"We do everything but leap tall buildings in a single bound. We are superheroes without capes."
-- attributed to Debbie Burgin
Single parents face lots of challenges as they juggle all their responsibilities. They need to shop for, cook for, feed, dress, and transport their kids -- all while holding down a job. They need to spend time raising their children -- giving them experiences and lessons and inspiration -- while tending to their own careers.
Here, then, is some advice for single parents related to careers and balancing them with the rest of one's life.
Build a network of helpers -- and be a helper
For starters, in case you haven't already done so, concede that you can't do it all alone. You may be a single parent, but there are people around you who can help. These might be your parents and siblings, your neighbors, and the parents of your children's friends, among others. (And guess what -- some of them may actually be eager to help, as it can be a treat to be a part of a child's life.)
Spend time building a network of helpers. Collect names and phone numbers. Offer to shuttle kids to various events in one direction and see who can handle the ride in the other direction. See if you can trade child-watching duties with someone else. Ask how you might help other parents, both single and married, and they will likely be happy to help you, too.
Consider jobs that are well suited to single parents
Your single-parenthood shouldn't dictate the job or career you have, but it's good to factor it in your considerations. There are lots of jobs that can be easier to manage while caring for children. Here are some ideas:
- Teacher: Teachers, obviously, share approximately the same schedule as kids. Working at schools can have you leaving home early, with kids in tow, and returning well before 5 p.m., perhaps even in time to fetch the kids from their school or after-school activities.
- Real estate agent: Yes, agents can need to show homes at all kinds of odd hours, but you do get to agree or not agree to any proposed showing time. There's much behind-the-scenes legwork to do, too, such as researching homes and preparing paperwork, and that can be done at home, around your kids' schedules.
- Freelancer/contractor: Freelancers and contractors don't get benefits, which is a big drawback, especially when it comes to health insurance, but they also generally can choose when they work. Their work can take myriad forms, too, from writing to editing, design, illustration, photography, translation, programming, medical transcription, consulting, and so on. Much of such jobs can be done at home, too.
- Bookkeeper: You might serve small businesses by keeping their books, doing most of the work at your home. The end of each month might be busier than usual, but in general this work should offer a lot of flexibility.
Pay extra attention to job benefits
When looking for a job or considering switching to a new one, take a close look at the benefits you'd get. Single parents will do well with jobs that offer a lot of flexibility, as well as perks such as child care assistance or on-site child care, or tuition assistance.
More than most people, single parents need to make the most of every minute. As you approach and do your work, be sure to prioritize well. You may not be able to do everything you want to do, but make sure that everything that has to get done gets done. You may need to get good at saying no sometimes.
Live below your means
It can be hard making ends meet as a single parent, because raising a child is a costly endeavor -- involving child-care expenses, school fees, piano lessons, summer camps, field trips, and so on. Thus, have an emergency fund well stocked, so that an unexpected expense doesn't throw your financial life in turmoil. And try to find ways to spend less and keep within your budget.
Focus on free or inexpensive activities with your child, such as visits to the library, free admission days to museums and the zoo, outdoor concerts and festivals, crafting, camping, playing board games, and even volunteering.
Get your financial ducks in a row
According to a recent U.S. Census, there are some 12 million single U.S. parents -- and they all carry a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. If finances are among the things stressing you out, consider seeing a financial planner -- you might find a good fee-only advisor via www.mapfa.org. Such a person might be well worth the cost, if he or she helps you develop a sound plan to reach your financial goals and can reassure you that you're doing OK financially.
Part of getting your ducks in a row also means making sure you have sufficient health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and various critical documents, such as a will, a designated guardian for your children, powers of attorney, a living will, and so on. You may be able to get some of these through your job benefits, and some employers offer low-cost access to lawyers that can reduce the cost of drafting a will and other tasks.
Get a mentor -- ideally one who's a single parent
Mentors can be extremely helpful in guiding you through your career. They can offer advice, can serve as a sounding board, can offer feedback, and can even be an advocate for you to others at your workplace. If you're a single parent, finding another single parent who's willing to be your mentor can be extra helpful, as he or she will understand your situation better and may have some great suggestions.
When seeking a mentor, look for someone in your field who's in a higher position -- and whom you greatly admire. Let that person know why you admire him or her and why you hope to be mentored. Be sure to get on the same page as to what you both expect from the relationship -- such as a monthly lunch where you review your progress, aspirations, long-term goals, and near-term opportunities.
Don't neglect yourself -- get and stay healthy
Finally, while taking care of your urchins, don't forget to take care of yourself, too! You'll need some time away from kids to recharge your batteries. You might hire a babysitter for that, or exchange child-minding time with a friend so that he or she can get some time off, too. Enjoy some quiet, spend some time hiking or at the beach, or go dancing with friends -- whatever appeals to you.
Get healthy and stay healthy, too, as being fit and well can save you a lot of time and even money, as you avoid sick days and doctor visits. It will probably keep your mood healthy, too, which will pay off for your kids as well. Eat well, try to sleep enough, and exercise. You might incorporate your kids into your exercise routines, if need be -- such as by going on walks together.
Being a single parent isn't easy, but it can be very rewarding. And it doesn't mean you're doomed to a boring go-nowhere career. Having it all is a lofty goal, but if you're thoughtful about the jobs you take on and you manage your work and home life well, you may be able to have a lot.