I don't know how she does it! .....no really, please tell me...
December 17, 2013 9:46 AM   Subscribe

As I mentioned in this question, I'm a single mom of an 8 month old. My question in a nutshell is, how in the hell do working single parents do it?

I have chronic pain and fibromyalgia but need to work so am currently looking for a job. My daughter will be in day care probably 4.5 days a week once I start working. I'm focused on finding a true 9-5 job, so what I need help with is mornings and evenings. At this point I can't imagine getting myself ready for work and my daughter ready for daycare by a reasonable time in the morning!

I've looked around and a lot of advice centers on getting everything done in the evening. If I can I will definitely be doing that. The struggle for me is that I am so tired and usually in pain by the end of the day. Am I destined to shower at night? If I don't shower in the morning I don't feel fully awake. I've heard of having a sitter/nanny in the morning - how common is that? It doesn't seem like a great gig for the nanny, so I wonder how hard it is to find someone.

My daughter is fine on her own for a little while in the morning but I don't think for long enough for me to get ready. I have an exersaucer and that helps too. It just sounds so overwhelming!

My daughter's father is in school, works and volunteers so his available time is limited. I support the direction he's moving in, which will eventually result in more child support, so I'm not interested in having him reduce his other obligations in order to help. He will have her overnight on Sundays and Tuesdays so I'll have two "free" weekday mornings and one "free" weekday evening.

Single parents, parents with partners who travel often, tell me your secrets!
posted by argyle dreams to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
At this point I can't imagine getting myself ready for work and my daughter ready for daycare by a reasonable time in the morning!

I can't speak to a lot of your questions, but I can say that we have to get up ~5:30am in order to get two grown ups and one 6 year old out of bed, fed, dressed, and out the door by 7:45am. It is just how long it takes us, and even then we are sometimes late. Early mornings suck sometimes but you gotta do what you gotta do. Just make sure you still get a solid night's sleep yourself. Because of our schedule the grown-ups now go to bed around 9:45pm (kid is in bed by 7:30).

My daughter is fine on her own for a little while in the morning but I don't think for long enough for me to get ready.

You have to learn to take fast but thorough showers, and then do the rest of your getting ready in your bedroom or someplace that she can be there with you. Just get in there, shampoo, rinse, put in conditioner, soap up the rest of your body, then rinse conditioner and body soap off. Ta da. It can take just a minute or two. Save the shaving for your mornings when you have more time. And evening showers can be a huge morning time saver. They aren't always best case scenario for me, though. I feel like I get sweaty and unclean overnight and really need/want the morning shower to wake me up and make me feel fresh. YMMV
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:53 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

My daughter's father is in school, works and volunteers so his available time is limited.

I dunno. Is his volunteer commitment directly related to his future career path?
posted by lalex at 9:56 AM on December 17, 2013 [32 favorites]

I've heard of having a sitter/nanny in the morning - how common is that? It doesn't seem like a great gig for the nanny, so I wonder how hard it is to find someone.

I had that growing up -- mostly it was a high school kid who would come over for an hour or so in the morning, get me ready for the day, and drive me to day care (and later school). I don't think it started for me until I was a little bit older (I believe my mother went back to work when I was 2), but if you'll be there so it's more of a "mothers helper" thing I would think it could be workable -- as long as you can be done needing them early enough for them to get themselves to school.
posted by brainmouse at 10:00 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you can hire a teenager to feed your daughter while you get ready in the morning. This can be a nice bit of change to a kid in your building and it can be a nominal amount to you. So let's say you need someone for 1 hour every morning between 6:30 and 7:30. So you have Kaitlin stop down to amuse your little one and to shovel some breakfast into her, while you shower and dress. Eveyone is out the door by 7:30 am.

$20 per week is a fair rate, and it shouldn't set you back too much.

For another $20, you can have the same kid stop by at around dinner time. Once you get home, Kaitlin again, entertains your daughter, while you change into your house clothes and assemble dinner. Cook enough so that you can take leftovers as lunch the following day. You've just hacked your lunch!

As for dinners, fed is fine. You don't have to do fancy stuff. One thing I've found is that you can cook a shit-ton of brown-rice when you've got the time, it keeps really well and reheats nicely. Just add a steamed veggie and some protein, and you have a healthy dinner. A big salad with tuna and a nice sourdough roll is a good dinner. So is a big bowl of soup.

Routine will be your friend here. It will serve you and your daughter well. Kids thrive on predicability, so the more together you are, the better your daughter will be and the easier it will be.

Once dinner is done, play a bit, bathies, a story and then bed for the baby. Now you have a couple of hours to yourself. This is SACRED! You must have some alone time.

People do it because they NEED to do it. If anyone gave it any thought, they'd collapse. The most important thing is the routine. You'll forget your head if you don't have a routine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:01 AM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

My wife and I work staggered schedules to cut down on childcare expenses: I hand off our daughter to the nanny in the morning and work 9-5:30 and my wife relieves the nanny at the end of the day and works 7:30-4. What that means is that I'm the one who gets daughter up and dressed in the morning by myself, which is... totally doable. Generally she wakes up between 6:30-7, I feed her and give her some milk, play with her a bit and get her dressed. Around 7:50 I put her back in her crib for a bit so I can shower and get dressed, the nanny shows up at ~8:15, I hand off daughter and head for the train.
posted by Oktober at 10:03 AM on December 17, 2013

First of all, I would suggest that your ex take two days in a row instead of Sun and Tues. All that transition will be tough on your baby, and will require extra work from you (getting bottles, food, clothes packed up, coordinating the handoff). If he takes 2 days in a row then you will get a solid amount of time to yourself to recoup and get stuff done. Remember that transition time is not only tough on your baby, but also work for you. So as much as possible, reduce transitions. I'd suggest he take her from Sun AM to Tues AM (and do the drop off at daycare on Tues AM). It makes sense that you are supporting his career goals but what about your own? You need to maintain your energy to make sure you can work as well.

Third, you need to babyproof your house thoroughly and set up strategic baby containment spaces. If you have an area fenced off for her to play in safely while you keep an eye on her from the kitchen, then you can get a lot done. Get her used to sitting in a pack n play/playpen as well so you can stick her in there while you get ready.

The hardest part is probably showering, but it will get easier quickly. For the next few months you'll have to stick her in the exersaucer while you shower. Eventually as she gets more mobile you can babyproof the bathroom and let her hang out while you jump in the shower. I can do this now with my 16 month old.
posted by yarly at 10:10 AM on December 17, 2013 [10 favorites]

I don't know why people think you should try to get stuff done in the evening when you're exhausted. I was a single parent of three kids for many years and found that the only way to get things done was to go to bed really early and get up an hour or two before they did. I made it through grad school that way, bed by 9, up at 4. I was much more focused when I was rested and the house was quiet. (Of course getting up that early meant that I often craved a nap by 2 PM, so I started drinking coffee.)
posted by mareli at 10:22 AM on December 17, 2013 [10 favorites]

My son is also 8 months old. The only way I can take a shower is to leave the bathroom door open and put him in his jumparoo in the doorway so he can see the shower. I also talk/sing while taking a shower so he can hear my voice.

I usually wear him in a sling while I'm doing most household chores (washing dishes, vacuumingā€ˇ, etc.) and that keeps him happy. I keep his playpen in the kitchen/living room and put him in there while cooking or if I need to leave the room for a minute. He is not always happy in the playpen but I try to talk/sing to him and I dance around the kitchen a lot while making silly faces to keep him entertained.

I know it is hard. I'm hoping it will get easier soon too.
posted by Ariadne at 10:28 AM on December 17, 2013

You can use a playpen, etc to get your daughter used to some alone time while you have 'shower time' in the morning. There may be some tears - but if she is safe, then you can power through.

Streamline everything. The amount of time you now have to fix your hair is zero minutes. The amount of time you have to shower is 8 minutes. Have a standard set of outfits and rotate through them so it takes no thought or effort to get dressed. Bring your makeup bag with you and put your make up on in the car in the parking lot of the daycare after dropoff. Learn where all the drive through ATMs, pharmacys, and coffee shops are. Employ a launderer.

Good luck!
posted by bq at 10:40 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You only have an 8-month-old for a month. I say this as I found myself the full-time single father of a 16-month-old a year ago, but just a year later, I have a two-year-old, and she is *drastically* more self-repaint and independent than a 16-month-old, who is once again drastically more independent than an 8-month-old.

I say this because it's easy to forget that even though their your responsibility for 18 years, the first year is so, so much harder than the second, and so on. It will get easier.

What did I do personally? I Hired a nanny to watch my daughter from 8-6 four days a week. My mother watched her one day a week as well. When she turned two, I put her in a daycare/preschool instead of the nanny. My typical day looks like this, currently:

Awake at 6:00 to "Dada! Dada! Dada!" from the other room.
Go downstairs and turn on Curious George and get my daughter something to eat.
Take a shower while she watches her show.
Get myself dressed.
Get my daughter dressed.
Leave for daycare/school at 7:45.
Drop daughter off at 8:00.
Go to work.
Leave work at 4:45 to get daughter by 5:00.
Go home, make dinner around 6:00.
Eat, play, hang out till 8:00.
Bathtime for daughter at 8:00.
Storytime, etc, and in bed by 9:00. Asleep around 9:15, plus or minus.
Adult time for an hour or so.
I'm in bed by 10:30.


On thursdays my mom picks up my daughter and I don't have to get her ready for school, or pick her up precisely by 5:00.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:46 AM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Ugh, autocorrect. Self-*reliant*, not "self-repaint". Also their/they're, "Hired/hired". Ugh. The edit button needs to last longer.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2013

For me, with two kids, what worked was to get them to bed early, so I'd have some time for myself in the evening, just for relaxing. Then I got to bed early, so I could get up before they woke. Lots and lots of routine, too - easy meals for all of us, at set times. Weekends, I'd cook some one-pot thing that could be reheated once or twice during the week.
I found a day care specializing in helping single mothers for the youngest - check out if there is something similar in your area. For one, they had longer opening hours. But the real advantage was that they completely understood my situation and were never judgmental or patronizing. (There were other children too, but they had this focus area).
All black and grey clothes for all of us - except some white shirts that could go with the all white sheets and towels in the laundry. (People really commented on this one, but I always asked them to come and do my laundry if they felt I needed more color in my life).
I had a cargo-bike rather than a car, but that depends on where you live. For me, not needing to look for parking space, and being able to go directly to the doorstep of the doctor, stores, school/daycare was really a time-saver.
I've never washed my hair every day. So it wasn't a big change to do one wash during the weekend and another a weekday night. This shortened my shower time to a minimum. On the other days, my hair was in a bun or a pony-tail.
Don't be afraid of tears, but also pick your battles. If one or both children cried while I was in the shower, I ignored it. But when we were in the supermarket, I gave them a treat the moment we got into the store (a roll, or a box of raisins). When they were older, they were allowed to run over to the fruit area or the candy area (alternating), and choose one small item, which they could have when it was paid. They understood the concept rapidly. Same at home. Keep out of my make-up was worth a battle, don't color the paper-back I'm reading, or even the wall, not so much. I notice a lot of single parents spend far too much time scolding and/or fighting. It is a huge stressor - avoid it.
Going out in time in the morning was a battle we had to fight, but after a while, there was no argument. BTW, you can have too much time in the morning so they loose momentum - you need to find the perfect balance.
When the youngest was one, I got a bigger apartment and a roommate. She wasn't another parent, and she had her own set of issues, but it gave me the freedom to sometimes go to buy groceries without two children, to take a long shower, or to go to a party or a dinner once in a while. Eventually, roommate would pick up the youngest from daycare sometimes (not so much the eldest from school, since it was relatively far from our home).
I had two part-time jobs. In one of them, I could do a lot of the work from home.

And like tylerkaraszewski said: they grow older. Suddenly they move out, and you miss them...
posted by mumimor at 11:03 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

When my kids were small I got up earlier so that I was already showered and dressed when they needed to get ready. Routine was everything.
posted by headnsouth at 11:11 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Outsource as much as you can. Laundry and cooking and cleaning are time sucks.
posted by k8t at 12:21 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have chronic pain and fibromyalgia. The reason this seems overwhelming is that it is overwhelming. You aren't just a single mom, you are a single mom with chronic pain and fibromyalgia. I would start by looking on the internet for all the resources you can find for that, because advice that assumes you have as much energy and ability as someone else is likely to result in frustration when you don't. I don't have fibro but I do have other problems that require me to engage in, well, fairly conservative spoon-management, even without kids. You're still talking about a nanny like it's an extravagance, but if you can possibly afford household help, don't shy away from it.
posted by Sequence at 12:29 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, another variant is to designate a couple of days when baby comes into the shower with mommy! bath toys work great in the shower (you can always put a foot over the drain to let it go down a bit) or you can have a few plastic animals in there, there's extra novelty in water from above, and no kid is ever excessively clean. :) Play it as a special treat and it may save your waking-up sanity. (Doesn't help with the overall burden of getting ready with a kid underfoot, but might save you some sleep here and there.)
posted by acm at 12:44 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding what Sequence said.

If you currently don't have work why not give yourself a few test-run days? Pretend you've got to get out the door at 7:30 am. See how that goes, and then see what can be done better next time. If you find it to be basically impossible, then you'll know you need to add extra caretakers to your schedule (and budget).
posted by fontophilic at 12:47 PM on December 17, 2013

I'm a single mom of a 16 month old. It is hard to fit everything into the post-bedtime hours, but you get pretty efficient at it over time. I've also reluctantly switched showering to night instead of morning, and find it can be a nice way to unwind at the end of a long day.
posted by judith at 1:02 PM on December 17, 2013

Of course this might be out of the realm of possibilities but this might be a situation where a retired grandparent or aunt, a recent college grad cousin or something moving in for a period of time (and you get a 2 bedroom) might be worth considering. Or perhaps you get a 2 bedroom and have a college student or au pair who can help with some of the housework?
posted by k8t at 2:19 PM on December 17, 2013

> My daughter's father is in school, works and volunteers so his available time is limited.

I'd revisit this assumption. It is a bit baffling, because what is more important than taking care of your own children -- volunteering?

You can continue to be supermom, but what if you crash and burn? You have a very small infant to take care of, and are extra tired and in pain. Does his schooling really need to come right now? As someone else noted, in a year or two your child will be much more independent and you will get much more sleep and be in a better place. Could his schooling be put on hold for just one year?

And why is he taking the baby just 2 out of 7 nights a week? That's not close to 50%, and given your medical issues, he should probably be doing _more_ than 50%. You're expecting yourself to just suck it up and push through, so why can't he?

Single mothers all around the world work 12, 16 hours day every single day, year in, year out, because the men in their lives often don't pull their weight. I just want to point out that you're asking us to come up with ways to ameliorate what is a profoundly unequal situation. If he doesn't want to drop out of his program, let him do it _on top of_ all the childcare he should be doing. Women have done the same, and more, for eons.
posted by ravioli at 3:54 PM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Do less, make the father do more. Way more.

He should be doing 3 nights at least. This is good for him long term too because he will miss out on his kid's babyhood and forming a close bond. You're not imposing on him, you're giving him the opportunity to be a good dad.

Ask him about doing all the baby laundry for example so you can hand over the baby plus a big bag of baby laundry.

Showering in the morning - can you put the baby in a playpen or a swingset inside the bathroom so you can see her while you bathe? I used to put the baby in an infant bathtub on the floor while I showered, doing literally one half of my hair/face so I could keep an eye open at a time.

Get instant breakfasts like yogurt or buy drive-thru breakfasts to eat so you have next to no prep time needed.

Write out a checklist so you don't have to think when you are super-tired in the morning. A checklist for the diaper bag, for the kitchen, everywhere.

Lower your standards. Your baby would rather have a happy healthy mother than all the Pinterest activities for babies (delete Pinterest!). Divide up what you like doing - I hate going to the park with my kids, so my husband does that while I do library trips. Both of us hated reading books at bedtime, so we just didn't, but we made sure there were lots of art materials around. No-one does it all, so pick what you and your baby enjoy the most and ditch the rest.

I have uneven health and by evening, I'm wiped out so the evening is for optional things. I also can't rush mornings. The only way it works during school term is to prep things for the next day in the morning or week ahead (smoothie mixes in freezer, diaper bag restocking, toys set up for the week in boxes for each day etc) when I have energy, and then wake up at like 6am and drink coffee and shuffle around getting things ready until I drop the kid off and then I start checking my actual to-do list. It takes me two hours in the morning to do what with full energy midday I could do in thirty minutes, BUT that extra 90 minutes isn't wasted - I'm tickling a toddler, chatting with another kid, staring out the window with hot coffee to drink - it's calm time that results in me having enough energy to do 3-4 full hours of work later on.

I envy people who get up at 6am and go for brisk walks and do laundry and stuff, but it isn't going to work for me physically. On a bad physical day, I'll do the must-do things (change diaper, feed kid, shower) and do my B-list, which is tiny annoying tasks I put off on regular full-energy days, things like change a lightbulb, return a phone call etc. I may only get 5 things done veeeery slowly but it beats a day with nothing done.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:45 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

For the shower, get glass doors or a clear vinyl curtain for your shower. Now you can put the jumpy seat in the bathroom and still talk to the baby and make faces and sing, etc.
posted by CathyG at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2013

Thanks all, so much. I feel much more prepared.

To answer one of the questions, the volunteering is not only directly related to his career path but it is a requirement of admission to the program he is applying to. That said, I think I somehow forgot that once I start working full time I will be just as busy as he is, and with chronic pain to deal with. So thank you for reminding me of that - we will renegotiate the child care schedule.

Sequence - I love the Spoon Theory! I'm fortunate that my pain/illness does not restrict me as much as the author, but I think it's a great way of explaining the trade-offs and limitations of chronic illness.
posted by argyle dreams at 4:03 PM on December 19, 2013

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