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4 sanity-saving tips for single moms

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

For the solo mom

About once every eight weeks or so my husband goes on a terrible work schedule for a short period that means I'm essentially a single parent for about two weeks. And I have never had so much respect for the real single moms.

Busy mom making dinner

Even though he sleeps at home during this time, I can't depend him for anything. I am every pick up, every drop off, every need, every crabby day, every signature needed, every everything. This wacky schedule is infrequent enough that it disrupts everything and we can't seem to work it into our routine, but often enough that it's not a novelty. And at the end of these stretches, I am plain exhausted - I have more and more respect for single mothers.

I honestly don't know how single moms do it. I ask my single mom friends and they tell me, "What choice do I have? I just do it!" That's very true. One of these friends did note that single mom or partnered mom, the stresses seem to come to disruptions in the regular routine - and I have far more of that than she does.

You'd think that with having this regular disruption (though with long intervals) we'd be used to it by now - and in some ways we are. In other ways, we are never used to it. Just when the regular routine settles, it seems to be time to disrupt it again. It happens too frequently to just make these solo parenting stretches just a fun time, and too infrequently that it feels normal.

Weekdays versus weekends

During these solo parenting stretches, I find weekdays easier that weekends. During the week, we have school to help us maintain a very regular schedule, and the kids' other activities.

During the weekend, there is far less of a concrete schedule - and, it seems, far more to do. Our regular weekend light cleaning seems to take twice as long with only two less hands and feet. And because of the looser schedule, we all notice the absence of Daddy that much more; the kids ask about him nearly constantly. So I feel a bit like chopped liver - in addition to missing him, too.

>> Find tips here on getting kids to help with the housework

Keep a regular schedule

As much as possible keep your regular schedule. In addition to making sure all the usual stuff gets done, this is also an easy way to mark time through this temporary single parenting time. When all the "usual" stuff happens, the transition can be (but isn't always) less problematic for the kids. Again, this is likely a little easier with the regular weekday routine.

>> For stress-free mornings, check out these 10 tips for getting kids out the door

Cut back, say no

A single parent can do so much - but she still can't be in two places at once. Even as I try to maintain regular schedules, I do have to cut back some usual activities if it would mean picking up my oldest after the younger ones should be in bed, or has some other conflict. This is disappointing to all of us, but it's realistic. If you can't seem to maintain the full range of activities without undue stress, you can back off from them temporarily.

Plan one fun thing

Try to find a time to do a fun, special thing with the kids. Whether it's a favorite nature walk or a trip to a local museum, doing one out of the ordinary thing on a Saturday afternoon. It doesn't have to be big or expensive, just something. It can also help keep minds away from the missing parent.

Get some help

As almost anyone can tell you (and you know yourself), you can easily run yourself ragged trying to do everything yourself. It's just impossible. If you have a household set up for two parents, one parent trying to do all of it just isn't realistic. Ask for help, if you need it - from picking up or looking after the kids for a short period to just a friendly voice encouraging you through this time. Better yet, hire a sitter and take yourself out to the movies to recharge and regroups. When your temporary single parenting stint is over, ask that same sitter back so you and your partner can go out together and reconnect.

>> How moms can get some much-needed help

Plenty of moms have spouses who travel anywhere from often to rarely. Even though you are quite sure you'll survive this temporary situation doesn't mean it's easy. Parenting is hard, even with four hands on deck. With a little bit of a plan going in, it may run more smoothly for you.

For those moms who are going through a divorce, read How to manage joint custody, for tips on a smooth transition for both you and the kids.

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