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The Puzzle: Single parenthood, work/career, childcare

"How do other working single parents balance the demands of work with childcare?" asks a friend.  She goes on:

My lack of ability to network and attend as many after work and out of work functions sometimes leaves me feeling outside of building strong relationships and opportunities professionally.  A lot of events and functions happen before daycare opens or after it closes.  Even if I could find a sitter, which most nights I can't, it is hard to justify spending the $12-15/hour plus any drinks and dinner at the function when I already pay $11k per year for full time daycare on a single income.  

I also tend to feel squeezed between daycare and work.  The professional world expects that I should be able to meet the workloads and time demands typical of most in a 9-5 professional environment.  Most of the time this works fine; however, when an end of day client call goes too late I find myself rushing like a maniac to get to daycare on time.  Who am I kidding?  Most days I struggle to get all of my work done and make it to daycare on time.  

All of the other children at the daycare where my daughter goes have coupled parents.  Typically the parents alternate pickup and dropoff so that their kids get more home time and the parents have more flexibility in their working hours.  My daughter is almost always the last kid to daycare (it is hard to get ready when I also have to prepare her meals, etc) and the last kid to be picked up.  Whenever I can pick her up earlier I do, but often it is just at the closing bell and the daycare staff who would like to leave earlier make it clear that they are annoyed.  

On the flip side, the narrow window means that my actual work product and thinking about work tends to be much more focused.  I get less distracted by email, any personal Web surfing or really any non essential work since I am clear that I have much less time to get work done.  I also have learned that I have to clearly delineate work and family.  By the time I work all day, pick up my daughter, get ready for the next day, do laundry, clean up and shower I am so exhausted that there is no chance I could muster the mental energy to do any more work.  Home has become a mostly work free environment for me which actually allows me to focus on my daughter and do things that take very little mental energy, but that are fulfilling such as: sewing, reading, or playing music when a moment allows.

Has single parenthood made you more efficient at work?  Does it mean your child is in the minority, spending upwards of 9 hours at daycare?  Does it get any better than this or is this reality your balance?


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Having it all means different things for a single parent. I traded off with another mom when mine was little preschool age, I would pick up her kids sometimes and she would keep my mine some Fridays. When she started school we moved to Portland and it was harder to make those kind of connections because in my experience a lot of those kid-trading circles were closed to single moms. So it was really rough the first couple years, then I found a family day care provider who did pickups. It was sometimes chaotic because she picked up a lot of kids and mine only one day a week, so she got forgotten a couple of times. For about 2-3 years, if my daughter wasn't with me I was paying someone.

Single mom friends have made school decisions based on the after school care available. If you're in an environment full of partnered parents, you will have to work harder to network with other parents and work out exchanges. I can count the number of times a partnered parent since I moved here did a childcare exchange with me 11 years ago on one hand and have fingers left over. Network with single moms, considr a childcare that has more single parents. You will hear about resources at the sign-in sheet table. Single moms have each others backs because we have to.

There are a limited number of hours in the day that you have available, OP, and you simply CANNOT replicate what partnered parents can do. You will make yourself crazy trying.

Props to the single parents. My mom was one, and every time my husband travels I am so thankful to know that my stints as a single parent is short lived. I don't know how you do it.

That said, I have seen a few times on this site where people say that single moms stick together and partnered families stick together. I am sorry you've had that experience. I will say that I have friends who are single moms, and friends who are partnered moms. Of the kids with single moms who I know, there is one who I will gladly share childcare with. The other, not to much.

The reason has nothing to do with whether these ladies are partnered or not. What it has to do with is personality. One of the single moms has a child who is super sweet and one of my own child's best friends. The mom is someone I could see chatting with regardless of kids, because she's just a sweet good person who's nice to talk to. We swap childcare sometimes.

The other single mom is a bit annoying. She's not annoying because she's single. She's annoying because that's just her. I limit my time interacting with her as much as possible. If my child were good friends with hers, I would make a larger effort, but she's not. So, I don't feel a huge need to reach out and offer to help.

So - for me at least, it doesn't have to do with whether or not someone has a partner. It has to do with whether my children are a good match for playing with theirs, and whether I'd want to spend time interacting with that mom.

Don't know if that makes sense. I just hate to see things that say partnered moms aren't willing to help out or whatever. So not true for me.

The work/childcare thing is hard hard hard. I hate that today during Teacher Work day, my child is at school at the Y. I hate that she gets no spring break. I hate that she doesn't get after school playdates and has to hear her friends planning their playdates while at school. I always feel pressured to have all my work done because I can't stay late like I did in jobs past and I can't come in on weekends like my childless or partnered coworkers if I fall behind and want to catch up before the new week (that would be rare, but it does happen at times). And with the cost of daycare/after-school care who can afford a babysitter EVER???? My daughter has never had a babysitter in 6.5 years at our house who puts her to bed so when I come home all the work is done. The expense is just not reasonable. Anytime I have an event I want to attend, she stays overnight with a friend. This is not optimal. I hate that this will continue until she is 12. Both money wise and emotionally for both of us. When we finally do get time together at night, there is so much pressure to be together and have it be meaningful, that often other things don't get done.

But you know, it is what it is. She is loved, cared for, and has a lot of friends. She is smart and is getting a good education. She is not having the same childhood as I had, but does that make one right and one wrong? She is exposed to different types of families, and we have a chosen family that helps us when we need help. Other single mothers by choice have been wonderful supports. I think the only thing that would make it easier to tolerate, would be having our biological family closer than 3000 miles away.

I think I said "in my experience" in Portland, the Bay Area was very different for ME and very mixed. And if other people are saying it as well, maybe their experience as a single mom is different than yours as a partnered mom.

No reason to get defensive about someone else's reality. Did you have some suggestions for the original poster?

I did the teen sitter thing once, and couldn't afford the adult sitters, so I used family day care providers. It is less convenient, because you do the pick up and your child's routine gets disturbed. One of the providers also a single mom, ended up being one of our closest family friends. My daughter's second home, she just spent the night there Wednesday actually. And we were each other's sounding board during the hellish young teen girl years. I could call and she could discern from tone of my voice to say, "I'll be right there"

Protest Mama, I have one of those mom friends, too. It's awesome, even though I am 10 years older than her. I probably have more in common with her (both due to single parent issues (including dating...yikes!) and personality)that I do with most people my own age.

My issue with teen babysitters is that if they do not drive, they cannot put my daughter to bed, since I have to drive them home; and adults who drive would charge a much higher rate.

The teen sitter I used lived next door, but she was asleep and my 6 year old was awake when I got home.

@Debby, while I will be the first to stand in awe of single moms (by the time she was 25, my mom was a single mom in NYC to three kids), pretty much everything you described:

have to spend a "down day" at the Y or with an aftercare provider, don't really get a spring break (who are the people who can afford to go someplace warm when airfare alone is $800 per person?), no week day playdates are also more common than not for two parent families, as well.

For the playdates, there's really no reason you can't have her go home with a friend sometimes, after arranging it in advance. During my unemployment my daughter's then best friend (who had two parents, but both worked and I sometimes had to watch her friend at other times for them, as well) came home with us every Friday.

Most families are dual income, nowadays. In the case of SAHM, those families are typically barely making ends meet, so consider that. My daughter had me home for awhile, because I was unemployed---and I was VERY focused on finding a job, so I certainly wasn't endlessly devoting myself to her, either. I'm only home now, because I work from home.

And yes, I do get you still unquestionably have it harder, but there are plenty of kids in two parent households whose lives are pretty similar to hers.

We've never hired a babysitter, either---I actually think having a kid sleepover is probably a better solution, anyway. We also generally take her a lot places with us and I can't imagine vacationing without her.

On a positive note---you might be able to leave her home earlier than you think. My daughter was nine when I got a new job, that involved her being home alone for about 20 minutes every day (and having to leave for school alone every day). She hated her school's before and aftercare---and had already been walking home alone for 6 months.

So we talked and for the 6 months I was at the contract, she managed quite well. Starting at 9 or 10 children can be left alone while you run to the store, etc.

@ProtestMama - I've exchanged childcare with single moms, many times---my criteria was generally who my daughters' friends were (I certainly didn't care what anyone's marital status was). Likewise, I've been helped out of jams by partnered and single moms pretty equally.

If anything, sometimes things still balance out, anyway. I don't drive---so my daughter's BFF's mom is always very nice about picking and dropping off. Even though it's out of her way. She's a single mom and does sometimes get stuck. I live near the school and have watched her daughter for her many times.

Zumpie, my examples of what are hard for me are by no means a way of saying that my life is harder than the lives of coupled parents. I have never been a coupled parent, so I would not know what it is like, much like many of the other moms out there have never been single parents so they don't know what it is like. I was merely stating my experience, and not looking for solutions. Some moms may be able to arrange to have their kids go on playdates after school on a regular basis. I have TRIED, repeatedly, even BEGGED other moms, but it doesn't happen more than once and awhile. I can't reciprocate. I can't trade off. It's not fun to ask others to please take my kid, but the only time your kid can come to my house is on the weekends, when most people respond that they want to spend family time with their kids. I am not saying she never has playdates, and she is a fun kid and does have friends, so it's not a personality thing. But she sees people going home with each other all the time, and she feels left out, which as her mom, makes me feel left out too.

As for spring break, I was not talking about going on trips. I was talking about not going to school, staying home, going on outings, etc. For her, going to the Y is the same as going to school. She does not look forward to it.

I do look forward to leaving her home alone when I go to the store. What I really look forward to is her being able to come home from school alone. When I was a kid in the 70s, we were "latch-key kids" as my mom and dad worked full time. I think that started in 3rd or 4th grade. Now, I would never dream of having my kid come home alone at that age.

Anyway, I made a choice to be a single mom and I wouldn't change it. The OP was asking what our challenges were, and it seems sometimes they are the same, sometimes different than parents in other situations. Thanks for your suggestions though.

I actually find it interesting, but I am not criticizing, just commenting, that so many coupled moms end up posting on the single mom-question posts, and challenging a lot of what single moms say, or sometimes get defensive (I am not talking about anyone in particular). I don't see this happening as much on posts about spending time with your partner, or being a SAHM. You don't usually see people post, "I'm not partnered, but once I dated someone for a weekend so I know what it's like to be partnered." I really like to post about my experiences, but I often find my experiences challenged by other people who have not gone through the same things, or have not lived my life or my type of life. It would be nice to get questions about my life, or sometimes suggestions if they are appropriate, but I don't think comparisons about who has it harder are necessary. We all have it hard (except maybe the 1%, but they have their OWN set of problems too) so let's just assume that we are all doing the best we can, be supportive, and understand that if the post is about single mothers, single mothers are going to state their experiences and want to feel like it is a safe place to do so. If it is about spending time with your partner, I will read it and find it interesting, but most likely, I will not post about my experiences on that post, as I obviously have NONE (I have been partnered in the past, but not with a kid, and I can't even IMAGINE what that would be like, good or bad or neutral).

Whoops, I just realized (full disclosure) that I DID post something on an Easter post and I am Jewish. I will try harder. I promise! Last post. Maybe.

i hear you debby, but if someone conveys the idea that they can't swap childcare with partnered people because they are not partnered, why can't others speak up to offer that partnered people do exist who will swap childcare with single parents, based upon frequently used modern criteria (ie. the children and adults get along)? that could be interpreted as encouraging information: don't give up on partnered people, just because the ones you currently know aren't a good fit.

@Debby, reciprocation isn't even always necessary. I've honestly usually hosted WAAAY more often than not and I really didn't expect the favor to be returned.

Actually, the only case where I was really pissed about giving and not getting, was from a married mom: I had hosted her daughter more often than they had, when I redecorated I also gave a bunch of barely used things to them. We had also babysat their daughter sometimes with no notice so they could socialize.

What made me angry? Not that they even invited my daughter less---but that (again, I don't drive) they flatly refused to let my daughter into their middle school car pool. This was even though our house was on the way, the girls were still friends, I offered to chip in for gas, etc.

Interestingly, the lady up the street (who I barely knew), whose son and my daughter kinda hated each other, made a POINT of offering to take her every morning.

But I'm way off topic. Anyway, my point is, maybe you can do something else if you feel you need to reciprocate? And trust me, we partnered people are sometimes VERRRRRRRRRRY happy to get rid of our children for the weekend.

Rachel, I hear you too. However, looking back on my post, I didn't say that. I was talking about my own issues. I have partnered friends who have been awesome to us, one of whom was at my daughter's birth. But you are right. You do have a right to answer to someone's post if you feel there is some information you can share that can be helpful. I was just really aware of people who feel the need to give suggestions or feedback based on something they don't have experience with. I'm surprised partnered people actually are interested in the responses to questions aimed towared single moms. Maybe that's good. I remember seeing posts about what people did for their partners on Valentine's Day or something like that, and pretty much just skipping over those. I just want us all to be open minded and ask questions instead of answering questions that have not even been asked. Does that make sense??? :)

@Debby---I think a lot of us look on other posts out of curiosity. And while we (and again see MY post about how I stand in awe of all single moms) have it much easier, dual income families can still use the juggling tips.

Oh, back to the reciprocation thing, here's another example:

Up the block lives a single mom by choice of FOUR, two of whom are twin toddlers. She gets help from her parents and does work from home---and in fact has helped me out in the past as well. Best quote ever, "we're moms we NEED to help each other out".

Anyway, my daughter cleaned out a bunch of toys today---which we were going to donate to Good Will. Then I remembered my daughter sold her some of the more valuable stuff in the past AND my neighbor had mentioned $$$ being tight these days.

I made my daughter walk up the block and offer everything to her. She'll be by when the kids are at school and even offered my daughter $$$ again, which my daughter refused. We're happy to help.

BUT, if she wants to drive me to pick up a craigslist find I'm eying..... :-)

I think this is an example why it is hard for the non-tyopical uM (partnered, well educated, above survival level income) have a hard time posting here. I don't post on threads related to relationship difficulties with parenting or extended family issues because I wouldn't know what I was talking about.

I would say again not as sweetly as Debby (who is soooo awesome) it really sucks to have someone who hasn't walked in your shoes to come in and negate your experiences. It's like when men tell me that getting and keeping well paying jobs is easier for women. Or non-black friend tells me that it's easier to be black in the job market. And give me anecdotes, to prove their thesis. and some didn't even involve Oprah.

There are certainly more than 2 single moms on uM, wonder why they aren't posting? No one is saying that partnered pareting is easy, it takes a village. The way I explained it was it is always your turn when you're a single parent. There is only one employable person in the household. If that person gets laid off, or ill or whatever there is no back up person.

It is so difficult for single parents to get the support they need, it would be awesome if you could allow us to get some here.

Back in the day, we lived on those New Seasons wok bowls for PTA meeting nights and after work meetings. My girl was pretty good about quietly doing homework or reading during those meeting but a higher energy child would have been more challenging. Do these new fangled iPads and such help?

yes, debby, it does.

i read lots of threads, whether or not they mirror my experience because i learn so much. even if my life will never be exactly like any other person's, i still want to hear what other people are going through and participate in the conversation. personally, i am not a single parent, but i was raised by a single parent, like another poster above.

i appreciate how you put it, protestmama, about how "it is always your turn" - that conveys a lot.

I'm a single parent with no family in town. Like the original poster I feel squeezed. In so many ways I often have to make a conscious effort to not think about them all. That village I hear so much about being necessary to raise a child.....does it really exist? Because I sure haven't found it. Sadly, most people are too busy with their own families.

@ debby: it surprises me that you say you 'chosejust to be a singlr mom and wouldn't change it'. I find that hard to believe based on what you post about.

Oh my. I'll say that almost all of this blog involves people talking about/venting/about/dealing with life circumstances that they chose. Yes. We chose to be parents and to have parenting problems. And I enjoy reading about these problems, even the ones I don't share. Are we going to say that only people with unplanned pregnancies can vent? I hope not. Rock on, venting mamas. Telling our own stories makes us human and helps us understand one another.

I'm glad to see this post because I often feel isolated in this town, with most people in my age group coupled while raising little ones. I'm a single mom, not by choice, to a young toddler. Although my parent friends are great, I don't feel comfortable contacting them for help on the weekends, as that is their "family time". I have some help from my family during the week, but that is only for work-related issues. So, generally, I feel alone and misunderstood, and unfortunately, looked sadly upon by my peers. Perhaps, as my child grows older, my group of friends in similar situations will expand, but right now, it is lonely, full of intense pressure, and weird.

Thanks for bringing this up!

While clearly some partnered folks will say that weekends are their "family time" and don't want to interrupt that, I don't know that it is true for all partnered families. Perhaps it has to be a "ask each family" situation.

For me (and I am partnered), hosting a playdate is great for me and for my husband. We are both working parents. Often, my husband needs to put in some time at the office (on weekends) to be able to keep up. Having another child over for a playdate actually FREES me up to get some of the home stuff done (laundry, bill paying, filing/sorting) because the kids are happily occupied with each other & I just keep my ear out for squabbles and occasionally poke my head in to check if anyone needs snacks or anything.

I do have to say that this only really became true this year (my kiddo is in K) because before now, they really needed more supervision so it was a lot more hands-on.

And when kiddo goes to someone else's house for a playdate, we get some couple time at home without paying a babysitter, or we accomplish some of those tasks that need both of us & would leave little room for kiddo (some gardening tasks, some trips to Lowe's, remodeling stuff).

So, if I were in your circle, I would WELCOME playdates on weekends! even though we're partnered, family time is not some sacrosanct thing for us.

Anon, most parents choose to be parents in some way or another. Some kids are easy and some are challenging (like mine). We never know what the challenges are going to be when we have a child. We never know if our circumstances will change (like mine did financially when my daughter was 2). No matter what we choose, we can't look into the future to see what it will bring us. I have worked off my guilt about asking for help from family and close friends. I used to think "I asked for this, so I should be able to handle it." Now, I realize that this is a ridiculous way to think. No one can predict the future. I hope people aren't thinking when they have a kid, "well maybe I shouldn't do this because someday I might be on my own and it will be too hard."

If this post asked for the things I loved about being a single mom, I could list about 600. But this post, and others like it, asked about the challenges. I would put it up to the moderators: Would you be interested in posting something on the theme of "What we love about being single moms"? I had a single mom blog once, and we came up with quite a comprehensive list!

I am another single mom who struggles with many of the same issues as the OP and commenters. I could have written the original post, in fact, except that my daughter's daycare providers are always nice and understanding when I am a few minutes late, which makes me rush all the more to get there on time so that it hardly ever happens. I don't have any great solutions. I don't think there are any. I think the difficulty we experience relates to larger social issues like the lack of subsidized daycare and the isolation of nuclear families even in a place like Portland that prides itself on building intentional communities.

One thing I find especially hard is asking for help. I have always been independent by personality - it's part of why, even though I would have much preferred to have children with a partner, I decided to parent alone since it seemed that otherwise, I would not get to be a parent. Now, facing the same problems with after-work events, the daily daycare deadline, and tight finances, I know that I need to try harder to reach out; it's just so hard when everyone else seems so busy with their own lives and activities, and they don't offer. I haven't had much success with reciprocal playdates either, for a lot of reasons that I can't find a common answer for, so I'm not sure how to fix it or whether it can be fixed.

I am grateful that there is a forum like this, which is not a substitute for in-person community, but definitely lightens the isolation sometimes.

Daffodil, if you are interested, look on yahoo groups for PDX-SMC and ask to join. We meet monthly and have a great group of SMCs who are extremely bright, vocal, and funny!

I think work/child care is a bit of a hot-button in these parts amongst all types of parents.. such that the single parent focus on the issue gets a bit overrun by the main childcare feelings. My child is growing up with classmates some of whom get a whole summer and various school breaks off, some of whom have afternoon classes and playdates-- and others who are in aftercare until 6pm daily who never seem to get free time to go out and play. He aleady knows some friends are busy and hard to plan up with- it's just how things are. For me, if I am aware a friend's parent is a single, I am extra-nice and don't expect reciprocity of care anyway, just hopefully a chance for the kids to enjoy the friendship now and again. I'd happily pick up a single parent's kid for a few hours.. maybe that is because I'm a mom of an Only, we always can use another kid around for company. I actually find a large divide between myself and parents with 2+ kids in that they always seem busy, protective of their time and schedule- and often want a kid for each of theirs to play with. Most of the single parents I know have 1 child, so we get along well in that regard.


As the OP on this thread I just wanted to say that I feel you. Acknowledging the challenges doesn't negate the things to be grateful about. And there are plenty of both. Originally I had asked about both - strategies for getting more work done or managing it all professionally.

I am also curious about ways you think being a single parent has helped you in life or career.

-It has gotten me on a structured sleep schedule
-it has clarified my priorities
-it has helped me to learn a new set of routines that makes things flow smoothly (from time to time!)
-it has given me an appreciation of time alone in the car between leaving work and getting to after school care
-it has helped me to learn to budget in a way that is child-centered and "grown up"
-it has given me a real appreciation of time spend with grown-ups (with no kids present!)
-it has helped me come up with fun things to do after work instead of just eating frozen eggplant and watching re-runs of friends, which is what single women do before they have kids!
-it has helped to teach my daughter an appreciation of what her mom can do and accomplish
-it has taught me to utilize my support system more often and not feel weak for asking for help (I think I started feeling ok about this, like, last Tuesday)
-it has increased my creativity and abstract thinking skills

There are many more, but, of course, I am at work right now, so....

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