tasks in the same time slot, then all my post writing, then all my graphic designing. No jumping between different apps or platforms to do different tasks.
This saves you time and helps keep you motivated since you get so much more done.
- Do what is in front of you
This is a trick I learned when I was working 2 full time jobs. I managed a restaurant at night and taught at the University during the day. That meant very little time to do even essential things. So you learn to clean the handbasin while brushing your teeth, wiping the counters while waiting for your coffee to brew, etc. Nowadays I implement this as my “do what you see” rule. When I put the kids in the bath and I see the floor is dirty, I quickly sweep it. When I walk past the laundry basket, I put a load into the machine. When I make tea, I quickly take out the trash. When I sit in front of my computer, I work until I need a bathroom break. Do what is in front of you, and do it consistently.
This way, you don’t need another schedule, another list. You just go about your day and your life, and get things done as they jump up.
- Give yourself grace
Acknowledging that this is a tough season, and that you are allowed to struggle and falter as long as you get up again, goes a long way towards making you feel better about yourself when you inevitably let the balls crash to the floor. Whether you choose this life or were thrust into it, no matter how long you have been doing this, some days are more difficult than others. And on those days, you need to give yourself permission to slow down, retreat or refuel. Whatever you need in order to ensure you have enough energy to go on again tomorrow.
Single parenting is hard, it is overwhelming, draining and tiring. But it is also so rewarding. So get your tools, work out a routine, and smart about defeating overwhelm.