Looking for some single parenting hacks? Nobody has better advice than single mum of 3 sons, Rita! Here's how she makes it work, when she's completely outnumbered...
My name is Rita.
My family consists of three hilarious boys aged 10, six and six. The boys have a different last name than mine – so we can’t really call ourselves by that. One day I looked at them and thought that they looked like such a fun ‘tiny boy tribe’. The name stuck, so that’s what we proudly call ourselves – the Tiny Boy Tribe.
I’ve been a single parent since February 2018. And to be honest at the time it hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember thinking, “How is this my story?”. Now, it’s much more like, “I’m so lucky this is my story”.
If you told me at the start of my journey that I would find joy in single parenthood I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I would have probably been mad at you for daring to say that to me. But I have found SO. MUCH. JOY. Frolo has been a huge part of that, so you if you haven’t already, check out the app and find your tribe.
My work life balance is sacred to me. I’m a big believer in my kids knowing that I work and seeing the reality of that. I don’t hide that from them. But I also have golden rules. I never miss the stuff that matters like stay-and-plays or performances. I’ve always worked in media, so it’s about being flexible. I work before they’re up and after they’re in bed when I can, so I can maximise my time with them.
My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is enabling them to do things themselves. Getting three boys and myself ready ahead of the school run and the commute can feel like work before work has even started. So instead, from about five-years-old, I had the twins dress themselves and from nine my eldest knew how to toast his bagel and butter it.
I set out their clothes the night before and put their toothbrushes and toothpaste where they can reach it to help them, but our kids are capable of so much more than we sometimes think. It was actually my mom, who was visiting, who pointed this out. She was like, “Why you getting four people in the house dressed when you should be getting one person dressed?” It’s taken the stress out the of morning so we can all have a better start to the day together.
My support network consists of so many amazing people. I’ve been an ex-pat for 12 years, so I’ve always had to make my own family. I have two amazing frolos, who I just don’t know what I would do without. They’re my soul sisters.
And I have an amazing group of friends. I’m also really close to my ex in-laws. They all pitch in. My family visit as often as they can, but I don’t know where I would be without my support network.
There are two things I would say about building your own. First, put yourself out there. Some of my closest friends are school mums I spotted on the playground and thought they looked like nice people, so I just went over and introduced myself and asked them if they wanted to get a coffee. The worst someone can say is no thank you. Second, I used to have all this guilt about people helping me, so would struggle to ask and instead would soldier on. I’ve learned people want to help. But I’ve also learned I can thank them in in my own way. I do babysitting swaps or drop a treat off when I have a moment.
The bit I find hardest is always changing. At first it was the loneliness, then it was the exhaustion. But I’m no longer lonely and by some miracle my stamina has improved. The things I used to find hard I don’t anymore. And that gives me hope that the thing I find hardest now – having a boy at the start of puberty – will get easier too.
My me-time consists of spending time with my friends. It’s funny because when I was married, I used to feel guilty about spending time away from my husband and kids, like I somehow had to make up for the fact that I spent two hours out. I think every parent – single or not – should have time to themselves to cultivate their interests or just drink wine with the girls in fits of giggles. I come back to the boys a better parent any time I do.
If I could change one thing to make life easier I would get more representation for single parents in government. Married couples can earn double what single parents do and still get Child Benefit and subsidised childcare. It’s insane to me. And that’s not going to change until there are enough voices, speaking from a single parenthood perspective to affect change.
One thing I love about being a single parent is the people I’ve met through Frolo. They’ve been life changing. They’re an extension of our family. We’ve gone on holiday, celebrated our kids’ birthdays, laughed until our sides hurt and carried each other through the tough stuff when we’ve needed to.
Dinner times at our house are a lot of fun. It’s when we can talk without distractions. Sometimes we play music and dance around the table. Sometimes it’s a rushed meal on paper plates. But it’s always just us four, taking a few minutes to just be with each other. I want them to grow up remembering those moments, amidst all the chaos, of us making the effort to sit down around the dinner table.
Our bedtime routine is varied. Some days I have the energy to play games or stay up and watch movies. Other days it’s straight into bed. I always tuck the twins in first and then my oldest, who I read a couple chapters to each night. It’s my way of getting one-on-one time with him. But before I turn out the lights I have them each repeat that they are brave, kind, smart and loved. When you’re a single parent, you have to find a way to reset through all the chaos. Having them repeat those affirmations is my way of making sure that no matter how crazy the day was, they can go to bed knowing that about themselves.
My best single parenting hack is a phrase I always tell the boys, “You are old enough and you are capable enough”. I cannot do it all. That’s impossible. So when they don’t want to clear their plates or put their clothes away, I tell them that. I think empowering them to learn to do those things on their own is good for them and me. And if I’m allowed a second hack, find your tribe. I am so grateful for mine.
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