How to Manage Your Home as a Single Parent (Guest Post)
Kay Pascale is a writer and up-and-coming blogger from North Carolina. When she isn't writing, she loves practicing yoga, spending time with her family, and trying out the local food scene.
Do you know the "Mental Load"?
I remember the very first time I read about “the mental load.” It was instantly relatable and every mother I have shared it with since then has told me their own customized version of the article from their own life.
The mental load is a concept that introduces the idea that the additional mental effort required of the planner, decision-maker, and organizer of a household places additional burdens on that person beyond those of carrying out the duties and labor necessary to manage that household.
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This is especially true for the single parent, who not only lacks the luxury of offloading any of the many necessary household duties, but also has to be the sole leader and decision-maker of an entire household.
Managing a household is challenging for all parents, but doubly so for the single parent. There are suggestions, advice, and tips aplenty for the single parent, and if one is needing some practical scheduling and organizing tips, there are plenty of resources available to help out. But what’s the point of all of these parenting tips if not to make us feel more overwhelmed, overloaded with information, or less competent at parenting?
The challenges of managing the feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted, never believing you’re doing enough, constantly feeling behind, and never having enough time to enjoy life are much more intangible and not easily solved. Rather than tips, single parents need to be awakened to the underlying value structures to their objectives as a parent and how best to apply and integrate those values into their family life.
Let go of Perfection
It doesn’t exist. No matter how many of your parenting friends on Facebook seem to have perfect children and perfect lives, things are almost always much more complicated than they appear. It’s important to have a balanced life and that means not everything is going to receive the amount of attention, resources, and energy required to bring it to a state of lasting perfection.
In our competitive world, it’s easy to get caught up in the unending cycle of maintaining appearances on the surface for the outer world to see. The underlying infrastructure of the family isn’t always visible to others and can be woefully neglected in favor of making sure everyone else believes the appearance of perfection we have carefully curated. If we let go of the idea of perfection and prioritize the cultivation and manifestation of the primary non-material values guiding our household, then we can let go of the self-defeating judgments of both ourselves and others.
Create a Vision for your Household
The family benefits no less from a commitment to a set of principles and values. And while achieving perfection is not the point of such a mission statement, having a family vision provides a set of guidelines that helps illuminate when a family has traveled off course.
Well-known psychologist and parenting advocate, Brene Brown has provided a parenting manifesto template that can be adopted by a household as is, or modified and customized to suit the needs of any family.
Recommitting and reminding family members of the values guiding the household and then discussing how those values work with the day-to-day practices of the household (whether it be doing chores, communicating, maintaining cleanliness, or eating healthy) will assist everyone in reminding each other and themselves what it is they are doing together and why they are doing it. It's all about a common goal and clear communication.
Take Just The Right Amount
With this idea, Zen Buddhist parent Bethany Saltman is referring specifically to the acquisition of material goods when she states that parents should take just the right amount. She advocates asking yourself, “Do I really require as much (food, money, things, etc.) as I may think I do in the moment?” Every object we acquire or wish to acquire only adds to the mental stress of managing our household.
When we acquire new things, we have to take care of those things, whether they are toys, books, clothes, dishes, plants, shoes, sporting equipment, etc. New material objects become an additional tasking item on the organizational chart for the household. They have to be used, cleaned, put away, repaired, moved, and occasionally replaced. The less material things we have, the less we have to worry about taking responsibility for those things. Naturally, cleaning our house of unused material objects and becoming more mindful of the responsibility attached to the things we bring into our household can help bring a level of control to how much stress and anxiety we needlessly bring into our own lives.
However, the concept of “taking just the right amount” can apply to non-material stress in our lives as well. Working Mother argues we should take on just the right amount of work stress in our lives by establishing sane working hours and setting boundaries on “people-pleasing” by learning when to say no. “Taking just the right amount” is about setting boundaries for yourself and for others in all aspects of your life so that you can exercise a measure of control over the stress you allow into your life.
Be Present in the Moment
While planning and organizing can help provide structure and routine and eliminate some of the stress of having to deal with the unexpected, there’s no amount of planning and organizing that can handle all that life will throw at us. At best, it will simply help to remove or lessen the burden of some of it.
Such knowledge requires the ability to be fully present and mindful at all times. This alertness not only serves a parent’s ability to adapt to changing and stressful circumstances, but it also helps a parent recognize when they have time to breathe, destress, and practice self-care in whatever moments they are given.
Being mindful allows a parent to be fully present with their child so as not to be distracted by other things. In becoming more present, you may be able to focus on becoming more productive at home, creating the space you need to identify the boundaries between work life and home life, and eliminating the distractions around both parenting and work.
Know That You're Not Alone
For a single parent, it can often feel as if you are expected to do everything by yourself. Many single parents can feel guilty for asking for help from friends and loved ones. However, it’s important for single parents to recognize that their friends and family have a vested interest in ensuring the success of them and their children. Negotiate, trade, give, and take. Do what is necessary to get the help you need and don’t feel guilty for one second.
Have an Attitude of Gratitude
It’s easy to experience gratitude when you achieve your dreams and desires. However, you can gain strength, wisdom, and experience from every encounter in life, especially the challenging moments. While being a single parent is uniquely challenging, there are many single parents struggling with many of the same challenges you may be facing.
In our darkest hour, it’s important to focus on gratitude for what we already possess within us to help us face that challenge. It’s important to draw on our gratitude as a source of strength and empowerment for the moments in life that present us with the most uncertainty, anger, fear, and sorrow. And it’s important to train ourselves to see those moments as great opportunities to gain deeper insight, wisdom, and knowledge.
We will love more deeply and more authentically because of those moments and experience life more fully when we learn to integrate gratitude into all of life’s experiences, and not only the positive ones.
The next time you feel overwhelmed or don’t think you can manage your home well, remember that you’re not alone and that there of plenty of things you can do to help you out along the way.