The Three-Ring Circus: 5 Tips for Single Mums Who Work

The Three-Ring Circus: 5 Tips for Single Mums Who Work

Chris Robertson

If you’re a single mum who works, you probably don’t have a lot of time to read, so let’s get right to the point. In addition to your salaried work, you’re a chauffer, a nurse, a psychotherapist, and an educator. It’s as though you’re not only the ringleader of your family, but you’re also the master juggler (of schedules), the tightrope walker (of finances), the lion tamer (of behavior), and the trapeze artist (as you swing from home to work and back again). Here are five tips to help you keep your sanity when the circus takes up permanent residence in your household.

1. Pick Your Battles

As a 49-year-old single mum of a sixth grader, I’m just plain tired. It’s taken me years to get over my perfectionism and realize that I have to choose my battles, both in my work and on the home front. I no longer write long missives pointing out why I was right and my co-worker was wrong. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter. The earth won’t stop revolving on its axis because my son wants to grow his hair past his shoulders. I’m just thankful that he’s not trying for to break the Guinness record for the longest Mohawk. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best not to sweat the small stuff…and most of it is small stuff.

2. Set Your Boundaries

Picking your battles doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries at work and at home. I tend to be a workaholic, so this one has been tough for me. But I’ve learned to say “no” when necessary, and to set firm but fair ground rules with my son. He knows what I expect, he has his routine, he understands his responsibilities, and he comes through almost all of the time. At first, it’s hard to stand your ground and be the enforcer, but kids will start toeing the line and life will get much easier.

3. Use Promises Sparingly

When you’re a single mum, life happens. Even the best laid plans can easily go awry, and promises made are often broken. Better than anyone else, you know that kids need stability and they need to know that they can count on you. I’ve learned to only make promises that I know with certainty that I can keep. When my son asks if we can go to a movie on Thursday night, I may tell him that I can’t promise it will be Thursday, but that we’ll go by the end of the weekend. If Sunday rolls around and we haven’t gone, I grab my purse and we head out the door – even if there are a dozen other things I’d rather be doing.

4. Try for Balance

As a single mother, it’s hard to achieve balance. Everyone and everything has needs – your kids, your kids’ school, your boss, your clients, your home, your car, your pets, and so on. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to hold a dozen ping-pong balls underwater, but inevitably one pops up. I’ve worked with my son to make what we call our “conscious living” list. We have a master list of fun things we want to do, projects around the house, and assorted tasks and chores. We sit down once a week and choose a couple of fun things (like playing cards or baking cookies) and a couple of projects (like cleaning behind the refrigerator or hacking at the weeds in the yard). I’ve found that setting an intention to do something helps me find the time to do it. At the end of the week, I’m often pleasantly surprised to discover that I’ve managed to spend time with my son, run errands, and get chores done around the house.

5. Let Go of the Guilt

As single mums, guilt is our greatest enemy. It can be paralyzing, can distract us from our work, and can put distance between us and our children. Our lives may not have turned out the way we intended, but we have to let ourselves off the hook. We’re doing the best we can with the physical, emotional, and financial resources we have. As long as we love our children fiercely and without reservation, they’ll make it and we’ll make it. And, ultimately, we’ll be glad the circus came to town.

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