I am a single mother, and I am working really hard to keep it together. I feel drained emotionally and financially. How can I pay my bills, be there for my children, and keep my sanity?
As I often say to women I work with, my heart is always first and foremost with the single mothers. Aside from the responsibilities of providing both emotional and financial support to your kids, you are also handling the many difficult child raising questions that plague most parents on your own. Parenting is a tough enough job with two people working on it, so clearly it’s not an easy task for one person.
Many single mothers feel they have to do it all on their own, and are hesitant to ask for help from friends and family members. You haven’t said whether that description fits you, but it’s important to address. What kind of a community do you have around you? Are you close to your family? Do you have close friends who you can count on when you need a listening ear, a carpool, or someone who can pick you up some milk on her run to the store so you don’t have to pack your kids in the car to do that small task?
The first thing I would focus on is building your support network. Make sure you have people around you on whom you can lean, not just in an emergency, but on a regular basis so you won’t feel so emotionally drained. It’s important for you to have some time alone, as well as some time to be there for your children. Do you have a friend who you could trade child care with so you each get some time alone? Or can you join a co-op in your neighborhood to trade babysitting?
As for paying your bills, this strategy may help you with some expenses as well. As you connect more regularly with people in your community, you may be able to join in on carpools for your kids’ school activities, saving gas and therefore money. If you trade babysitting with a friend or co-op for while you are at work, you can cut down on babysitting expenses. Maybe you and friends can shop together allowing you to buy in bulk (which is cheaper) without wasting as much food because you share it among two or three families. All of these connections can be good for your bank account as well as your mental health.
It is becoming a bit of a cliché among people who offer advice, but in an airplane emergency they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you put on your child’s. You have to take care of yourself before you can be there fully for your kids. So start by getting yourself more emotionally filled up and you will have a lot more left for your children when they need you.
Beth Sperber Richie, Ph.D.