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Trying to stay sane when parenting alone is tough – trust me, I get it. I’ve been solo parenting for close to five years now, since my husband passed away. Some days are amazing! Fun! Production! Yet others can be dumpster fires of regrets and hard feelings. I’ve learned the best way how to stay sane when parenting alone is to prime yourself – think of these tips as under armor to help bolster your ability to keep yourself, and the kids, from flying off the handle. You’ve got this.
- Get up half an hour before the kids
- Drink water first thing in the morning and throughout the day
- Be gentle with yourself
- Practice yoga. Aim to do it daily
- Choose your battles
- 10 minutes, 100% focused on each child
- Aim to walk with the kids as much as possible
- Leave a clean sink – do the dishes every night
- Save aside an hour to yourself once the kids are in bed
Daily Goals - How To Stay Sane When Parenting Alone
Get up half an hour before the kids
Pretty self evident, right? Mornings are always such a rush when you have kids. Splash water on your face, do a quick teeth brush. Running to the kitchen to get breakfast ready. Dashing back to gather their clothes for the day. All while sipping at your coffee which has somehow gone cold.
Remember how easy it was to get ready and leave the house before you had kids? You just…got ready and left! Now, everyday is a challenge to get everyone out the door, hopefully with pants (though, on particular days a particularly willful child will be allowed to go out sans-pants – at least until she gets chilly enough to willfully put them on).
By getting up half an hour earlier than the kids, it gives you breathing room to have a shower, put makeup on, get dressed while listening to the news and sipping miraculously hot coffee. By giving yourself a peaceful morning to prepare, you’re also in a better mindset to deal with all the craziness once the kids wake up. It might even make the mornings a little less crazy. Until the oldest remembers he had homework to do five minutes before you have to leave.
Drink water first thing in the morning, and throughout the day
I don’t know whether it’s the house that we’re in, but since we’ve moved here three years ago I’ve been waking up terribly thirsty. My mouth is sticky, and it feels like my tongue is half dried up. So the first thing I do now is grab a big glass of cold water and drink it all in one go. As the ritual morning craziness proceeds, I continue to drink water (along with my coffee) until my mouth isn’t a desiccated piece of leather. Since I started routinely drinking a large glass of water, I’ve been feeling much more energized and healthy.
Turns out that there’s some science behind this! There’s benefits to drinking a hot glass of lemon spiked water, but I’m partial to the coldest water possible. Even as a kid I loved eating snow (spoiler – I sometimes still do). It’s also important to keep drinking throughout the day, which considering that we’re 55-60% water kinda makes sense. I keep a Swell thermos beside me – it keeps my water ice cold all day, which encourages me to drink more. There are also apps that can help you track how much water you’ve drunk throughout the day, and will ping you reminders to drink up.
Be gentle on yourself
Life can be hard. Raising kids is harder. Doing it on your own is ridiculously crazy! But you’re doing it!! There’s going to be times when you have no idea how you’re going to get done all the things that need to be done. When the dishes are piling up, the laundry piles are mountains, the fridge is empty, you haven’t had a shower in days and the kids are climbing the walls because it’s been too rainy to kick them outside. There are going to be moments when you make a parenting mistake (lose your mind yelling at them to STOP!) – but that’s okay. You’re human.
Be gentle on yourself when those days happen. The kids will forgive you for yelling (don’t forget to apologize), the dishes will get done – eventually, and instead of going grocery shopping because you’re too overwhelmed it can be a pizza night. You’ve got this.
Practice yoga. Aim to do it daily.
There are so many benefits to practice yoga. Most of all, it helps you center your mind. Mindfulness is a skill that can be essential when dealing with kids alone.
Yoga is great for getting in some exercise. I used to weight train everyday, and didn’t consider yoga to be comparable. Once I started practicing, I was amazed by how much I was sweating after a practice. My muscles got a great workout, and I was able to focus on particular muscle groups that I needed to strengthen.
Plus, it can also be a great family bonding time, if you can accept that you’re going to be a jungle gym.
Choose your battles
This one was a hard one to master – wait, what am I talking about! I’m still working on mastering it on a daily basis! But boy is it good on the mental load.
As a parent you want to feel in control of your kids, cause you’re responsible for their well-being. At the same time, your little humans also want to feel in control of themselves. Can you blame them? You as their parent are constantly telling them what to do, when to do it, and to leave the cats alone. Your little want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it, and gosh darn it that cat really needs to be dressed in doll clothes. And they want it right now.
It’s gotta really suck to feel like a puppet with your parents holding the strings. Sure, they need boundaries to make them feel safe, and that’s your job to enforce them. However, sometimes when you’re facing your screaming little head on, the battle isn’t worth it.
Okay, gimmie some examples
I’ve referred to it above, but my little girl is truly a warrior. She is a head-strong, determined bundle of fierce when she puts her mind to it. Her record tantrum is 45 minutes long – that was at 2 years-old. I’ve been learning how to work with her, not against her. At her age, her emotions can take over all rational thought – so it’s my job as the parent to be the calm, rational brain she can’t tap into. Which means that I have to recognize when my hackles are up just because hers are, and whether it’s really worth fighting over.
I’ve learned that instead of fighting with her to put on her jacket when it’s snowing outside isn’t worth it – she wants control, she can have it. I’ll just bring the coat along for when she decides that she’s cold enough to wear it.
This translates into so many different occasions. She really wants to bring Angry Baby* to school? She can – as long as she’s kept in the office all day. She insists on painting her entire body? No problem! As long as she has a bath afterwards.
Overall result, happier mommy, happier kid, and we’ve successfully laid down mutual lines of respect. Plus, there’s the added bonus of learning about consequences. See what I mean about being good on the mental load!
*Angry Baby is a very scary realistic doll which Warrior fell in love with, and deserves her own post. Check out this fabulous baby here.
Spend at least 10 minutes, 100% focused on each child
What all kids desperately need is to feel like they are the center of your attentionYou, and if you are an only parent only you, are their world. They need to feel safe and secure, and in order to feel that way they need to know that they are the most important thing right now. Not their sibling. Themselves. So, how do you try to circumvent bad behaviour from unsettled kids? You try to connect with them as much as possible to make sure their attention well is full. You need to be the proactive one, get them filled to the brim with love before they even realize they are starting to run a little dry. The first place to start is to spend at least 10 minutes, 100% focused on each child. Whatever they want to talk about, or be silly about, or even just to be there in silence with them. Each child, ten minutes of 100% devotion. Start there. Need something to do with them? Fun.com is stock full of fun games and activities you can use during bonding time. Try to do this hourly in the time that you have them (barring school and other activities). If you get busy for a few hours, then top-up their wells with some extra minutes the next time you can connect. It’s a habit that can be easy to remember, but hard to follow. Especially on the days where everything is too much and the kids are acting crazy and you’d much rather lock yourself into a closet from them than give them attention. However, I’ve noticed that when I do check in hourly with them, the days go much smoother. It’s when I neglect to when things start to fall apart – myself included. Better to spend 10 minutes 100% focused on each child, then trying to calm all of you at once. You’re all much better otherwise.
Walk with them as much as possible
I like to joke that mommy needs her daily walkies or else she goes nuts. I am so not a dog person, but I do have two kids who need to run off their excess energy as much as puppies do. One will literally climb the couches and cabinets, while the other hunkers down into videos and will snap at any loving affection. Both clearly sending signals that they need to go outside, now!
I don’t have a car, so we use pubic transit and walk. A lot. I try to get biweekly pedicures when I can, and at my last appointment a new girl tried to convince me that it had been much over a month judging by the size of my calluses. I just walk, and walk, and walk.
Which means the kids come with me.
Exercise for the whole family
The little one I plop in a Outdoor Utility Wagon that I tow behind me – I did the same for her brother at her age. She’s much too independent for a stroller, and the wagon has the room to hold our backpacks, or groceries, or cat food, or sometimes all at once if I carefully arrange it. It also allows her to jump out and run if the need overtakes her, only to flop back into the wagon two blocks later.
Her brother is big enough to walk beside me now, which at first he grumbled at but now enjoys to spend his alone time talking my ear off. Gives him the exercise he needs. Plus when his sister is taking off in a blur ahead of us, he can flop over the side for a rest until she comes careening back. As I mentioned, we walk a lot.
This exercise is great for all of us. It’s become such a part of the routine that when we were self-isolated for the Covid-19 Crisis the lack of twice daily walkies hit us hard. We ended up running circles around the house for an hour everyday to get our steps in. Better moods, better connections, better sleep. Get out there and walk your pups!
Need some motivation? Install Pokemon Go on your phone and catch them all. Go bird watching. Stomp through puddles. More ideas coming in a future blog post.
Do the dishes every night - leave a clean sink
I’ve never been a slob – trust me, I’ve lived with a few – so I’ve never been particularly dirty. However, I haven’t always been as clean and tidy as I could be. I didn’t even consider that leaving a few dishes in the sink was a big deal.
A few years ago, I was staying temporarily at an old work acquaintance’s house. Tristan and I were renovicted from our current rental, I was still newly widowed, and the rental market for a single income mother wasn’t too easy to navigate. My old co-workers needed someone to house-sit while she spent the weekdays away for personal business. She and I were on good terms, and agreed that we could co-habitat weekends for a couple of months until I secured housing.
She insisted that the dishes be done and at least in the drying rack every night, and the sink clean. I thought I did my best, but there were several Friday nights when I found out the next morning that I was a bit lazy. To be honest, at the time I felt like I was a scolded kid but it was her house and her rules. She was my authority in this domain. So I got my head together, and really made an effort to do the dishes every night and get that sink clean, regardless of how exhausted I was.
It stuck. Now, if I go to bed with dishes in the sink I feel it, and the first thing I do in the morning is clean every last one of them while sipping my coffee. Preferably, I try to make an effort to get the dishes washed and in the rack to dry. There’s a sense of calm and satisfaction in having a clean sink when you go to bed. Then, when you wake up in the morning, it’s shiny and sparkling good morning to you. A good start to the day.
Save aside an hour to yourself once the kids are in bed
Once the kids are in bed, your day isn’t done yet. There’s still the dishes to do (see above), plus so many other chores that you weren’t able to get to, including prepping for the next day. A parent’s work is never done!
Knowing that tomorrow will bring more crayons to pick up, leave what you are able to until the next day. It is so important to save aside an hour to yourself. Take off your parent hat for a bit, snuggle up to watch some Netflix, read the latest bestseller, chat with some friends online, or work on your blog. The next morning will be here before you know it, and you’ll have to be full-on mom again. Take this hour to be YOU again.
Take a day to yourself
Remember the airline stewardess’ safety routine? If the air pressure changes and the oxygen masks drop down, put it over your own face first. You need to take care of your health and well-being to be able to take care of your kids’ needs.
Your mental health needs this.
Book one day a month off from work. That’s 12 days off. Can’t afford it? Figure out what you can, and book what you can. The point is to schedule mommy-time in your calendar that you can look forward to when things are rough. Kids love looking forward to their PD days – you should be able to have planned days off too.
Kids in daycare or school? Drop them off as usual. No school or daycare? Make a deal with a fellow mom to watch them for the time. Offer a weekend day in exchange. And wine. Most mothers totally understand the need for a break. Besides, they’ll listen to her better than they do you – it’s just nature.
The day of, don’t even mention that you’re taking the day off. The little stinkers will want to crash your solo party. Don’t feel guilty. They’re learning important things today. You’re relearning important things too. All good. Just get out there and enjoy the few hours that you have kid-free.
What? Kid-free time? What am I going to do with myself?
Scheduling the time in advance also gives you space to daydream about what you’re going to do with all this time. Maybe you’ll catch a matinee of that blockbuster you’d never bring the kids to. Maybe it means a long walk through a park, or a long overdue trip to the art gallery.
My go-to is Body Blitz, a therapeutic water spa. Their water circuit includes a warm Dead Sea salt pool, a eucalyptus steam room, cold plunge pool, infrared sauna, and a hot Epsom Salt pool. The first time I went was as a birthday treat from my mother and younger sister, and since then I’ve made an annual visit my traditional birthday gift. I’m terrible at relaxing. Each time I go, I start off sitting in the first pool trying to will myself to relax, but by the end of the circuit about an hour later my mind, and body, are putty. It’s soooo worth it.
They offer wonderful treatments like body scrubs or mud bakes, and a long list of massage options. If you can afford to treat yourself, I’d highly recommend one of the Body Glows. The treatment deeply nourishes and hydrates the skin to help restore vibrancy and firmness. Being taken care of instead of being the caretaker is extraordinarily releasing. Plus, the water circuit is included for free.
Eat at your favourite restaurant
Are you sick of McDonald’s or pizza for a family’s night out at a restaurant? I am!
There is nothing wrong with letting the kids choose where to go now and again. It gives them power over their choices, and can (possibly) guarantee that they will eat the food in front of them. However, your kids’ tastes might be a bit too pedestrian for you. For example, my kids just started experimenting with adding mustard as a hotdog topping while I’m into adding blue cheese to my burger. There are tricks that you can use to help encourage their willingness to try new foods, but that’s for a later post.
The focus of this post is about you, and you deserve to treat yourself to eating at a favourite restaurant. If you can, book your table during your day off. This way you don’t have to worry about keeping the kids in their seats – you can focus on the peace and quiet, and the food. My go-to’s are Indian or Ethiopian cuisine. Yum!
What if you are obligated to bring the kids?
Here’s the thing though, you might not have a chance to take a meal out by yourself. I absolutely get that too! I rarely get a night off, but I’m still craving my Garam Masala. So, here’s a solution for you. Try to find a restaurant you like that is near a tried-and-true kid’s favourite.
Before you head into Fill-in-the-Blank kid’s choice, make a quick detour to pick up something from your choice first. Bring it into the second place, and happily eat your meal while the kids fight over who has less fries. Family-friendly places are usually understanding and won’t give you a hard time about bringing in outside food. You’re probably a regular at this point anyways, so they know you’re good for it this time.
Don’t feel comfortable sneaking in food? Then do it in the privacy of your own living room. There are so many food delivery apps to choose from, and most will stop by more than one take-out spot. Install Just-Eat on your phone, order your extra-spicy burrito from Burrito Boys and the kid’s choice of meal. You’ll all be happily eating dinner, without the mom-guilt.
Check your budget
This is something I struggle with, which is funny because at my day-job as a Project Manager one of my primary responsibilities to be on top of the budget. I’m meticulous at it. Maybe it’s because it’s not my money I can divorce my personal self from it, but I’m really good at my work budgets. At home, honestly I stink.
What’s the biggest struggle I have? Actually paying attention at my expenses and how it affects my bottom line. It’s so much easier to blind myself to my bank statements. I have a general idea of what my income vs. expense are, but that’s really based on my fixed expenses. I don’t keep track of the incidental expenses. I should.
How to fix this problem before your bank account runs dry? Monthly check-in’s. Every month you should look at the details of what you’ve brought in vs gone out. Check where your gaps are, and make a plan to address them next month.
Review the upcoming month's calendar
As the kid’s activities come in, mark them on a calendar. There’s too much to keep in your head already. Health appointments? Mark those too. Library books due dates. Homework deadlines. Don’t forget about your day off! Put them on all on a calendar.
If you’ve been consistent in marking these dates down, then once a month look forward to the overview of what is expected. I’ve used this idea in my bullet journal, and it really helps to get a macro view of what to expect for the month. Having this overview will help you figure out a strategy on how to conquer them all. Don’t be surprised to discover a forgotten upcoming appointment when you flip the month page over.
Get a haircut/manicure/massage
Self care also includes how you look and feel. It’s very easy to push your own needs aside for your kids, especially when they might seem frivolous. They’re not. Getting a haircut to clean up your look makes you feel put together, gives you confidence. Over the past three years I’ve gone from having long blonde hair to a short red pixie cut on my quest to have a low-maintenance look. It’s certainly easier to wash and style, however it demanded a regular trim. This taught me that as important it is to have the kids’ hair look great, mommy has to look stylish too,
The same deal with a manicure or pedicure. I never really cared for them before, but starting going to a salon to break my nail biting habits when Warrior was a baby. After a year of using acrylic nails, I switched to BioGel, and then six months later my natural nails were long and strong and beautiful! My monthly salon visit gave my cuticles and skin around my nails time to heal so there were no longer any bits of tempting bits of skin to gnaw off. My nail biting habit was broken, and I became enamored with great manicured nails. So worth taking an hour a month (or bi-weekly if you can) for a mani-pedi.
Can’t go outside? Get a manicure set for home use, and use it. Get the kids involved – personal hygiene lesson taught, and kids happy with the experience.
Go on a kidlet date
You’ve mastered the 10 minutes, 100% focus technique, but guess what. The kids want more. So, give it to them.
Once a month, set aside time for a one-on-one mommy/son/daughter date. Each kid will rotate turns to make things fair. Then for the next few hours you can both pretend that you only have one child that will get 100% of your attention for this extended period of time.
Kids need to feel connected to their parent to feel safe. By taking this time to refill their attention meters, you’re proactively staving off bad behaviour and meltdowns. You’ll enjoy this individual time to rediscover your kid, see where they are in their headspace, connect to them on the most basic level.
Stuck inside? Try to spend time with the older one when the younger naps. Make a plan for what you’re going to do together beforehand.
It’s so true that it takes a village to raise a child. Then why do this all on your own? Take advantage of the resources around you to keep you, and your kids, sane.
I’m compiled the resources that I swear are life savers. I promise you, you will not lose mommy points for using them.
Invest in a bi-weekly cleaning service
If I was to define the three essential needs to have a healthy, happy mom life they would be: food, sleep, and a cleaning service. Really.
We live in a tiny two bedroom apartment, so you wouldn’t think that it would take much to keep neat and tidy. You’d be sorely wrong. I try to stay as organized as possible, and pick up after myself and the kids, but I swear the stuff breeds. Even with daily cleaning schedules and chores for the kids, the place is usually in semi-disaster mode. It’s exhausting.
When I was on maternity leave, my cousin gifted me a cleaning service to help me get through the next few weeks with an infant and a four year-old. Once I realized how indispensable they were, I’ve never looked back. Most of the time, the place is a mess – but twice a month I’ll come home to a clean house. The floors are shiny, the dishes done, the living room table cleared off, all of the various kids’ toys organized and put away. It’s AMAZING.
The service I use is Merry Maids (CDN / US). They are reliable, professional, and immaculate. Best of all, I can afford their services, which as a sole-breadwinner is super important. Go to their website to get a free estimate, and tell them that Sarah Gallagher of Toronto sent you. I’m confident that you’ll want to sign up for bi-weekly cleaning after you walk into your house the first time after they’ve been there.
Take advantage of a delivered meal kit
I love cooking, and I love grocery shopping, and I really could spend a lazy weekend afternoon menu planning. Except, I find it trying cooking with the kids if we’re on a tight schedule (we usually are), I hate grocery shopping with them because it takes forever and we end up with more than I intended, and I never have a free weekend afternoon to properly menu plan.
About a year ago, I decided to try out a box. Out of the many options out there, I decided to try out Good Food and Hello Fresh. They both offered a highly discounted meal kit box, containing 3 meals for 4 people. I meant to try them on consecutive weeks, but because of a technical malfunction (likely mommy-brain) they both showed up on my doorstop at the same time. Although this meant that my fridge was overstuffed with food, it gave me the advantage of testing out the meals against each other.
You can read the full review in an upcoming post, but in the end I chose Hello Fresh.
Honestly, both services were great with mouth-watering recipes, but I found that the meals offered by Just Eats were more appealing to my kids. Considering that it was my job as a parent to feed the critters, it made more sense to get meals they might actually eat.
Use apps to your advantage
I know, the idea of giving your kid an excuse to stare at a screen brings some reluctance, but let’s face it: technology is here and imprinted on our lifestyles now. Instead of watching YouTube unboxing videos or TicTok, let’s use the tech we have and use applications to your advantage.
There are so many good ones out there, that probably need their own round-up post. For this article, I’m going to focus on two key ones that I use everyday.
Endless Learning Academy
I discovered this gem of an app when my son was a preschooler, and in hindsight should really have stuck with it. It’s a cute little app for kids aged 2-6 that’s robust in learning applications. There’s modules on spelling, reading comprehension, math, music and Spanish. My son was enamored and would spend a whole hour at a time on it. In retrospect, I should have continued the monthly subscription as I haven’t found anything that engages him as much as this app did, and he’s now in Grade Three.
So, Warrior receives a benefit from Second Child Syndrome as I’ve signed up again. This time, I’m sticking with it as she shows even more enthusiasm than her brother. The characters they designed are adorable, and each module builds up the learner’s knowledge at just the right pace, without frustrating students. So important! Check out their site for more info.
Have at least two babysitters on call
Okay, so that’s pretty much it. That’s my handbag of tricks – at least the absolute essential ones. I really hope they help you as much as they help me.
Do you have some trick or wisdom that you’d like to share with the group? Comment below! We all need more techniques to stay sane while parenting alone.