How to manage the mental load of single parenting


Being a single parent is tough. But since you clicked on this article, you already know this. To handle the mental load of single parenting is a challenge in and by itself.

Single parenting comes is all sorts of shapes and forms. Whether it’s really ‘just’ a one-parent-family situation, whether we co-parent or whether we do the main job, but have every other weekend to ourselves. It is challenging and rewarding at the same time.

While all parents carry a lot of mental load managing their family life, single parents have a couple of special challenges added. If your child searches for their most beloved snuggle toy, well, there is only you who can help to locate it. When it’s time to schedule a doctor check-up, only you can set it up. Talking to their teacher? You. Remembering to sign up for soccer practice? You. Keeping an eye on updating the wardrobe when they outgrow it? You. Organizing a present for a birthday party that your child is attending? You, you, you, you. Families with both parents sharing a household have to fulfil those tasks as well and more often than we care to admit, these fall onto one parent alone: mom. However, in those cases, that parent can turn to their partner at the end of a day for emotional and mental support. Single parents lack that.

If you are co-parenting with your former partner, it’s not like it makes it that much easier. Someone still has to handle all those things and on top of that coordinate with someone else to avoid both of you handling it or none.

While all families are unique and have their own set of rules and ways of handling things, what unites us is the need to parent, to manage and to love. To have the energy to give our children all the emotional stability they deserve and the attention they need, there needs to some capacity in parents to provide for that. The more mental load we carry, however, the harder this is becoming.

So here are some tips that work for me to unload the weight of things we carry mentally…

10 minutes before bedtime drill

Engage your children in a 10 minute tidy up routine before bedtime. Thereby they learn that tidiness is important, but moreover, it distributes the job on more shoulders than just yours.

You can even extend that to cleaning. Children need to see first hand that managing a household is not something that magically happens, but that requires attention and effort. When your children experience what it takes to make sure that a place is clean and that there is food on the table, they learn very valuable life skills that help them along the way when they move out. Essentially this is ‘leading by example’. If you only ever clean or do the grocery shopping, when your children are at school, you might get the short term benefit of those tasks not eating into your family time. In the long run however it means that your children don’t realize what it takes to manage a home. Most kids don’t mind having a ‘job’ in the family. Make sure their tasks are age appropriate and you will see how much pride they take in executing those jobs. The benefit for mom: you are not the only one who has to run after everyone and are not the only one in charge of a tidy home.

Declutter your life

One of the reason we can feel overwhelmed and exhausted derives from having too much on our plate. We aim to fill too many to do’s into the 24 hours each of us are given per day or that we simply fill our lives and our homes with too many things. Therefore, give yourself a bit more breathing space by decluttering your life.

Prioritize your to do list. What is truly important and has to be done? What is nice to have, but can wait? What is something you do, that’s just adding stress, but doesn’t serve a real purpose? For example: if your child has a school party and you agree to bring some snacks, if you have time to make them from scratch, great, if you don’t, store bought is just as good and kids really don’t mind. That’s an hour of your time, you can safe, if need be. These things are nothing anyone will judge you on – other than yourself maybe.

Write your weekly or monthly to do list and add each to do to one of these three columns:

High priorityMedium PriorityLow priority

This achieves two things. You will realize what’s truly important and what isn’t. You will also have a much better overview on what to tackle first. It will free your mind to not have 100 things on your mind, but maybe 10 in your written high priority list. There is also great apps out there to do this digitally, if it helps you have the list with you during your day.

You can’t have it all and you don’t have to have it all

By the way, decluttering your life also works with regards to other activities. One of the greatest falsehoods of our time is the assumption that we could have it all, if we just do the right things or have the right mindset. Spoiler alert: we can’t. The fact that we can’t has nothing to do with our mental strength or not wanting it enough. Life is not perfect. You are not perfect. That is okay. We have been fed the narrative that we can have a great family, a successful career, the perfectly toned youthful body, the rich social life and the wonderful relationship all at the same time. Not only that we can have it, in fact, but that it is something we should thrive for in order to live a truly meaningful and happy life. I would argue that a happy life is more likely to be found in learning to love imperfection. Whatever imperfection even means. If you were to actually aim for having all of those things I listed above and for them to be perfect at the same time, you would burn out pretty quickly. The fact that most of us moms indeed feel burned out is proof to the fact that we indeed see this as the golden goal of life. To unload this mental stress of thriving for perfection, give yourself permission to opt out.

Give yourself some literal breathing space

If you let your eyes wander through your home. What do you see? It takes energy for your brain to process all those many decoration items, untidy areas and chaos that surrounds us. This energy is lacking for other parts of your life.

We know that children have an easier time to study, if they can do so in a calm environment. That’s why many of them prefer to do their homework at the dining table rather than at a desk in their room with all their toys scattered around. Adults are not that different from little children in that regard. We are just living in older bodies.

After you tucked your children in bed, take a big box and walk through your living room. Place ALL items in there that counts as decoration items. Take a second box and place all items in there that you randomly placed on cupboards, tables and shelf for quick access. Now that you cleared all surfaces, there is much less that demands attention from your eyes. Then take a look at your deco box and only select a handful of truly meaningful pieces and give them a prominent place in your room. Because here’s the thing: we have a tendency to just accumulate things that look pretty/nice/fancy/you name it, just because, not because we actually have a need for it and the value of decoration items diminishes when we have too many of them scattered around. We tend to notice the individual elements less, if they increase in numbers. Less is more and your mind will thank you as there is less going on in the room that your brain needs to process. Besides, it makes keeping your place tidy and clean so much easier.

As for the box of non-decoration items, give each of those items a new permanent home that is accessible where you actually need it. Ideally, this home is in a cupboard or a box where you can’t instantly see it.

In addition, when it comes to furniture, give preference to a chest of drawers or a cupboard instead of an open shelf system. Even for your books. Make your home a calm, peaceful place for your brain.

Let the wave wash over you

Give yourself some credit for all that you do all day to keep your family thriving, but also allow yourself to feel exhausted and overwhelmed at times.

I like to compare those moment to a wave that catches you at sea. You have two options. Fight it, ultimate get worn out and drown or allow it to wash over you. Letting the current carry you down and ultimate back up again. I think about that wave, when I sit there after a long day and just feel like I am so tired and doubt myself. Then, I allow the wave to wash over me, by crying and letting those feelings out. It’s like I cleanse my system. There is no need to always tough it out. Be weak and in moments of weakness create the base for coming out stronger on the other end.

There is wonderful song by Bryan Martin that I love listening to as the lyrics resonate with me: Beauty in the struggle

Don’t shy away from seeking help from others

If life becomes overwhelming navigating work commitments, family life and your own private life, don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s something I certainly had to learn. Ask your friends to babysit for a night, get a regular babysitter to make sure you have an evening off mommy-duty. Share your struggles and challenges, especially with friends and family. Those are people who love you and know you and might therefore have valuable advice on how to approach things in a way that fits your personality. Moreover, if you reach a point, where it all is just too much, consider talking to a professional. This can be a coach or a psychologist – either for yourself, your children or both of you together. We don’t always have to have all the answers ourselves. It’s okay, to tap into other resources. They are out there, all we have to do is make that leap of faith and try it. In the worst case, you loose a bit of time, if it doesn’t work for you. In the best case, you find a great contribution to building up strength to handle the mental load of being a single mom-ager.

A new kind of weekly date night

Single parents face the dilemma of being alone while never being alone. It can be incredibly draining to be ‘on’ at all times. So much so that returning to work on Monday can feel like you finally get a break and can ‘relax’ a little. While you do the washing, clean your place or fix the loose wood panel, your children still want your attention. All children do, but especially children that went through the separation of their parents need attention.

That being said, I once read that the average 4 year old asks about 400 question on any given day. Some of these questions are as benign as ‘what colors do I need to mix to make green’, others are more complicated. All of them require time and a thought process.

Therefore, make sure you prioritize some alone time in the evenings. Sure, it is nice to chat to a friend, but actual time when no one requires your attention, no child, no friend, no family member and no job, is the time that you can truly recharge. Unlike your friends with partners who can discuss their mental load with their significant other, all you can do is let it all go for a couple of hours before you go do bed.

So I encourage you to set up one date night a week with yourself.

On that date night, have a glass of wine, while watching a cheesy rom-com, have a few tasty truffles or some ice cream, wear your favorite extra cozy onesie. In other words: pamper yourself and yourself only. Whatever pampering looks like for you. Make this date night a fixture on your weekly schedule. Like every Wednesday. Also: don’t you dare sneak in a load of laundry or emptying the dish washer during date night. That’s an order.

Establish a weekly meal routine

Set up a food plan for each meal of the week. Add a few highlights to that list like taco tuesday, fun food friday or soul food sunday. The benefits. No need to think about whats for dinner as you simply follow the plan.

Moreover this enables you to set up a shopping list for groceries that results in less trips to the store. You can simply get everything of that list in one big haul a week and thereby can forget about grocery shopping on the other 6 days of the week.

This approach also helps you save money as you can set up the meal plan in a way that you don’t end up with left over produce. If you only need half a zucchini for monday night dinner, you can simply add another meal that uses the second half. Shake it up every one or two month by exchanging a few meals from that list.

This might seem minor in the light of all the things you have to have on your mind as the momager of your tiny tribe. However it does help managing your mental load big time as thinking about what’s for dinner takes up a surprising amount of time. So make food one less thing to worry about.

As a side effect, you might overall eat healthier as a result of this. Preplaning dishes means you have time during the set up of your list to thing about wholesome, tasty and nutricious options much better than when you make the split second decision while picking up the kids from school.

Don’t forget to check out my other posts about moms health and relaxed parenting.

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