I am happy to finally report that I just published my Down and Dirty Survival Guide for Newly Single Parents on Amazon Kindle (Kobo coming soon!). I decided to cull what I consider to be the most succinct and most needed advice into 21 easy to reference tips into a short guide.
The first phases of single parenting can be a mixture of feeling completely overwhelmed by the tasks that lie before you, and the being(s) so dependent on you. Sometimes you may actually feel relieved that you don't have to consult anyone else in your day to day decision making process as a parent. It depends on your situation of course. This guide is meant to help people - both women and men - navigate these first phases.
I entitled it the 'Down and Dirty Guide' mostly because it's short and gets to the point (sorry, fairly G-rated, except for a brief section on online dating). Who has time to read War and Peace when you just want some quick tips and inspiration for getting through the early days of flying solo in the parenting seat? I cover a range of topics from building a tribe, automating your financial life, questioning conventional wisdom, and getting a dating life, to name a few.
I'd be grateful to hear any feedback, or any topics you think I might have left out. I will upload a revised edition to incorporate future suggestions in the not too distance future. Please feel free the first few pages of it here….
"It takes a village to raise a child."
– African proverb
No. 1 - Build a tribe
So basic as to almost go without saying, but none of us can do everything by ourselves. We need friends, family and community. You might have any of these in varying degrees, depending on your circumstances, but forget any kind of superhero complex you might have, and reach out to those who might be able to help you, whether its having a shoulder to cry on, bitch and moan to, or help with childcare, it all helps. There might also be a church or community center, after school program or even community library, which might be a safe-zone or offer support of many kinds for you. In my hometown the local library plays host to many latch-key kids who come there directly after school and hang out, doing their homework with their friends, until their parent picks them up on the way home from work. Sometimes the librarians have to shush them and remind them not to get too rambunctious, and while some might see this as abdicating the responsibility of parenting to librarians who shouldn't be expected to chaperone their children, I would disagree. The library is meant to be a public place for public usage, kids and adults alike, as long as they can comport themselves in line with acceptable behavior.
I have found, through my travels, that libraries can differ widely in countries so of course it will depend on where you're reading this. In the United States, you could spend hours in most libraries as they are warm, welcoming places, with desks and living room like chairs, bean bags, nooks and crannies to curl up in and read or work. Here in the UK, they are for the most part much more utilitarian; you come, get your books, and you leave. But here you are likely to find more local community centers or leisure/sports centers where kids can come on their own and spend time after school hours.
Building a network is not just about where your kids go or things to do with them when you are working, other than the obvious choices of school and after-school care programs or clubs. It is also about finding people who are in similar situations to yours and figuring out you can help each other. If you belong to a church you might have a built in network there, but this is not a viable option for everyone. Here are some ways you can build a tribe of support for you and your kids:
--Collect responsible babysitters and create a spreadsheet with their contact details – 13 to 16 year olds make the world's best babysitters, and good boy babysitters are like gold dust. At this age, girls and boys alike are eager to make their own money, prove their responsibility, and are not yet too caught up in a high school social life or heavy duty academic work (some, but not all!).
--Create a babysitting network with other single parent friends, offering to supervise someone else's kids for an evening on a rotating schedule with all people offering same.
--Use social networking wisely. Join or create a Yahoo Groups in your area or local Facebook page for single parents. You can swap ideas, services, potluck dinners, meet ups, recommendations on providers, the list is endless and can provide connections if you don't have built in ones through family or your kids' friends, where frankly, most of our friends come from in these childrearing years.
"Housework, if you do it right, will kill you."
– Erma Bombeck
No. 2 - Stick to a schedule
I am actually the worst person to advise sticking to a schedule as I find it hard to do myself, if it is not already imposed by school and working hours. Nevertheless, I find that having a rough plan, even if we end up veering off of it, is a great place to start. I am a huge fan of To Do lists because they help organize my thinking, prioritize, and it just feels so good to be able to cross things off the list, even if it's just a trip to the dry cleaners.
Schedules give rhythms to your day and can help you feel in control of things, even when on the inside you might feel just slightly out of control. Not to mention that kids like to know what things are happening when, even if they are young enough that clock-time is irrelevant to their daily existence. So trying to have dinner, homework, bath-time, bedtime, whatever elements of your day that are staples, at fairly regular times, will help everyone in your household feel more grounded and at ease. And when you know you can finally sit down and pour that glass of wine or have that Bengal Spice tea after 9 o'clock, trust me, it makes getting through those last few hours of the day that much easier. Oh, and just forget the housework, other than the Erma Bombeck basics: if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?
Get it on Kindle here! (paperback also available)
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, life renegade