Working as a single parent

When kids are at school, a schedule is really important. Make sure to plan some together time too. Our family has a ‘special night’ each week to look forward to together, and the kids help decide how the time is used.

Turn chores into a game so they are done when the kids are awake, and you can put your feet up when they’re asleep. Failing that – let them watch TV while you’re doing the chores!

Whether you’re already working, about to start a new job or still looking, single parents have a lot to think about: juggling caring for your child, your home and bringing in an income alone.

It would be unusual not to feel a bit stressed and even overwhelmed at times with everything you’ve got to keep on top of. Single parents we work with have given us some tips about what can help.

Talk to others

Lots of single parents feel like they have to do things alone. It’s OK to ask the people in your life for support and understanding. That includes your employer.

  • Talk to other single parents. It can help you find out more about what works and what doesn’t, and most of all, it can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Ask for help from friends and family. Take up any offers of help.
  • Swap with other parents, share childcare; school pick-ups and drops-offs, shopping, play dates. Your children will be occupied if they’ve other children to play with, and you’ll get a break when it’s your turn not to have them.
  • Talk things over at work. It depends on your employer, but you might be able to get some flex in your working day: starting later and finishing earlier, or working from home for some of the day (perhaps in the evening when the children are in bed).
  • Imagine the best possible work-life balance. It may be possible, and you won’t know unless you ask.
  • Have a few ideas up your sleeve about how you will manage if a child is sick or if there’s some sort of pressing deadline at work. Is there anyone you can call on at short notice? Will your work let you catch up in the evenings when the children are in bed?
  • If you’re under pressure, talk to your children and explain what’s going on for you. But avoid taking your stress out on your children: give them time and connect with them.

Useful links

Stick to a routine

  • Have a good routine so that you and your children know what to expect. Some children like visual planners or charts which show what they need to do in morning before school or nursery, like: eat breakfast, brush teeth, wash, put on clothes, remember bag and lunch box. It can help them feel responsible for themselves, and it gives you more time to get yourself ready.
  • Make your routine as simple as you can. For example, preparing and freezing meals at the weekends ready for the week ahead, getting the children to get their clothes and bags ready the night before will help.
  • With any challenge you face ask yourself: what is the simplest way to do this? Try to have as little pressure on yourself as you can.
  • Accept that your to-do list probably won’t get done, or not all of it anyway. The house might not be the way you want it a lot of the time. You probably can’t do it all even if you want to. The main thing is for you and your children to have some good times together.
  • Make looking after yourself a priority. See our self-care tips for more about how make sure you’re OK. Even if it’s only five minutes a day, give yourself some ‘me-time’.

Useful links

  • Wisdom for Working Mums has blogs, resources and a podcast which might help give you some inspiration for coping with the challenges of working and being a parent at the same time.
  • Daddilife, a parenting website for fathers has a section on dads at work, with guides, resources and blogs.

Find the right childcare

Most single parents want to work. If you are responsible for all the childcare, it can make it more difficult to find work and childcare to fit your needs.

It’s important to find suitable, affordable, decent childcare that suits your family. It could take a lot of effort and calling around to find the right fit for you and your child(ren).

  • Think about what’s most important for your children, yourself and childcare:
    • Your child’s needs including any additional needs. Is the childcare set up for this?
    • Opening hours: do you need flexible childcare for changing shifts? Do you need somewhere that’s open early, late or over lunchtime?
    • Costs: do you need a provider that offers free early learning and childcare (ELC)? (See useful links for more about free ELC.) Some nurseries have limited spaces for ELC.  
    • Location: near your home, another child’s school, your work or college? Somewhere you can park or is on your bus route?
  • Visit as many childcare providers as you need to until you find somewhere you’d be comfortable leaving your child. Weigh up the pros and cons of different types of childcare and decide what’s best for you and your child.
  • Things to consider when you’re choosing are:
    • What does it include, like snacks, outings and so on or are these extra?
    • Do you need to pay when you’re off work?
    • What’s in the childcare provider’s Care Inspectorate report? 
  • If you’re not able to find work because of childcare, especially if you have a baby or very young children, think about what you’d like to achieve over the next six months, one year, two years … This can help you keep positive about your future.
  • A good way to think about your ‘goals’ is to write down three columns on a bit of paper headed ‘What’, ‘When’ and ‘How’. Then write down everything you can think of under each heading.

Useful links

Work and mental health and wellbeing

Working can be good for your mental health. It gives you purpose. It can boost your confidence. It connects you with other people. It brings variety into your life. It also gives you an income. If it’s a decent amount, it can mean you don’t worry so much about money.

On the other hand, work can be stressful. If things aren’t going well at work, if you’re dealing with mental health issues more generally, or finding it hard to cope in other aspects of your life, going to work might feel like a stretch too far.

There’s lots of advice and support on mental wellbeing at work and what to do if you’re finding it all too much.

Useful links