With the pound of a gavel I went from a married “trailing spouse” to an older single mom with a full-time job. Through a lot of trial and error, I have found that keeping sane is more important than “keeping up.”
Does this apply to you, too?
A recent Pew Research Center study shows that 40 percent of working moms feel perpetually rushed. This is all moms, not just singles. While we can’t slow down time, we can harness it. Two tactics have worked for me: thinking of non-work time as a pie-chart, rearranging the colors in my favor, and redefining my expectations on my own terms.
1. Pie-chart planning.
Work eats up 10 hours day with my commute. The rest of the time is divided into slices. I take 15 minutes before dinner to organize, two hours of Saturday morning for cleaning and laundry, three hours on Sunday to grocery shop and cook for the work week, and half an hour a day to exercise. I schedule time to do nothing, too. Giving myself “official” permission works.
2. Say “no” before you say “yes”.
When I divorced I moved 8,000 miles away, back to my U.S. hometown with a child who had never lived there. It was the classic starting-over scenario. I was an unknown in this new world of close-knit moms. Social capital mattered in that milieu, so I volunteered like crazy: up until 2 a.m. sewing school play costumes, spending weekends in a hot tent at Scouts campouts, pounding out newsletters on my lunch break. It became too much. I became isolated from my child by trying too hard to do what I thought was right for him. Instead, I realized I’d made it all about me. All about reputation management. Simply saying “no” helped me realize what was important.
3. Avoid panic mode.
Last minute rushing steals my serenity. To keep life simple, I have learned to plan with purpose; to choose my work outfits on Sunday and line them up in order in the closet. I shower at night and set timers to get out the door on time. I’m also a fan of online shopping to spend more time with my son. My Sunday morning cooking marathons are essential to making Monday through Friday less crazy, and that means a much simpler life.
4. Set financial priorities but don’t sacrifice.
Single working mothers earn up to 44 percent less than men. Having a budget is essential. But to stay sane, we moms can’t be purely sacrificial. That’s where prioritizing comes in. I can’t afford a trip to Europe right now but I can watch a movie that transports me there. I allow for small indulgences and allow them to change. For example, I now skip pedicures and use that money for a monthly maid service to deep clean the house. A friend of mine gave up her bookstore habit and used that money for a professional organizer.
5. Force yourself to disconnect.
My son and I have a no-screen rule at the dinner table. We have conversations, even if they consist of me asking “What went on at school today?” four times. It forces us to focus on the simple pleasure of family. We also turn off electronics before bed, though the initial jones was tough. It helps to create rejuvenating rituals instead. It promotes better sleep and clears your mental cache.
6. Yoga in the morning, journal at night.
Studies show that starting the morning on a tranquil note reduces stress and helps you keep up with the day’s curveballs. Yoga and meditation stop the world and let the good energy in. At night, I switch gears and turn to journaling. It’s a safe way to purge. It allows me scream, swear and cry without actually screaming, swearing and crying. And reading the words later on gives amazing perspective.
7. Strike a parent-child balance.
The Pew study shows 56 percent of working mothers struggle to balance family life and work responsibilities. How to be a great mom without burning out? I follow an 80-20 parent-child time ratio: my teen gets 80 percent of my time or availability, and I take 20. Unfair, maybe; but when I start feeling resentful, I think back to when I was queen of the whole, honkin’ 100 percent. I know that when he is grown and out of the house, I will have about 90 percent. I can live with that.
8. Learn to say, “Good for you, not for me”
The so-called mommy wars would go away if the sides just put down their arms and shook hands. Simple, right? But competition, defensiveness and maybe a touch of envy keep many single, working moms on edge around SAHMs. For the longest time I tried to keep up – trying desperately to maintain that social capital for my boy. Finally, I threw that baggage off the train. What kind of values was I teaching? Did my son really care? (He did not). He just wanted stability. He just wanted friends. So I focused on that. And guess what? Our friends like us just the way we are because we are authentic.
Over time, I’ve become mindful of what makes a simple, less stressful life for me as a single parent. I’ve decided to prioritize what needs to be done, what would be nice to get done, and what is just a shackle. Through trial and error, I’ve decided what’s essential to my unique life. After all, living simple is living satisfied, single or not.