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Creative Strategies from Single Parents on Juggling Work and Family


Apr. 9, 2021 Harvard Business Review

The daily challenge of feeding, caring for, and educating children is tough. Add the stress of earning enough money to sustain the family’s well-being and feeling fulfilled in your own career, and it becomes daunting. And solutions that work for each unique family can be hard to come by.

For solo parents — those who are single, divorced, widowed, or have partners away from home due to deployment, incarceration, disability, or work — the challenge is that much harder. Whether it’s staying up late with a feverish child, needing to stay longer at work, coping with a sudden emergency, enforcing house rules, or tackling the myriad of mundane decisions throughout the day, a solo parent does it alone. But knowing it’s all up to you can also be a profound, and often empowering, responsibility.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. After my divorce, I became more self-reliant, creative, and flexible in my parenting because I had to step up and make it work. As the founder of ESME.com (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), I’ve learned that this ingenuity isn’t unusual — that solo parents often develop unique, problem-solving skills in response to their unique situations.

Here are just a few that I’ve observed through my own experience and in talking to a variety of single parents that all working parents can learn from as they navigate work and family.

Capitalizing on Stolen Moments

Time is a solo parents’ enemy — there aren’t enough hours in a day. Because of this, solo parents must identify where they can save time and prioritize what’s most important. They know they are not able to do it all and that something has to give, whether it’s a messy house, an extra hour of screen time for the kids, a shortened dog walk, or take-out for dinner (none of which impact their family’s well-being). Aware that time is a precious commodity, solo parents take advantage of small moments to connect with their children, fulfill their work responsibilities, and make the most out of their time by squeezing work and personal tasks into commutes, sports practices, waiting rooms, and odd hours. Solo mom and writer Joni Cole notes, “You can achieve good work in half-hour increments, and they add up.”

Figuring out ways to remain productive without busy work and long hours, solo parents challenge long-held assumptions about workplace efficiency and dedication. Moms who have to squeeze in a school pickup or dads who need to work from home when a child is sick are equally dedicated as workers with partners — perhaps even more so. Parenting alone inspires a healthy reframing of one’s relationship to work which is both liberating, rewarding, and instructive to those of us who need a reminder of what’s important.

Setting Up Unique Housing Arrangements

A solo mom in Los Angeles posted recently to our single moms’ group: “I am a single mom of two teenage daughters, and one is going off to college. I am interested in finding another single mom that would be interested in renting together… Maybe we have opposite parenting schedules?”

The traditional nuclear family arrangement doesn’t always support solo parent families well — financially or logistically. To lower housing costs and get help with childcare, many solo parents share homes and rentals or move in with extended family. Atlanta mom Kaleena Weaver explains, “I bought a house with a basement unit so my mom could move in. I cover all the bills, and she helps with the kiddo and household work.” Janelle Hardy single mom from Canada, opted to rent a large house so she could take in a roommate or two who enjoy being part of a family environment. Hardy also took part in exchange student programs to offset costs and have an extra set of hands while raising her children. Another mother, Lisa Benson, uses part of her home to rent out as an Airbnb for extra income.

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