In my early days of life as a single mother, I often felt that if I got ahead in one area of my life (e.g. housework or cooking), then every other area would fall apart. One day in a mad panic to get washing done while giving my son some nappy-free time, I ran downstairs at lightning speed to put a load on. He was playing happily when I left and remained peacefully quiet while I frantically grabbed handfuls of clothes and loaded them into the washing machine. I returned upstairs only moments later to find him creating an impressive poo picture on the lounge room floor. Luckily, the floor was timber, so it was fairly easy to clean, but this scenario presents a dilemma that so many mums are faced with – while you’re trying to get ahead with one thing, in another location not too far away, more chaos is being created.
In those early days, this scenario seemed to become an annoying trend in my life. If I stayed up late making the perfect lunches for the next day, I’d be late for childcare and work because I was too tired to get up in the morning. I constantly felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back.
Over time I learnt that in order to stop chasing my tail, I needed more balance. Of course this is what everyone says… it just took a while for me to really understand what it meant on a practical level. One of the biggest lessons I learnt was that I couldn’t do it all, all of the time. In other words, some days I could be super organised and tick off everything on my to-do list, and others I might only get some (or nothing) done, and that is okay. These days, I’m not so panicked about getting an A-star on all the roles I play in life, but it’s certainly taken some time. Along the way, these are a few key strategies I’ve found to keep my solo mum balance…
When it all feels like too much, just stop:
Instead of fighting your exhaustion and fatigue to face that mountain of housework and parenting duties, make a cup of tea and sit down. I often do this, especially after getting home from a long day at work. Getting home and facing the ‘second shift’ alone can be daunting. I have found sitting down with my son to relax a little while he plays or watches TV can put things into perspective.
Don’t make extra work for yourself!:
Cut corners whenever possible. For example, while you’re in the kitchen preparing dinner, make lunches for the next day, even if you will be at home. Or, if your child is young enough, dress them in clothes for the next day at bath time (Wondersuits are great for this for babies, and soft pants and shirts for toddlers). Cook in bulk and freeze portions for heating up later (especially if you are making your own baby food).
Simplify your life as much as possible:
Ask yourself — do I really need to do everything that I am doing? What can be reduced or removed from my life? Can I afford help? For example, buying your groceries online and having them delivered can simplify the weekly shopping and get rid of the terror of going to the supermarket with children.
Have clear goals and live by them:
Remind yourself of your goals and priorities every day. Write them down and put them somewhere easy to see. Don’t make them impossible though. For a long time my main goal was to finish my doctorate. I would imagine my graduation ceremony and how it would feel to be finished. This kept me going through the long road to writing up my thesis.
Identify your values and try to live by them… within reason:
For example, I am very passionate about minimising my impact on the environment and would angst over every purchase I made during the weekly shop… if it was packaged in plastic, or not ethical or fair-trade or organic, or local etc. It made shopping really hard! Now, I do what I can, which means buying a few products that fit my values, and letting go on the rest.
I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful support network of friends from my mother’s group and during the early days after my separation, they would drop by with food and open arms. At first it was hard to accept help and to allow myself to be vulnerable. But I needed it and accepting that help gave me a lift up in getting back on my feet.
When trying to keep the house tidy, choose to have a ‘tidy zone’:
Rather than killing yourself trying to do a blitz on the whole house, you might choose to keep the kitchen tidy, but let the lounge room be strewn with toys and books for a while. This works really well when you have a young child that needs lots of attention and time. I usually make the bedroom the tidy zone, mostly because it is the least used room in the house and also because I need to have my place of rest uncluttered and clean.
Go to bed early:
Even now that my son is four, I still go to bed with him once or twice a week. This helps me get some extra sleep and re-charge my energy levels.
Practice mindfulness as much as possible:
Mindfulness can help time slow down and can be very rejuvenating. Single mothers don’t have much spare time – if any. We know this. But by practicing mindfulness, everyday experiences and tasks can become joyous and refreshing. For example, when hanging out the washing, get out of your head and look around. Be grateful for something, even something as simple as the sun, clean air or the smell of clean laundry.
Of course, all of these practices are easier said than done, but with some focus and planning they can be achieved. Recently I took some time to practice yoga on the beach while my son played in the sand. I was having trouble balancing because the sand kept moving under my feet. Without firm ground to stand on, achieving the pose I wanted was impossible. It was then I realised that for my life to be balanced I first needed stability, and looking back I can now see that finding that balance was so hard because I lacked that foundation of stability. These few strategies I found along the way helped me start to achieve that stability. It doesn’t always come easily considering everything we have to juggle as single mums, but it is possible. The thing is, that stability and balance go hand-in-hand and self-love is the first step to finding both. If you can find some time every day to take care of you, the rest will start to fall into place.
Author – Rebecca Coates
Rebecca is Mum to her 4-year old son. She lives by the river in beautiful, sunny Brisbane. Rebecca works as a sociologist, and when not at her desk, she can be found doing the things she loves – practicing yoga, drinking coffee, reading books and exploring the beaches and mountains of Queensland.