In July and August, we featured articles about working mums. As Selipha Kihagi and I wrote these articles, I got thinking about single working mums, who have to work and bring up children on their own.
Single working mums endure a lot. And so it’s only fair that we acknowledge the different struggles they go through compared to married working mums or those who live with their partners.
In case you missed them here are the other articles on working mums:
1. Is it possible for working mums to have work-life balance?
2. Top 5 challenges working mums face and how to overcome them.
3. 4 monumental challenges affecting children of working mothers.
4. 6 little known advantages children of working mums have.
I’ve been a single working mum since 2014 when I walked out of an abusive marriage. It wasn’t an easy decision to make and I didn’t think I’d come across some of the challenges I’ve faced over the years.
Also, I wasn’t aware of some biases I had about single mums until the same biases were turned on me. Now that was a real eye opener!
As a single working mum, chances are that you lack the physical, emotional and financial support most working mums with a partner enjoy. You also experience instances of societal prejudice for two facts: you’re a single mum and a working mum.
In the first days of being a single mum, there are times you will want to run out on your family because of the never-ending pressure and stress. There are also days when you cry (or want to cry) at the end of a long day because you feel alone and helpless.
In the midst of all this, there are expectations that you will raise your child(ren) into useful members of society. However, you and I know that it’s hard to bring up children in today’s world, whether you’re a single mum or not.
The challenges experienced by single working mums are many, but not insurmountable. Once you understand and prepare for them, you can find solutions that work for you and your family.
Below are 6 ways single working mums can work around their challenges and come up winning. Some of these are challenges faced by working mums with partners too.
6 ways single working mums can get ahead of the game
1. Let go of destructive emotions
Being a single mum can be a result of many factors. These may include divorce, death of a partner, breakups in relationships, choice, and unplanned pregnancy, among others.
Regardless of the contributing factor, single working mums go through various destructive emotions including loneliness, self-doubt, guilt and depression.
The guilt aspect grows even bigger for divorced single mothers, especially if you initiated the divorce and keep questioning the decision you made.
These emotions, if not tackled as early as you experience them, can lead to depression. Since a mother’s emotions and moods affect her children, then your children will suffer when you’re sad or depressed. They will also be happy when you’re happy.
- Forgive yourself for the situation you’re in. If you chose to leave, accept the consequences of your choice and move on. If someone hurt you, learn to forgive them.
- Second, if you’re suffering from depression, seek the help of a trained therapist or counsellor.
- Finally, accept that you cannot be a super mum. Instead, know that what you’re doing is enough. Stop feeling guilty about things you cannot change.
2. Reduce overwhelm
When you don’t have a partner to support you in parenting roles, you can suffer constant overwhelm.
As a single working mum, there will be times when you feel the world crumble beneath you. This is more so when all finances, decisions and discipline are your sole responsibility.
When the overwhelm is great, you end up feeling financially burdened. You also feel as if you’re not a good decision maker.
I think one of the worst times is when your child is going through a challenging period and you feel inadequate to handle it. This happened to me a few days ago when I had to handle some deep stuff with my son.
I felt totally overwhelmed and out of my depth. This so bad that I also started reminiscing about the times when I would have passed that on to his dad. That was a shocker because over the years I thought I had gotten the handle on being both mum and dad.
Other times, you may need to discipline a child and don’t have the time to think things through or listen to their side of the story. And let me not talk about the times when your disciplining methods are insufficient…
You’ll want help or a second opinion from someone, but there will be no one to help. It’s time to take responsibility and be 100% in charge of your life and finances.
- Learn to say ‘No’ to people who want more of your time.
- Take control of your life. Improve your financial situation and get legal help if your children’s father is not
- Interact with other single working mums like you. Talk to those who have been in your shoes and succeeded.
- Avoid negative people who keep putting you down. Hang out with positive and empowering people.
3. Stop neglecting yourself
You or other mums you know have probably been a victim of this challenge. You have a lot to do between maintaining a household, excelling at work and raising your kid(s). It’s easy to forget about yourself.
Self-neglect is common among mothers, and an even bigger challenge among single mums who work full-time. It’s easy to focus on making money and taking care of your children that you totally eliminate your self-care.
- Start by scheduling a specific amount of time for yourself every week. Spend this time doing something you love.
- If possible, give yourself 30 minutes of ‘me-time’ each day so that you unwind and relax.
- Don’t forget your emotional and social needs. Keep in touch with friends and go our with your girlfriends once in a while – even if it’s just once a month.
4. Don’t shy away from the tough ‘daddy questions’
All single working mums will the experience daddy questions at one time or another. Your child comes home from school sad and they ask about their daddy.
Or maybe you’re watching a program on TV and up pops the question. There will also be play-dates, school events and maybe sleep-overs that spark the conversation.
If the father is present as a co-parenting figure, it might be easier to explain. However, it’s a totally different (and painful) situation if he’s completely absent.
- Your feelings about your child(ren)’s father don’t matter anymore. Put aside any negative feelings you may have and be as positive as you can when talking to and about him.
- Answer the questions as honestly as you can without talking ill of the dad or portraying him as an angel.
- Try and work out a co-parenting relationship with the dad so that the children get to know him. If need be, hire a legal expert to help you out.
- Resist the temptation to have a man in your life just so that your children have a daddy figure.
5. Overcoming social isolation
Single working mums tend to isolate themselves under the disguise of maintaining sanity. You refrain from going out with work colleagues, forming new friendships or even attending social events.
If it’s not a business event, you’re better off staying home…that’s how you reason it out in your mind.
One unfortunate result of social isolation is that it leads to you bottling up a lot of negative feelings and emotions. Also, because you have no one to talk to about personal issues, they start to consume you.
Some women try to overcome this by making their children their confidants. In some cases, children end up becoming their mother’s emotional support, which lays a heavy burden on a child’s shoulders.
- Humans need social interaction at their level of growth, and you’re not an exception. There’s nothing wrong with having someone take care of your children once in a while as you interact with other grownups.
- Neither is it wrong to take a day off from child responsibilities to catch up with friends and family.
- Create a small circle of people you trust and connect with them regularly. When you’re with your friends, be positive and not just someone who dumps their stuff on others.
6. Missing your children when you or they are away
If and when you’re co-parenting, there will be times when your children will be away from you. For most single working mums, this is usually on weekends or school holidays.
There may also be times when your work demands that you travel and leave your children for a few days or weeks.
As your children grow, they will also start having a life of their own. Overnight school trips, visits to friends and relatives, sleepovers…they soon seem to enjoy spending nights away from home.
During this time you’re going to miss their presence. You’re going to wonder if they are okay. And you’re probably going to worry about what they might be exposed to.
There’s nothing wrong with having someone take care of your children once in a while as you interact with other grownups.
I remember how hard it was for me to let my children go away for a whole school holiday. They spent the holiday partly with their dad then they went to visit my parents and sisters’ families.
That holiday was a long one. First, I didn’t do anything meaningful until they arrived in Nairobi. This was because they were travelling from Mombasa to Nairobi on their own for the first time.
Then I hardly slept the first week because I was wondering how they were doing, whether they were sick, if they were missing me and their stuff…lots of worry.
Shock on me when the boys had a ball and made this trip a part of their school holidays. In the 3 years that we have lived in Mombasa, I’ve only travelled with them once. They make their own arrangements, pack their suitcases, travel and come back home, all on their own.
With time, the stress of letting them go has turned into comfort and a sense of accomplishment. Taking charge of their travel and holidays has also increased my children’s the level of responsibility. Not having me with them has made them learn how to make responsible decisions and actions.
On my side, while the first few days without the children are not easy, I’ve learnt to take advantage of the extra free time to relax and indulge in my self-care.
- Let your children step away from home. Start with 1-2 days and then increase to longer periods. Remember that their safety is non-negotiable so make sure that the people you leave them with are responsible.
- Work-related separation is never easy. Allow your children to plan for their activities when you’re the one going away. When you come back home, spend some extra time catching up with them.
- Schedule extra self-care for yourself when your children travel. Watch your favourite movies, hang out with friends, go to the spa or simply spend time at home doing things you love.
Get ahead of the game as a single working mum
Now you have 6 tips that will help you get ahead of the game. While being a single working mum is not easy, it doesn’t mean that you cannot live a full and meaningful life.
Having the right attitude, taking the right actions and surrounding yourself with empowering people are core to your success. With these in place, you will create a better home life for yourself and your children.
Over to you…
Are you a single working mum? What are your strategies for maintaining your sanity even as you grow your career and bring up your children?
(Image Credit: Unsplash)