The life hacks I learned as a solo parent

It’s the catch cry of the toddler, that call to independence all parents hear at some point, “I can do it myself”. It’s the struggle to work out just how to stand on one foot while you get your jeans on, find a toilet in time or work out how to get the blocks stacked without them all crashing down to the floor. It can be the hardest thing to watch, when you know you could get it done yourself so much faster and better, but you know as a parent that it will one day pass and your tantrum-throwing toddler will be exchanged for a kid who can get their own breakfast and get dressed without needing any help.

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It’s an important analogy for when you suddenly find you’re a single parent trying to sort out how to do everything alone, on a fast and furious learning curve. Like that toddler, it can be intensely frustrating and may bring on the odd adult tantrum, but if you work through it, it really does get easier. There is no doubt about it, parenting alone is a big job. To make it easier on both you and your children, here are some ideas you could try.

Start and end with gratitude

Being thankful for the good things, no matter how small, will remind you that you can and will do this well. If you struggle to remember anything to be grateful for, keep a list you can add to. Before you get out of bed be thankful for your little list, then do the same at the end of the day.

Be kind to yourself

Adding pressure to your job by filling your head with all the ‘shoulds’ you need to achieve to keep your kids happy and healthy doesn’t actually help. It makes things worse. Having a bad day? Make cheese on toast or eggs for dinner. And dishes can wait until the morning if needed. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.

Get your kids on board

With just you, the jobs mount up. Even young children can pick up toys. Have regular jobs, and reward their work with the thing they want most of all – more free time with you. Create a real sense of team.

Set boundaries that suit you

If your children are spending time in two houses, this is especially important. Make it clear what behaviour you expect and what your house rules are. Children will adapt to two different parenting styles, if necessary.

Talk it out

Stress builds up if you don’t have people to work it out with. Find other solo parents to talk things over with, family members and friends. Off-loading helps relieve the pressure.

Put yourself in time out

Finding time for yourself is one of the most important coping strategies you can adopt when you are a single parent. And no, going to work does not count. Though money may be tight, there are a few good ways to indulge yourself to get the time out you need. If you have young children, establish regular bedtimes and have an adult-only time rule after a certain time of the night. Single parents need to have some child-free time in their house that is unwinding time.

If you can’t afford to pay for childcare but need some time out, find another parent to swap babysitting times with. Make a list of free to low cost things you can do such as going for a walk, having a coffee, or reading a pile of magazines in the library and book in regular ‘just you’ time.

If your children have regular time with the other parent, avoid the temptation to fill every child-free moment with social engagements. The luxury of a night home alone, in a quiet house is often far more beneficial than a night out with friends.

Taking kids out with you

Going on outings with your children is an excellent way to spend time with them. However many of the fun, free activities on offer around the country such as community festivals and public concerts can attract huge crowds that can make taking your kids there feel far too stressful to try. Here are some tips to try to help you feel more comfortable.

Give your kids a heads up

Talk to your children before you go about the fact you may need to leave early or miss some things due to parent to child ratios, or the mix of ages with one parent. Children cope better with pre-warnings.

Be clear on expectations

Be very clear on expected behaviour boundaries before you leave.

Be prepared for almost anything

Take water bottles and snacks to keep the cost down, and if it’s a night-time event consider putting younger children in pull-ups. Taking a pushchair not only gives tired kids somewhere to sleep, but gives you a place to park bags and have more hands free.

Go with others

If you can go with other families, do so. Alternatively introduce yourself to parents sitting nearby so if you need to make a toilet dash you don’t need to pack everything up.

Choose your spot strategically

For seated events park yourself near a toilet. It makes life a lot less stressful if you can keep your children in sight all the time.


When you get there, take three long slow breaths, roll back your shoulders and relax. Going out to an event together is only fun if the parent is relaxed.

Know when to ask for help

My all-time favourite story after my separation was purchasing a set of bunk beds for my children and putting them together by myself. Finding they arrived unassembled, and with instructions that stated it was a two-person job, I almost caved. But the kids were eager to try them and I didn’t want to let them down. I had bruises on my arms and legs for weeks, but I’m still proud of that accomplishment more than two years down the track.

A few months ago I bought a sofa off TradeMe. I picked it up and drove the trailer down my drive, and then realised I wasn’t going to be able to get the sofa in without help. I was furious with myself, and with the situation. I didn’t want to ask for help. I wanted to do it all myself.

Three days later, the sofa was still sitting in the trailer in my driveway, I caved. I emailed a pile of people offering baking in return for help, and someone responded. Two hours later I had a sofa in my living room. I learned then that sometimes we can do beyond what is expected and it feels good, but at other times we need to ask others for help. And it’s not the end of the world – in fact it makes our job easier! Asking for help doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you’re normal. I can live with being normal.

Book a session with a Family Coach

family-coachSometimes family life is way more challenging than we had ever imagined. We would like it to be a lot more enjoyable, if only we knew how. Family coaching is designed to meet you where you are at, whatever stage you are at on your parenting and relationship journey. We want to be on the journey with you. To find out more and to book a session, click here.