Advice from solo friends

Help and advice from other solo parents can be invaluable.

I’m very excited about the latest thing in my backyard – a raised vegetable box (you know you’re getting old when anything to do with gardening is exciting.)

The best thing about this box is the help I had making it from other solo parents. The wood came from a friend who was pulling out landscaping. Another friend, a solo dad, helped me build it. The whole thing cost me $10 for nails and $20 worth of beer to say thank you.

For a solo parent, friends are vital. And those who are also single parents can be a goldmine of advice.

I’ve got two girlfriends who are solo mums; and what inspires me about these women is that they are calm and content. What’s more, their children are exceptionally nice.

So I thought I’d introduce them and let them talk about what works and what doesn’t.

Patsy is 33 and has four children, from six weeks old to 11 years old. She works part-time for the Playcentre Association.

Karen, 44, has four children aged from two and a half months to seven years. She was a teacher before becoming a mother.

Being firm

Patsy: “Behaviour is caught not taught, so I have to be exemplary. When I get stressed and start shouting, it comes right back at me. On a scale of one to 10, I’d be an eight in terms of firmness. It’s important to talk to other parents and to do courses or read books. You need to have a flight plan.”

Karen: “There are two main rules in our house: no lying and no disrespect. As a solo parent it’s important to have a smooth running household and if you’re lax with boundaries it falls to pieces. Love and discipline go hand in hand. I’m the boss and I think that’s one of the reasons everything works well.”

Work and money

Karen: “I choose not to work. I’m aware that I am the only nurturer and I’m aware of my own limitations of patience and time. Not dividing myself up works better for everyone.

I shop only once every three weeks, which saves money, time and hassle. I use second-hand clothes and am prepared to make repairs. One thing I do whenever I have a little bit of extra money is pay off my rates.

Patsy: “I couldn’t get by financially without working part-time. But it’s more than that. All my friends come from Playcentre and it’s mental stimulation. There’s never enough money. Accepting that means that although I don’t have the money to buy new clothes, I get excited about going op-shopping. The bills are a priority: I work them all out for the year and then divide by 52 and that’s what I put by.”

Looking after yourself

Patsy: “I don’t get enough sleep, that’s all there is to it. I don’t use supplements because can’t afford them but we eat healthy, organic food and take Vitamin C. I’m very attached to my children and I don’t often leave them to pamper myself.”

Karen: “The evenings are precious so I try to do creative things then and not housework. It’s usually something for the children like photo albums or sewing but it’s satisfying. If my house is dustier than someone else’s, so what.”

Being responsible

Patsy: “I am very responsible for my kids. Some solo parents seem to get very relaxed about where they leave their kids and about picking them up on time. They know I’m going to be there for them, they know there will be a meal, they know I’m not going to fall apart or get drunk.

Karen: “ I’m scrupulously careful with my children. For example, I don’t have male babysitters. As solo parents we’ve got to make sure that our comfort doesn’t jeopardise the kids.

Using the time

Patsy: “One thing that has made my kids achieve is that I’ve always done creative things with them. If it’s raining, we’ll go for a walk and watch the puddles. They all know how to use a sewing machine, even my five-year-old boy. Those little achievements give them self-esteem and they give things a go.

Karen: “A routine is also important. I get up early, about 6:30am, and I don’t get the younger two up until the older two are completely fed and ready for school. I usually have a rest while the younger ones sleep in the afternoon and then from 4pm onwards it is totally structured. Having tea early is something else that helps the day go well.”

Inner strength

Patsy: “Attitude is really important. I always look for the silver lining and I don’t get hung up on what people think. If I’m doing something creative with the kids and don’t do the housework, what does that matter.”

Karen: “At the end of the day, I couldn’t do it without my faith. I pray a lot – not on my knees but just like conversation. I say, “Oh, Lord, I blew that one, didn’t I?” I do my best as a single parent and trust God to make up the difference.”

Useful Articles and Websites

Birthright – Support Group for Single Parents

If you don’t already know some other single parents to turn to for support, you can meet some near you by joining the Birthright network in New Zealand.  Read more about this group in our article on Birthright.

Sandi Paterson

Sandi Paterson is a freelance journalist based in Tauranga. She lives in a 1950's bach with her daughter, a grumpy cat, and a budgie who sits on her computer when she writes. This article appeared originally in Little Treasures magazine.

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