Time Management Tips for the Single Mom

Guest post by Missy

Mothering in any sense requires serious time management, but when the number of children increase and the father leaves, it becomes an essential life skill.

1. Assess your resources and enlist help

  • Car pool with a neighbor and split the number of trips made to school, along with less time spent in the minivan lineup.
  • Trade chores. This works with meals and babysitting – other single moms are especially good prospects for this.
  • Get your sitter or nanny on the same page. Have the kitchen clean and toys picked up when you get home.
  • Enlist your children’s assistance in meal preparation, writing lists, putting away silverware and other simple tasks.

2. Streamline everything you can

  • Make your mornings simpler and set a better tone for the day by placing all needed things together the night before.
  • A two-week menu plan keeps my grocery list relatively constant. Immediately add used items to the shopping list. I clip coupons (or print online) for the items I know we’ll use and let other deals go. Occasionally, add in something new or seasonal to the repertoire.
  • For me, it works best to have daily, weekly and monthly routines as described in Emilie’s Creative Home Organizer. To save time on laundry, I put a load in the wash each morning and move it to the dryer after dinner. I have to be committed to folding and putting away just as soon as they are dry. If I don’t, it piles up and gets overwhelming.
  • Clean as you go. I’ve also found with two little boys that flushable cleaning wipes are also great for a daily quick bathroom touch-up!
  • Combine tasks. I clean the bathroom while the children are in the tub. My one who bathes in the morning often eats breakfast in the tub. I do the dishes while the children are cleaning up their evening toys and I garden, weed or mow while they are playing outdoors. We all know to combine errands, that stopping by the bank, the dry cleaner or the market on the way home from childcare are standard ways to avoid fragmenting my day. I keep clipboards in the van so that homework and artwork can be done en route. We also practice our memory verses on the go and read our daily Scripture during dinner.

3. Work the Web

  • Make the most of your time by connecting with family and friends online.
  • Upload photos and print from home.
  • Do your Christmas shopping online.
  • Earn extra money through sales on ebay or Craigslist.
  • Donate items to others via Freecycle – they will even come pick up!
  • Look for grocery bargains, make your lists online, send yourself reminder notes.
  • Of course, do your banking, bill paying and rebates online.

The possibilities are endless, just don’t get sucked into spending more time here than is beneficial. I loved Crystal’s computer time budget suggestion.

4. Capitalize on personal time

Not every single mother has a co-parent. But for those who do, I simply cannot express the importance of managing that time when your children are at the other parent’s home.

This is the time to get in as many errands as possible, tackle bigger projects like painting or re-arranging your furniture, steam cleaning the carpet, cleaning the refrigerator and whatever else is impossible to with children underfoot. If you do not co-parent, ask grandparents or a friend to keep the children overnight from time to time.

4. Celebrate!

Make an end-point to your day, then relax in the tub, read or just indulge in extra sleep. Such sweet times for yourself empower you to be all you can for those little ones depending on you.

Missy June is a hard working optimist doing my best to enjoy life with my three little ones in this not-so-perfect world. She blogs at Little House in the Foothills.

Are you a single parent? If so, what tips, tricks and ideas do you have for time management? Share them in the comments.

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Comments

  1. says

    I am not a single mom but my husband works long hours. When I start to feel overwhelmed by handling life with kids on my own, I turn to God for help! It says in the Bible in Isaiah, ” For your Maker is your husband–the LORD Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”
    We truly are never alone.

    • says

      You better believe this verse is on the board above my desk right now! I pray almost daily for God to fill those places I cannot, in my heart and in the hearts of my children who must be confused and hurt. Thank you!

  2. Char says

    Thanks for your post…I am not a single mother, but my husband has been and most likely will continue to with the new job he is looking at so I am at home many days/night alone. This is very helpful and thank you for your positive attitude!!

  3. Lise says

    Hi Missy – Thank you for your post – these are great tips for those who aren’t single mothers as well. I also wanted to say what a tremendous respect I have for single moms. I honestly don’t know how you all do it – blessings.

    • says

      Not many “choose” the path of single mother, but we all want the best life possible for our children and ourselves. Honestly, I never knew what I COULD do, until I HAD to. Children are great motivation. Thank you for the respect and do something special for the single mothers around you, when you can. Some days, we’re barely holding it together.

  4. Heather H. says

    I am a proud single mom of almost three years, and although my son sees his dad every other weekend, he still comes home every single night to sleep at “our” house. One of the most important things for a single mom doing it all on her own is to remember to take time for herself. On the alternate weekends when my son is gone during the day I take the time to sleep in a little, have a good breakfast, and plan something for myself during the day (besides doing the chores that can’t get done while he is with me). Free time for myself is virtually non-existent, but I am blessed with family close by who can always step in if I get overwhelmed and need a breather. My son is gradually becoming responsible for more chores around the house, and I’m glad that I’m able to raise him on my own and teach him how to organize his life, learn to be a good man, and have some fun along the way. Thanks for your post!

    • says

      Oh you are blessed to have helpful family nearby! What a gift! Thank you for speaking up…it is so easy to buy into the thought that we’re going it alone some days. I appreciate your thoughts very much!

  5. says

    I’m another not-technically-single mom, but DH’s job requires frequent, extended travel, so I function as a single mom 50-75% of the time. I can definitely vouch for the effectiveness of a lot of your tips–I’ve been doing many of these things for the past 5 years, and they help tremendously. Streamlining our routine and having a definite end to my day are probably the most useful to me on a day-to-day basis. And I’ve learned never to turn down an offer of help.
    The only tip I would add is to make sure you have at least two friends who are/have been in your situation. One should be at the same life stage as you, so you can not only swap childcare and meals but have those “I know how you’re feeling” conversations. The other should be a mom with grown (or almost-grown) kids who can offer the kind of wisdom and perspective that only come with years of experience.

  6. Christy says

    I am not a single mom either, but like others, my husband works retail. I work full time as a teacher. He works many nights and weekends. The weekends especially kill me because I am the only one to bring the kids to church, birthday parties, soccer, etc. I used to do most of the cleaning on the weekends but now my oldest no longer naps. I can get him to help a little with cleaning but like Missy said there are some things that are impossible to do with children underfoot. I have no family in town. These are great tips. I guess similar to the get a whole bunch done while child is at dad’s. I try to get a bunch done on days that I can bring the kids to daycare but I don’t have to work (we pay the same whether they go or not). I have even brought my son (when I only had one) during the summer (again we pay anyway) to do things like painting, steam cleaning carpets, and to have a lunch date with my husband on a Wed. or some random day that he is actually off work! I know that sounds awful like I’m pawning off my kids, but I really do spend a lot of time with them too; I promise–it’s all about time management. I schedule doctor’s appointments/haircuts right after school (3 or 4) and THEN go pick the kids up.

    • says

      You have learned some great tricks! Thank you for sharing! It’s easy to feel like we have to apologise for allowing others to care for our children, but you are making great choices.

  7. Eli says

    I laughed out loud while reading that the little one eats his breakfast while he’s in the tub taking a bath. Now that is multi-tasking! Anyways, bless those of you that are carrying a heavy burden!

    • says

      Trust me, I’m laughing many mornings, too! My little guy doesn’t like to be rushed during his morning bath…this was born of my desperate attempt to sleep an extra 10 minutes and still feed my son. Hey, whatever works! Clean and fed is half the battle, right?

      • Christy says

        Thank goodness the daycare feeds my oldest. Still have to nurse the baby before leaving, but all I have to do is wake up and dress the oldest (and will be the same with him when he turns one). He can dawdle and take soo long to eat breakfast; I can’t imagine what time I’d have to wake up and wake him up!

  8. Christine/Massachusetts says

    I’m a single foster mom , recent adoptive mom and work FT – my little tip; maybe it’s common, is to book appts in my calendar 15minutes early. It helps me not to stress getting to my destination, provides free time to chill, pay bills, update my calendar, etc. Sometimes it just happens the dentist, barber, etc. can take us early, and we’re home earlier than expected.
    I keep to a strict M-F chore schedule at home so weekends are free to be spontaneous. It eliminates getting overwhelmed, creates sense of accomplishment in small time increments. In Oct I started freezer cooking after reading posts here – the soups were an enormous blessing when we were all sick.
    Hoping the tip helps someone. Gnight from snowbound MA!

    • says

      Thank you for fostering – you are giving the great gift of your heart! It’s always wonderful to hear how others are making things work for their families.

  9. says

    When you are truly a single mom (not just a mom who’s husband works a lot) You have 1. lack of income (husband working long hours stinks but he’s bringing home $ and so it’s a VERY different stress)
    2. Lack of another parent to help with anything ever. Think about that–no help from another adult ever. Phew!

    The load can be very heavy and it’s actually not something you can ever imagine if you haven’t had to carry it.

    But you can minister to single moms really easily. My sister was my best encourager and she helped me come up with some ideas that we shared.
    http://adustyframe.com/2006/12/14/how-to-help-a-single-mom/
    However, there are many many things

    • Stephanie says

      You have no idea how true your words are. Even though a husband may travel, work a lot, it truly is completely differant than being a single mom. Even though my son is the best thing that has ever happend to me, it is also the most difficult. I have no time for myself. One of the most encouraging things that happened a while ago, a group of teenage girls (and an adult) from my church called and wanted to watch my son for a couple of hours, so I could have time by myself. They gave me a small gift card to get a coffee and when I came home they had made muffins for breakfast and had straightened up some of the house. It was such a blessing. And of course my son LOVED all the attention.

    • says

      What a blessing your sister must be to you! I do think the emotional weight of responsibility as a single parent, the lack of partnership or just another pair of adult hands may be the most challenging part of being a single parent. Thank you so much for sharing, for relating. It’s easy to believe I’m the only one dealing with the struggle some days.

    • Amy says

      I don’t think any of the posters have tried to say their situations are the same as a single mom. I have several friends who are military wives. In my mind, they really do have to function like single moms during deployment with the addition of the constant stress that their loved one is in harm’s way.

      It shouldn’t be a competition about who has it hardest. The point is we can all learn from Missy’s great tips.

  10. not a single mom either but... says

    Having a husband who works long hours is not the same thing as being a single parent.

    Sure, logistically speaking it may be similar but you are forgetting that you at least have the support and love of a spouse. Even when you are swamped with taking on the majority of the burden of caring for the children and house, you know you have someone who is coming home to you and you’ll have a warm body to lay next to, if not tonight then some other night.

    I can’t imagine how lonely it must be to do it completely alone, both physically and mentally. I don’t know where you draw the strength from. I find it so hard to get out of bed most days and I’ve at least got the help of a husband to give me a push. I read through your blog Missy and I have nothing but respect for you. I hope your new journey keeps getting easier for you and your children.

    I’m not looking for a fight, and I’m probably coming off harsher than what I intend, I just feel like some of the commenters here aren’t realizing how insensitive they are coming off by saying they’re practically single moms because their husbands work long hours.

    • says

      I’m not a single mom either. My husband and I work opposite shifts, we are rarely home at the same time, and he doesn’t share in the household chores. I’m not trying to be insensitive, but I appreciate this post because it has valuable tips for any mom whose life is more than usually hectic. I’m not trying to say my situation is as dire as a single mom’s and I don’t think any of the previous posters were either. None of us can imagine that loneliness or that burden. We’re just thankful for the helpful advice we received from this post.

      Thank you for sharing, Missy. May God fully reward you in the joys little and large that your kids bring you each day.

      • says

        I appreciate your thoughts. I am trying not to let the “Single” define my life as a “Mom.” Yes, it does affect many aspects, but I’m holding fast to the values I wanted when I first got to be a mom (I was not single then). Finding ways to remain consistent with my whole-life values is an ongoing process.

      • Christy says

        I think that is what a lot of us were saying. I don’t think we were trying to say that we have it just as hard as single moms. We do have that partner, that income, and that little bit of help when it is there. I think a lot of us were saying that we can appreciate the tips Missy gave and apply them to our lives even if we are married. The bottom line: they are useful tips.

    • says

      I see things from both perspectives. When my husband was working long retail hours before he lost his job, I was – and am – always “on.” I do not have the luxury of taking time off when the kids are at their other parents’ house, etc. I have had one date/night off with my husband the last 2 years, and that was only because we won movie tickets. And that was a strain from a financial perspective.

      I also have neighbors whose spouses were shipped to the Middle East for months. And that is a strain onto itself.

      Each parenting situation has its ups and downs. Some of us have family blessed to live in our homes or close by. Some of us don’t.

      The important thing, though is if we support one another!

  11. says

    Great suggestions!

    I always wonder when single parents get to “lose it”. It just seems like you have to always be “on”.

    I have always done my laundry on 2 days each week. I think I am going to try the load a day method and see if that works for us.

    :)
    lisa

    • says

      I get too overwhelmed when the laundry piles up, so this method works for me. We rarely get to “lose it” and that is tough. But they will be 18 years old someday, righ!?!

  12. Tara says

    I’m a brand new single mommy (well have felt like one for years- but now I REALLY am) and I enjoyed this post a lot. I’m still in the “getting all my ducks in a row” phase of my transition and these tips are extremely helpful and even empowering.
    I too like the laundry tip- I am the worst at laundry and dishes….need as many tips on those as possible!!

    • says

      You can do this – you’re wise to spend some time getting your “ducks in a row,” assess your resources and prepare for you future life…all the while enjoying life a bit in this moment. Whew, it’s a huge task – hats off to you!

  13. Jen says

    I can’t agree enough with the streamlining. I’m a single mom who works full time, and is a part time student. Mornings used to be so hectic and I was habitually late for work. The night before I always : Set out my clothes, set out my sons clothes, prepare and pack my breakfast and lunch, get my travel mug out, take a shower, and review my next days tasks.

    So here are my own tips : There’s also so much to remember, that I find it invaluable to make an item on my to-do list each day for EVERYTHING. From brushing my sons teeth, taking vitamins, going through his school paperwork each day, grooming the dog, making the beds, drinking enough water. (Seriously, I would forget otherwise)

    Look into your options at work. If your situation allows, pursue remote work opportunities. I work remotely from home two days a week. This lets me make doctors appointments, school meetings, etc. for those days during my lunch hour so I don’t have to use time off from work. It also lets me do some quick errands before I pick up my son.

    Use technology. I have an iPod touch that I would be so lost without. In addition to music, I use it for : All of my to do lists (daily, weekly, monthly etc.), Calendars, Meal planning, Recipes, Grocery lists, Journaling, Reading e-books, Food & Exercise Diary, Camera and Video, Email, and Facebook. It’s very versatile and I take it with me everywhere. Since I can’t call home from the grocery store to find out what other ingredients I need for tonights meal, I can just look it up in my recipe app. Stuck in a waiting room? Read an e-book. It’s my super PDA, and has been invaluable to me in keeping me sane.

    I’m terrible at laundry and dishes too! I break them into smaller tasks, “Load Dishwasher”, “Run Dishwasher”, “Empty Dishwasher”. This way I feel like I’m accomplishing something, even if I don’t get through all of them.

    • says

      OOOOOH, I like how you break your tasks down… excellent concept for one who loves to check off the list! Thank you so much for sharing, it’s easy to feel alone in this role! I would love to have an iPad but haven’t been able to justify the expense just yet.

  14. says

    I clean the bathroom while my kids bathe, too! Well, usually not the whole bathroom. I do the sink one night, the mirror the next, the toilet the next, etc! I usually have to tell a story, too, which started recently after my three-year-old got out of bed because he couldn’t sleep. I was in the middle of deep cleaning the bathroom and didn’t want to stop. I suddenly realized that I had never told him the story of “The Three Little Pigs” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” So I made him a makeshift bed in the hall and began to tell the stories while I cleaned. We went on like that for about an hour and he wanted to “read” them again and again. Now I tell the stories while they’re playing in the bathtub and I’m cleaning. Multitasking on three levels. ;-)

  15. Anna says

    Thank you for the post. I am a single mom with 4 kids including one with special needs. Being a single parent is a challenge but having a child with special needs makes it more challenging. I am always looking for ways to simplify life. The reality of my life is I work full time but have a job that does allow flexibility so I can take kids to MD appts and/or go to school activities. In addition to full time work, I take care of my kids full time. I run a tight ship at home. I believe in routine and putting everything on a schedule. I keep a book/calendar/home organizer. I put everything down on the calendar–bills due, appointments, school events, birthdays, work events, time for each child, time for me, time for family gatherings. IF I don’t write it down it doesn’t get done. Everyone has chores even the baby/toddler. I put up checklists for each child and for us as a whole, the morning checklist has back packs, lunches, IDs, homework, coffee (to turn off machine). Before we leave, we go through the checklist so we don’t forget anything. Reviewing the checklist has saved me from making a return trip home after we leave many times.

    The time I feel the most alone and the most like a single parent is when I am physically ill. I have asthma and sometimes I can be really, really sick. To be honest, there is no one to take care of me. The older kids can help some and are independent but still it is not the same as having a husband to take care of you. At those times, I wish I had someone to lean on and share my load. Work piles up and I worry about missing work. The baby is the least understanding when I am sick so I really don’t get to lie in bed and “be sick”. I still take care of my family even when I am sick maybe just the basics but there is no relief. That is when I feel most like a single parent.

    I don’t know about other parents but I work long hours. I often stay up still midnight and get up at 5 or 6 am. On Saturday I do sleep in until 8 am and that is my luxury. I expect a lot of myself and my kids. If I didn’t we would not be as successful and supportive of each other. We do everything as a family (mainly because I cannot afford babysitters). My family does help but they do not live really close.

    This is my lot in life. I accept it and I don’t dwell on the challenges. I try to face what God has given me. I also try to look for ways to improve our lives and to live a quality life, the kind of life God wants us to live.

    Being a single parent is not what I planned to be and the reality is that it is hard because in my case all the responsibility is on me. there is no one else; no one else ever relieves me or provides income or care for the kids. The kids’ dad lives in another state and is not responsible financially either but none the less that is their dad and I teach the kids to love and honor their father. I try to focus on how I can take care of my kids and provide for them but it is hard, hard work.

    • says

      It sounds like you’re doing a great job – I can especially relate to the feeling of no one taking care of *me. As someone said above, single moms rarely get to “lose it” or just have downtime to regroup. May God bless your sweet family and you with an extra portion of energy and determination. Your children will rise and call you blessed.

      • Anna says

        Thank you. I love my family and all my hard work is for them. I believe in embracing the life you are given and part of my life is being a single parent. I try to embrace that part and make the most of it. Being a 1 parent or 2 parent household is not easy in this day and age. I hope I did not come across as comparing my life as a parent to others. My family is what it is but I do have to work hard. I am sure other families have to work hard but in different ways. At least I know I am going it alone which means I accept it versus a parent who has a parent that is away (like in the military). I don’t know if I could live with the unknown so easily of when will my partner come home. Each family has challenges, mine happens to be being a single mom but we do OK :).

        • Anna says

          PS This was most helpful and I am always looking for ways to stay on top of 4 kids and a job!!!!!!!!

        • says

          Being sick is rough :( I most hated when my son was sick in the middle of the night. If I didn’t have what I needed to help him, we’d have to tough it out til the a.m. or he’d have to get dressed and drag to Walmart with me in the middle of the night.
          No fun to not have another adult to help at times like these.

          Hang in there!

  16. Lyn says

    Growing up with a mom who was a single parent I have great respect for single parent families. It cannot be compared to a family who has a father, even if that father is temporarily away. And yet, as hard as being a single parent is, what a blessing to have children to love and care for.

    Your post was wonderful, Missy, and God bless your heart for all that you do. I love your positive attitude and strength. God bless the other single parents here too.

    I’d also like to encourage single moms to train their children to be helpers in the home. That alone can be a real help to mom after a long day of work. I believe it’s important for children to be children, but to also learn to be responsible as everyone in a family should do their share. Even young children can be of help. It’s never a good thing when children grow up not knowing how to care for themselves or their home.

  17. says

    I love all these tips children as young as two can help with way more than we give them credit for. When I brought home the groceries I gave the two and three year old the job of putting away TP , Paper Napkins and they did it!
    They can accomplish so much if you just let them.
    A five year old can set a table. (except knives)
    A five to six year old can unload a dishwasher (let them stack the plates where they can reach who says the top cabinets have to be where the dishes go.
    Take out the sharp items and let them do the rest!
    Mine are in their mid 20’s now and have accomplished so much more than others their ages but they did chores when they were little.

  18. Tracie says

    I was a single mom for years. One of the ways I saved my sanity was to find another single parent whose daughter played the same sport mine did. We always requested our girls be on the same team so we could switch off taking them to practice. Also, befriend other parents at school! I always had several numbers in my cell of parents who could pick up my daughter when they picked up their kids in case of an emergency (like when I was caught behind an overturned chicken truck for hours!).

  19. says

    Thank you for the encouragement to train up those little ones…some days I try to overcompensate for their losses by coddling them – and in reality that isn’t doing them any favors.

  20. Mar says

    I’ve been a single mom since the day my daughter was born; she’s 15 now and that’s about the biggest time management tool I have – she can take care of herself as far as getting dressed, fixing her lunch, eating breakfast, etc.! She also has chores, cleans the family room, cleans one of the bathrooms, does laundry, etc. Starting her out with small chores when she was young helped train her for the larger ones now. If only I could get her interested in cooking…!

    A couple tips from the young years:

    When she was 2, Barney came on at 6 p.m., just about the time we got home. I knew I had 30 uninterrupted minutes to change and get dinner on the table. I could see her from the kitchen and knew she was safe. I love Barney – he saved my sanity by keeping her out of the kitchen!

    Between ages 2 and 5 or 6, we would have 2-3 meals a week that I called “appetizer” meals. We were vegetarian at the time and dinner would often consist of finger foods – a serving of cut-up fruit, a serving of cut up raw veggies, some cheese cubes or string cheese, a few crackers, and maybe yogurt as a dip for the fruits and veggies. It was quick, it was easy, it was “cool” on hot summer days, and it was healthy. If we were doing this now, I might add some leftover cold chicken breast (or heat it in the microwave).

    The cleaning can wait; the playground, reading together, playing games, and meeting with other parents and children are more important. I did always make sure that laundry was done and the bills were paid. Even though there were some struggles financially in the early years as I paid down debt and paid for daycare, diapers and other child expenses, I was able to pay all of the bills and was out of debt around the time she was 5 or 6. This helped remove a lot of stress in my life.

    • says

      I try to remind myself that it will (hopefully) never be more difficult or more expensive than right now, when my little ones are so young, childcare costs are expensive and resources so few. Thank you for the great tips and reminder that time the most valuable thing to give our children.

      • Mar says

        Oh, I hate to burst the money bubble, but they don’t get that much less expensive – you just spend the money on other stuff! Hand-me-downs don’t come as frequently and your child may not like those that do. They eat more and their friends come over and eat as well. Sports equipment, entertainment, etc.; it all adds up.

        I’m now facing the cost of a class ring (don’t ask! you don’t want to know how much those are running now!), a commercial driving course (required in our state), and a doubling or tripling of car insurance once she gets her license (and that’s with the good student discount). I also bought 2 Taylor Swift concert tickets today – chaching! – but my daughter and her friend are paying for those from their Christmas money.

        However, I don’t think it’s nearly as difficult now as it was when she was little. We have great conversations and she tells me way more than she probably should, but she is a great kid and I wouldn’t change anything, including the struggles when she was young, because they have helped make us both who we are.

        • Tracy says

          As to the cost of a class ring, when I was in high school a bunch of us went to local jewelry stores and asked if they sold class rings. Almost all of them did and had brouchers like we got in school. The point is the rings from the Jewelry stores were almost half the price of the schools and we had a much better selection. The other thing we ordered our rings after our classmates did and we got our rings way before they did.

  21. Tracy says

    I have been a single mom for four years now, my son is 5. This all happened while I was a sophmore in college and I don’t have a co-parent so I learned a few tricks to help me keep my sanity and still spend time with my son. One thing we do is go to our local family video where each week he can pick out two of there free kids movies. Then when we get home he picks one movie to watch and he gets a snack. While he is busy watching a “new” movie I get to have a little me time.
    I have him help me wash dishes as we don’t have a dishwasher. He loves to help because he gets to “play” as he puts it, I fill the second sink half way with warm water for him to rinse the dishes in for me. While he helps me we talk about school, any projects he has, or what he would like to do on the weekend.

    As all single parents know somedays are just super stressful and it is easy to get upset with the little thing your child does. So when those days happen I stop whatever I am doing and my son and I go outside we have four seasons where we live so in the fall we have leave fights, winter snowball fights, spring and summer we use the water hose and have water fights this way we can do something fun and get all the stress out without getting upset at each other.