The single mother’s survival guide

My daughters’ father and I separated a few years ago and, while it was not what I had planned in life, it is a thing that happens to many couples and families. After a bit of an adjustment period, with some rather rough patches, I have actually learned a ton of new life skills and have possibly become a stronger person because of it. I thought it might be interesting to share a few things I have learned along the way: things that have made my life as a single parent a lot easier and actually quite enjoyable!

BE ORGANIZED: I think it was Courtney’s husband who once told me that the reason he was so organized was because he was actually quite a lazy person (Apologies Michael, if I am quoting the wrong person). A truer word has never been spoken: a bit of organization makes life a LOT easier. Now people knowing me will laugh at this point, as I am one of the least organized people on the planet. But everything is relative and even at my very low level, being organized has made life a lot less stressful. Small things like setting the breakfast table in the evenings, getting clothes for the whole family ready at night, having a shower at night and not in the morning, ordering food online and pre-cooking dinner for the following days is important to a single-parent household. We can’t just pop out quickly to the shops if something is missing nor do we have the spare time to choose an outfit for work when we are trying to dress and feed two children in the morning. At one point I started putting my girls to bed in a a pair of leggings and a t-shirt so that in the morning I just had to slip a dress on top of them and they would be ready — basically I try to come up with things that will just make life run a little bit more smoothly with a bit of forward planning.

LOWER STANDARDS: I think it’s quite normal for single parents to try to do way too many things to compensate for the lack of a traditional family set-up, as we (or I) constantly feel guilty. But it’s not worth it. I have tried to decide on what is important to me and what isn’t. Turns out that a lot of things are not that important. My kids have turned up at birthday parties with the present wrapped up in magazine pages because I had run out of wrapping paper — nobody cared. We have had pasta with olive oil for dinner, because I didn’t have the time to buy food… and the kids survived. Sometimes their clothes are not ironed and perfectly co-ordinated or their hair is not properly brushed. Sometimes guests have turned up and the beds have not been made yet or the dishes washed and stashed away. I have officially decided that this is totally ok!

GIVE YOURSELF A TIME OUT: This point is essential and yet the one most of us totally fail at. Because most single parents work full time and deal with kids and everything else, we have relatively little time for ourselves. It is very important to somehow find the time even if it seems impossible. The problem is that if we don’t find some space to do something for ourselves we burn out, which is no good for anyone. I have tried many things: yoga, tennis, weekend away, massages and going out. I have not been able to keep one thing up consistently, but I have found that even just trying out new things and planning adventures has kept me a little bit more sane. The one thing that is easy to do is to simply walk for a good 20 mins with some good music on. Even if I am just walking along the metro line to work, it does clear my head!

Anyway, these are just little things that work for me. If you have other tips for what works for you, please share!

– Emilie


Comments (27)

Jeannie Lorenz
March 12, 2012

It is so validating to read your comments, Emilie. All that you say is true – no one person can do everything, and it’s key to set time aside to have fun with our little ones, and to rejuvenate ourselves. Having said that, I think I’ll take your advice and go for a walk. You and other readers may enjoy a book called “Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunch Box: Cut Yourself some Slack in the Age of Extreme Parenting” by Sandi Shelton and Ann Dunnewold

March 13, 2012

Walking with loud music is key 😉 love the sound of that book!

March 12, 2012

Bravo Emilie! I was raised with my mother and two sisters during my most formative years (until she remarried) and I have respect beyond bounds for single mothers. We are always too hard on ourselves and it is such good advice, for single and married mothers alike, to know that we are doing enough. I appreciate these pearls of wisdom!


March 13, 2012

This is all so true. My husband is away for work on a long term basis and I’ve now experienced the single parent life for just a month or so. But I can recognize my life so well in what you are describing, Emilie. Thank you for that!

Gaila Calvo
March 13, 2012

Thank you for this post, Emilie!. I’ve been reading the blog from the beginning and my family situation has changed through these years. My partner (father of my now five year-old daughter) and I separated a year and a half and I am still getting used to our new life. At the beginning it was very hard, partly because I did not expect it and partly because, suddenly, I had to start looking after my child all by myself, since he moved to the other side of the country. I had to cope with all the feelings of sadness, rage and disappointment I had and, at the same time, I had to seem happy and calm in front of my daughter. It was a very stressful time, but I found out that there were a lot of people willing to help me, and this is my tip: accept all the help people may offer you. Family and friends understand that you are through a hard time and that it is not easy to deal with everyday life with a child when you are alone. It took me ages to be aware of this and now I understand that I am not being a “pain in the ass” if I ask for help sometimes. So, don’t be afraid to do it if you need to.
Little by little, breathing again will become easier (I’m still working on this, ha, ha).

Emilie in Paris
March 13, 2012

Thanks Gaila, that is actually a very good tip. It is such a natural reaction to keep appearances up and not admit that you are maybe struggling. Friends and Family are normally delighted to help if you ask them. The key is, as you point out, not to be afraid to ask!

March 13, 2012

Hello Emilie,

Your great feature resounded greatly with me. I recently separated from my husband and the two girls live with me. I am still going through the adjustment period. Things are often chaotic to say the least and I feel often very inadequate as a mum, homemaker and running my little business. Your feature is so refreshing and I will think of it when things are tough. Thank you!

March 13, 2012

Trust me, it get’s so much easier! And don’t feel inadequate, I am sure in retrospect you will see that you were doing just fine…

Esther in Amsterdam
March 13, 2012

You’re such an awesome mum — and I love all your tips!!! xxx

Courtney in London
March 13, 2012

You are such a brave, brave mama! And I love your tips and think you’re doing such an amazing job raising those cute girls of yours!!!

March 13, 2012

your gorgeous little girls are really very lucky to have you. bravo.

March 13, 2012

Such an Inspiring post! Thank you Emily for sharing.

March 13, 2012

Your little girls are lucky to have a Mum like you! I love your posts – they are always upbeat and perky, yet real.

Emilie in Paris
March 18, 2012

Thanks! Lovely to hear!

March 13, 2012

Thanks for sharing Emilie – sounds like you have some lucky girls to have you for their mom!

March 13, 2012

Thanks for sharing your very personal experiences. I am so impressed by your positive outlook and i am sure it is a great example for your darling little girls.

March 14, 2012

Great article. Thanks for sharing. I have seen so many single parent families suffering, but one thing I can say: “Your daughters are very lucky to have a mum like you”.

March 16, 2012

Loved this post Emilie. Your attitude and tips are great for a mom in any situation. I loved the organizing because truthfully your not so organized- that is it! I have been trying to put that into words forever!
I was raised by a hardworking single mom, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wonder how she did it.
I think the best thing my mom did for us kids was never allowing us to play the victim. She would always remind us that ours was not a sad story, we in fact had a great life. I had a few friends with divorced parents that were really good at playing the victim cards between parents and blaming the separation for problems in life. My mom simply didn’t allow it. Looking back, that served me well.
Great post!

Emilie in Paris
March 18, 2012

Totally agree with this, Destri. Seriously, no victim cards are allowed to be played in my family!

Veronica Diaz
March 17, 2012

Loved it!
These tips are not only great for single mothers but also for working mothers. I know what it is like to feel guilty for not being able to stay home when the little one is not feeling good and stuff like that. Even though I live with my husband and he does help a lot, I know what is is like to run out of milk and not have the time or energy to go get more. .
I do try to go out for a coffee with my friends once a week and try not to feel guilty about it becuase it does make mee feel good to have that two-hour break where we talk and laugh. Talking to other women with similar lifestyles and problems make mee feel I am not crazy as I sometimes do when I’m trying to get so many things done at the same time and I just can’t.
Lovely post again. Your girls are lucky to have you!

March 19, 2012

Love your article. I separated with my 3 kid’s father 3 years ago and it has been the toughest but most prescious time in my life. I have been literally ‘born again’ as a better person who can see the life in the more matured way.
I don’t think that those tips you mentioned are not just simple lessons you learned from life but a great outcome of your struggles you have had through a tough experience.
I send you a big hug for your courage. Your daughters will be so proud of you!

March 24, 2012

I just read your post as I have been a bit absent from your blog these last few months, extremely busy period in my life. I have to say, you do what you can, in any situation and I know it’s going to be the best you can do in that particular situation. Your post is not only for single mums but also for working/busy mums that try to joggle at being the best mum and pursuing your career without too many drawbacks. I think it’s time we put less pressure on our shoulders and just accept that once in a while, a pasta dish without veggies or dairy intake won’t be harmful to your kids if it’s done randomly. I have stopped trying to be “super mama” and have decided to take time off for myself, travelling for a few days (not more than 2-3) and coming home refreshed as ever. Bravo for this post once again.
Bises. Freida

April 4, 2012

Just read your post on how to cope with the absence of organisation. It has been a burden I have carried all my life. With the kids it became even worse. Early morning cooking, running all the time, picking girls late from scholl. Thank you very much for the practical tips, but mainly, for the optimistic approach. Have a nice Easter!

May 14, 2012

Emily I just wanted to say a HUGE thanks for your wise words. My husband and I separated 6 months ago and I’m now raising my three kids as a single mum in between juggling my own business. I have to say that my life is crazy and everything is still so fresh and raw that it is good to hear that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Your tips make a lot of sense. In the meantime I’m going to strive to be a little more organised. Oh to be on that front foot again! And as they say time heals all wounds. Thanks a bunch Emily!

Nina Aziz
March 12, 2013

I am divorced and am sharing the custody of my kid with her dad. Even if I don’t have to manage everything myself, I was raised by a single mother. I think, for myself, the hard thing as a single mama (which I am when I am with my kid) is to try not to over-compensate. That said, I think it all depends on how you define “good” and reading your blog made me realise, how much stress I caused myself everytime, for not lowering the standard. Thank you for being an inspiration. You are positive and the kids are blessed.

March 1, 2014

I loved reading all your tips and how you handle things. It’s great to hear. You are such a strong lady. Thank you xoxox

March 2, 2014

Glad you liked it! xxx

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