How to Manage a Single Parent Household

Kids can contribute to some household chores, too. See more parenting pictures.
Andrew Olney/Photodisc/Thinkstock

It's been said it takes a village to raise a child, but for the nearly 13 million single-parent families in the United States, creating such a village of resources can be an incredibly daunting task [source: U.S. Census Bureau]. The responsibilities that come with parenting in general are demanding enough as it is, but they're even more so without the consistent help of another partner in the home.

In homes where there is only one parent, the to-do list can seem endless. What is usually a shared set of challenges -- from learning how to manage finances and making quality time for both kids and yourself to establishing structure and enforcing rules -- rests solely on one set of shoulders. On top of that, single parents who can't afford outside help also carry the burden of managing day-to-day household duties: cooking, cleaning and making sure everyone gets where they need to be on time.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean there's no help to be had. In fact, one of the most important first steps every single parent can take in terms of building healthy parenting practices is to consider who else they can turn to for help outside of a traditional spouse, including family members, friends, co-workers, other single parents, support groups and more [source: Frisbe, David & Lisa].

No matter how large your network is, this article will examine some core strategies that can help make your single parenting journey a successful one, including ways to keep the housekeeping "to do's" under control, while also using them as an opportunity for teaching responsibility. You'll also learn about the best methods for mastering time management, as well as tools for creating schedules. First, read on to find out how you can make meal times work economically, efficiently and emotionally -- even if you're not an expert chef.

Cooking Tips for Single Parents

One of the biggest overall challenges single parents often face is the constant struggle with managing their budgets and time, and this is especially true when it comes to making smart choices at the supermarket, as well as creating quick yet nutritious meals. But there are things you can do to make feeding your family easier.

First, consider the best days and places to shop. While Saturdays tend to be a particularly popular day for tackling the grocery list, Sunday nights might prove to be a much better option, both in terms of less traffic and bigger savings, as you can use coupons from your morning paper and circulars. Also -- while it may require more legwork -- there are other resources aside from traditional grocery stores to consider when it comes to potential savings, including farmer's markets and local co-ops.

If time is a big obstacle, many grocery stores now offer online shopping and home delivery for a nominal fee (usually around $5-$10 total). Most also give you the option to save your shopping lists in their system for future orders, which can be a big help if you tend to repurchase the same staples.

In terms of what to buy and serve your children, a good general rule of thumb is to try to avoid prepackaged foods. Not only to those tend to cost more, but they also offer less nutritional value overall. Opt instead for building meals out of healthy staples such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy choices. If you can, try to set aside a block of time to make several meals at once that can be stored in the freezer throughout the week until you're ready to use them. For creative recipe ideas, you might want to add a parenting, lifestyle or cooking magazine subscription to your birthday or holiday wish list. Many monthly publications offer suggestions for quick, affordable recipes, such as 20-minute meals, dinners that cost $10 or less to make, or creative ways to use leftovers.

It might also be fun to invite the kids to plan one of the menus for the week, and -- if they're old enough -- help in its preparation as well. There are numerous benefits to this approach: You can get a little help in the kitchen and a chance to spend more time with your children, too. The bonus is that you're teaching them lessons about responsibility and nutrition at the same time. Housekeeping can also be an opportunity to teach your kids a thing or two, which you'll learn more about on the next page.

Housekeeping Tips for Single Parents

Staying on top of the housework can be difficult for any parent, but single parents, who have to manage it all on their own, may find it especially tough. Assigning chores to the kids is one way to help lighten the load, as long as you give them age-appropriate tasks. For example, kids as young as 2 and 3 can start contributing with simple jobs such as picking up toys, putting dirty clothes in the hamper or helping to put away groceries.

Having your kids pitch in is not only an appropriate way to help keep the house in order, but also an opportunity to teach personal responsibility -- and the subsequent rewards that may come with following through, too. If you can't afford to administer a monetary allowance as a reward on a regular basis, try creating other incentives, such as a system in which your child earns "points" for every task completed. The points could later be cashed in for something that matches his or her particular interests, such as tickets for a sporting event or concert.

Here are some chores to consider when making a household chart for your family:

  • Picking up and putting away toys
  • Making the bed and/or changing the sheets
  • Sorting or folding laundry
  • Dusting and/or polishing
  • Doing the dishes
  • Taking out the garbage and recycling
  • Vacuuming
  • Yard work, such as raking and lawn mowing

You could also break up chores by area by putting each child in charge of tidying his or her own bedroom, but switching off duties for shared places such as the living room.

With or without the help of the kids, try to break up household chores into daily, weekly and monthly segments. For example, though it might be tempting to let the dishes sit overnight, waking up to a clean sink can help you start the day off on the right foot. On the other hand, making laundry a weekly event probably makes the most sense both time-wise and economically. Consider waking up even just 15 minutes earlier a few days a week to make time to get some of the smaller items out of the way. Also, if you already enlist the help of an at-home childcare provider, you might explore the possibility of a slight wage increase to have him or her cover some of the more basic tasks on your behalf.

Between work and managing a household -- plus everything your kids have going on -- it can be tough to remember where and when you have to be at your next stop. Read on to learn some tips for keeping your schedule in order.

Managing Schedules as a Single Parent

Getting a handle on time management can be an ongoing challenge, but today there are a vast number of resources and tools available online to help single parents streamline the process. A great place to start is by creating and maintaining a calendar to help keep track of everything important: work schedules, meetings, doctor's appointments, school activities and payment due dates. Free e-mail services such as those offered by Google and Yahoo! offer easy-to-use calendar tools that also give you the option to set up e-mail or text alert reminders to keep you on track.

Getting in the habit of making to-do lists can also save you both time and stress. Whether you prefer to do so electronically or by hand writing a list, outlining your objectives for the day can make it seem more manageable and help you keep your priorities in perspective. Start your list with the most important items you have to complete and round it out with items that you'd like to get to, but won't sweat too much if they end up shifting to the next day.

Don't forget to make scheduling quality time with your family -- and personal time -- a priority as well. Treat this not as an option, but a necessity. This is where tapping into your support network may come into play. Is there a family member willing to provide free childcare so you can set up a lunch date with a friend? Does your employer allow telecommuting, and if not, can you approach your manager about creating a program? Can you establish a carpool group with other parents from your child's school? Seeking out these opportunities, even those that might seem to make only a small difference at first, can prove to be great timesavers in terms of helping you create more time for yourself and your kids.

For lots more information on managing life as a single parent, follow the links on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Allegretto, Sylvia A. "Basic family budgets: Working families' incomes often fail to meet living expenses around the U.S." Economic Policy Institute. 02/03/2010.http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/bp165/
  • Consumer Reports. "Generic vs. Brand Name." 02/08/2010.http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/video-hub/food/food/generic-vs-name-brand/16845800001/43582091001/
  • Consumer Reports. "How to Spend Less on Everything." 05/06/2008.http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2008/05/how-to-spend-less-on-everything-in-tough-times.html
  • Consumer Reports. "It Pays to Buy Store Brands." 10/2009.http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/october-2009/shopping/buying-store-brands/overview/buying-store-brands-ov.htm
  • Grant, Kelli B. "The Best Time to Buy Everything." Wall Street Journal. 09/05/2006.http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/deals/the-best-time-to-buy-everything-20025/
  • Frisbie, David & Lisa. Raising Great Kids on Your Own. Harvest House Publishers. 03/01/2007.
  • Noyes, Amy Kolb. Nontoxic Housecleaning. Chelsea Green Publishing. October 2009.
  • Morrison, Patty. "Making Family Mealtime Fun and Easy." West Virginia University. 02/03/2010.http://fh.ext.wvu.edu/r/download/23472
  • Peters, Dr. Ruth. "What Chores at What Age? A Guide for Parents." Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting to Keep Your Kids on Track, Out of Trouble, and (Pretty Much) Under Control. 03/31/2005.http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/6980924/
  • United States Department of Commerce, Economic and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census. "Children with single parents - how they fare."9/2007.https://www.census.gov/prod/3/97pubs/cb-9701.pdf
  • United States Department of Commerce, Economic and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census. "Single-Parent Households Showed Little Variation Since 1994, Census Bureau Reports." 03/27/2007.http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/families_households/009842.html
  • United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "Get Involved: The Importance of Family Mealtime." 02/03/2010.http://family.samhsa.gov/get/mealtime.aspx
  • Yochim, Dayana. "Save $100 on Groceries in Three Easy Steps." Motley Fool. 01/05/2010.http://www.fool.com/how-to-invest/personal-finance/savings/2010/01/19/save-100-on-groceries-in-3-easy-steps.aspx