Survival Strategy for Single Parents

If parenting is an obstacle course, single parenting requires a survival strategy. The best way to cope is to be real
By Catherine Jenkin

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Single parenting was a choice for me. There came a time when staying with my partner was no longer the best option for me, my daughter, or him. So, we split.
I know I’m lucky to say this. Cameron’s dad and I have a more than amicable relationship, fuelled by having known each other all of our lives. I am supported in every aspect of my parenting life, and Cameron’s extended family is a solid force in our lives. Our friends, her teachers and my colleagues are boundless in their support for us. That still doesn’t make single parenting easy. I have learnt a few things over time that enable me to survive it, thrive in it and enjoy the many insane moments juggling the jungles of playground and boardroom.
My work keeps me busy and inspired. To cover the bills and kick-start my career, I have two jobs. The synergy is that both of the people I report to are amazing, inspirational and committed women. Both are moms and one of them, a single mom too. Both understand and accept that there are times where I have to care for Cameron when she is ill. They trust me enough to get the job done. And they keep me going when life runs less than smoothly. My friends keep me sane. In all my pre-maternal life I never thought I would be a mother - until I found out differently one Christmas Eve in the spare bathroom of my parents’ home. My friends accepted my maternal role far sooner than I did; they keep me laughing and still hold my hand when I feel alone in all of this.
Straight Up
For me, the best survival technique is emotional honesty. It’s not easy telling the person you work for that you are exhausted because you’ve been up the whole night with a sick child and a faulty geyser. It’s not easy telling your daughter that Mommy just needs five minutes to get dinner going, conquer her inbox and dash to the toilet. It’s not easy telling your friends, who are desperate to see you and catch up, that you’d much rather have a hot bath and get into bed.
It’s not easy. But it is essential. Getting real about you is the only way to survive the jungle juggle. From jungle gyms to corporate jungles, being unashamedly who you are, is the only way to get through it.
Just You and Me, Babe
My time alone with Cameron is precious. We get silly – one night we decided everything must be done back-to-front. We came home from work and school, had a nap and a bath, ate dinner on an upside-down plate, walked backwards everywhere and wore our pyjamas inside out. We bake, we laugh, and bath time is our special time. There’s something about the bubbles that keeps us smiling on tough days.
Getting real with my bank account was harder. To give Cameron the security she deserves, I have to watch my pocket, and work hard. But we get by.
Being fair with Cameron’s dad is paramount. Cameron needs her dad as much as she needs me. I’m lucky to be able to communicate openly with him. And Cameron is blessed to have a dad and family that love her to the moon and back.
But the thing that really keeps me going? It’s not money, or love from other people. It’s the ability to go home, sit down with Cameron and cuddle. It’s the emotional honesty that we share in our special bond that keeps me going. It’s her arms around my neck that hold on so very tight. It’s when she says, “Mom, you are the gift of my life”, that I know I am doing the best that I can.
Curiosity Call
You have to learn how to roll with the punches of questions that come with the territory. I was shocked when Cameron first asked why Mommy and Daddy have separate homes, because single parenting has been our way of life since she was just older than a year. I’d assumed she would just accept it as our way of life – but children question everything. And I am so thankful that my daughter has a curious mind.
My answer came in such a simple way, I am amazed I hadn’t thought of it sooner. “It’s not that Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other – they made a gorgeous child! It’s not that Mommy and Daddy don’t love her – she is their gorgeous child! It’s just that it worked out better for everyone that Mommy and Daddy have two homes.” Her father and I work hard at our relationship as parents. We’re committed to ensuring that Cameron feels our love every step of every day. That’s what is truly important.
I miss Cameron when she spends time with her dad. The house is quiet and I sometimes feel an intense need to fill it with noise. Lately though, I’ve been enjoying the silence. It’s time just for me. To watch a movie without having the channels changed by an overzealous four-year-old princess, read a book or see some friends. Just as my alone time with Cameron is precious, so is me-time – I have to take care of myself too. By the time she returns on a Sunday afternoon, I feel refreshed Р ready to get silly and dance around the lounge with my precious daughter.
And that dance... is the most important dance in the world.
Survival Tips for Single Parents
  • Set realistic expectations – rather than focusing on the things you feel you’re doing wrong, remember all the good you’ve done. Striving for perfection or trying to be a “super parent” can lead to burnout.
  • Manage your time effectively – make lists, plan the week ahead, get the most out of shopping trips by buying in bulk, for instance.
  • Set limits for your children – in order to grow into happy, self-respecting adults, your children need the security of clear, consistently enforced boundaries and rules.
  • Learn to be assertive – exercise your right to say no – at work and at home. Saying “no” to your child won’t stifle their creativity. Don’t allow feelings of guilt to tell you you’re being mean. By drawing lines you’re helping your child feel safe.
  • Keep a good balance between work, parenting and recreation – again, plan ahead. Make sure your me-time is scheduled ahead, it’ll help you be a better parent.
  • Organise effective routines, effective planning and shared duties
  • Give each child special time with you – this helps them to feel loved and will ultimately make them less demanding.
  • Enlist the help of family, friends and your child’s co-parent.
  • Develop relationships with other adults – meet up with other single parents at your child’s school or day care. This will open up opportunities for relationships that may lead to play dates, lift clubs and other shared activities. 
  • Build your own self-esteem, self-confidence and trust – if you feel good about yourself you are less likely to allow other people or circumstances to control your life, and you will be more resilient facing the challenges of life.
  • Join single parent organisations or parent courses – these are a great way of making new friends and can give you empowering parenting tools. 

Put together in consultation with Liz Dooley, The Family Life Centre (Famsa), 011 788 4784 


Angel wrote 8 years 25 weeks ago

Awesome post!

Randomthoughtso wrote 8 years 25 weeks ago

Let's be honest here, no matter how wonderful a relationship is between co-parents, there are always issues that happened in the past etc, and the only way past them is forgiveness. The best and only thing you can do for your child, I think, is let her keep believing that daddy is a hero. Let her keep that light of love in her heart for him. No matter how much of an idiot he is to you, or circumstantially, he is still her dad. That said, it's very hard to see past idiotic behaviour. I think you're doing the right thing by never speaking ill of him. I think you're doing a fantastic job!

Lele wrote 8 years 25 weeks ago

What an encouraging story. I esp love the part about both parents putting differences aside to be there for the child. It is just sad that many mothers, like me, have a child's father who walked out upon hearing the words 'I'm pregnant', then came back when the child was a year old and the most difficult period was over, (including an 18-day spell in paediatric ICU). Then backed away again when it was time for school fees, then came forward again when he realised she was an excellent athlete (cos it feels good to say 'Hey everyone, that's my child who came first!'). Then backed away again when his new lady didn't quite like his daddy status. Bottom line: what is the best thing to do for a child when they really love their daddy - but their daddy comes forward only when nothing is asked of him? Left to me, I would exclude him totally. Left to her, she would see him daily - I never speak ill of him and she has no reason to believe he is anything but loving and wonderful. She lights up just at the mention of him. What is the correct way forward given that I as the adult, know that WonderDaddy is at heart a coward?

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