Being a single parent can be one of the most exhausting yet joyful experiences a person could have. You are burdened with the same challenges as a two-parent family—but you’re doing it alone! You get to do all of the work, yes. However, you also reap most of the rewards.
I am a single parent, and I have often been asked how I can remain so happy and energetic while juggling two children, work, and all of the responsibilities of a household. The truth is that I have always felt empowered by being a single mother. I’ve gained strength from knowing that I’m in control of the bulk of the decisions in my life and my children's lives. I have also found great joy in immersing myself in activities with my children and have appreciated the chance to share those moments with them.
A study published in the Journal of Happiness confirmed exactly what it is that I have been feeling, stating that single parents are just as happy as their married counterparts in spite of the fact that they have more challenging circumstances.
Very few of us plan to raise our children alone. Part of the challenge is the adjustment of going from a co-parenting household to shouldering the responsibilities on our own. The way most seem to handle it is by putting our own wants and needs aside and immersing ourselves in our children. While this seems altruistic, if you deprive yourself of the self-care and nurturing you need as an individual, it will eventually have a negative effect on the family as a whole.
Read more: Why Self-Care Isn't Selfish
Our well-being as individuals has a huge impact on our ability to be a truly focused and motivated parent, because when we don’t take care of ourselves we wind up burnt out and depleted.
After raising my kids as a single parent through most of their school years, I have a lot of reasons to be happy. My kids bring me great joy, and I have a lot of pride and pleasure about how well we have managed and thrived as a family. That said, there were definitely struggles and times when I felt angry, sad and even scared. Throughout the process, I have leaned on certain tools and ideas to help lift my spirits and get me back on track.
1. Get rest
To start, you need to make sure to carve out time to rest. Try to eat nutritious meals when you can and make sure you drink lots of water during the day—as a single parent, you have to treat yourself almost like an endurance athlete!
Once the kids go to sleep, curl up with a good book, indulge in your favorite TV show or escape into a warm bath—whatever you do, don’t waste that precious downtime! Every so often, ask a friend or family member (or your ex-spouse, if possible) to watch the kids so you can have some time alone.
2. Build relationships
As a single parent, you often need to rely on the kindness and assistance of others. Pull in those people that you know that you can count on and ask them for help as needed. One of the best things you can do as a single parent is build relationships with other single parents so you can help each other. I had a friend who is also a single mom, and we took turns occasionally watching each other's kids so that the other could have a break. We also took the kids out together so that we could have another set of adult eyes and hands around. Our kids had fun, we had companionship and we knew we could rely on each other.
Read more: 10 Ways to Build Community
3. Set goals and prioritize
It is much easier to accomplish a lot of tasks and to keep from feeling completely overwhelmed by it all if you’re organized. Make lists, keep a master calendar, establish plans and constantly evaluate your goals and priorities. If you need help in this area, ask people you know or professionals for guidance.
4. Enlist the help of your kids
Have your kids help you with age-appropriate chores. If they can wash a dish, assign them that task. If they’re too young, they can clear the dishes from the table. Teach your children that they are important and responsible members of a family. Chores are one way they can do their part.
5. Find positivity during tough times
Sometimes the schedule is hectic, the kids are screaming and you’re past your limit. In those moments our minds start saying, “I can’t do this,” “My life is too hard.” I know it’s hard, but see if you can flip the emotional switch and think of something positive: that you are in good health, that you manage to pay your bills each month or that you have the kindest next-door neighbor. When the kids themselves are driving you crazy, focus on the positives about them: They’re great at math, they gave you a thoughtful birthday gift or they make you smile when they smile.
After all, they are the reason we work so hard—and the source of our greatest happiness.
Read more: Parents: The First Role Models
Stacy Kaiser is a licensed psychotherapist, author, relationship expert and media personality. She is also the author of the best-selling book, How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know, and an editor-at-large for Live Happy. Stacy is a frequent guest on television programs such as Today, Good Morning America and The Steve Harvey Show.