Parenting is a never-ending struggle and when you factor in having to work, no support network, and trying to better yourself, the stresses to manage your time can become almost unbearable.
You can feel like you are caught in a never-ending cycle of having to do things but not having enough time to do them. You’ve all the normal parenting things. Like chores, making food, spending time with your child, combined with the things you are trying to do to improve your life, maybe a course of some sort, going to the gym, learning a new skill.
So what do you do? How do you cope?
The simple answer is better time management and prioritizing. But is the answer really that simple?
There’s no denying self-improvement requires sacrifice and hard work. Some sacrifice is easier than others. Like not smoking etc. Other aspects are much more time-consuming. Time becomes the biggest barrier of all. So you have to manage it. Set aside certain times in certain days to get things done. Oh, that’s so easy to say.
Here’s the thing. I’m sitting here trying to squeeze in a blog post in the hour since picking my boy up from school and before I have to make dinner. In the 30 minutes I’ve been sitting writing this so far my son has called me 4 times about things. Getting a block of uninterrupted time is a rare thing.
My ‘wife’ (it’s a technicality) is going to call for a little while this evening before she goes to where she is staying. I might get some time there. Whilst she does come round more often than she used to. It can’t be relied on. I can’t time manage time that might not exist.
I have no family nearby. My friends have families of their own. Basically, I have no support whatsoever. And paying for a child minder is out of the question. Everything is my responsibility and as a result what time I can get is very limited and sporadic. I get windows of opportunity here and there like when my son goes out to play with friends or spends time with them on the Xbox. How can I time manage time when it’s a struggle to find any in the first place?
Oh, I could do what a lot of self helpers say. Make the time. I can make some. It requires sacrificing sleep. Getting up at 5am is a fairly common suggestion. Grab that few hours before your children awake to get some work done. Again sounds great in practice.
But this only works if you are an early riser. One of those people who are productive first thing in the morning. But what if you’re not? Do you know there are basically four different types of sleep personalities? Some people are more alert and productive at different types of the day. How does waking up insanely early help if you’re one of those types who are most productive in the evening or at night?
Oh yeah, in the course of my research for this post what one rule do people seem to agree on to being a good single parent (nevermind a successful go-getter type of one)…Get enough sleep! Arrgghhh
In The Power of When the psychologist and sleep specialist Dr Michael Breus says there are four basic Chronotype personalities. (The Chronotype personality is based on our circadian rhythm. The brain’s sleep-wake cycle which determines alertness and sleepiness over a 24 hour period).
Bears – Bears internal clocks track the rise and fall of the sun. They need 8 hours sleep.
Lions – Lions wake up early with lots of energy. They’re exhausted by early evening.
Wolves – Wolves have a hard time waking up early but are more energetic in the evening.
Dolphins – Dolphins are light sleepers and are often diagnosed with insomnia.
(I’m a wolf by the way)
When I started this blog it was easy to find the time. When I had some time I wrote a post. I didn’t really know what I was doing then. It was easier to find the time when all you had to do was write what was in your head and then hit publish. It only took about an hour.
Back then I thought that was it. Now I know a post takes a lot more work. That blogging takes a lot more work. In fact writing and editing it is the smallest part. You need to promote it also. It’s went from needing 1 hour to needing 3.
Then there’s the other little things like being respectful and replying to comments. Being involved in the blogging community and showing support to others
Then, if you are doing other important things, you have to find the time to do them also. At the moment I am doing a Life Coaching course. That requires so many hours per week to study for. Additional hours I just can’t create out of thin air. I’ve already been using my ‘free’ time to work on this blog and a project I am working on. This is now something that also has to be done in whatever ‘free’ time I get.
Oh yeah. I haven’t even mentioned my exercise routine. It needs to be squeezed in somewhere too.
Then if something else crops up, like my son fracturing his arm last week, or some emotional difficulties involving someone close that required urgent attention this week. What little schedule you thought you had goes flying out the window like a rocket into space. The time you have to manage becomes even less. If not disappearing altogether.
Whilst I am trying to improve myself, trying to create a better life for my son and I, I am obviously not going to sacrifice the time I spend with him. Otherwise, what is the point? I just end up being one of those fathers that has worked hard to create a better life for his family but has unknowingly sacrificed his relationship with that family in the process. Plus, you know, anyone could die at any moment. As well as being scarce, time is also precious.
So I essentially need at least 4 hours daily to do all the things that will help me improve. 4 hours is a lot. Something has to give. Something has to be sacrificed. I know the advice I would be given is to prioritize better.
Prioritizing sounds easy on paper. Just write a to-do list. Choose what’s the most important. What needs to get done as a necessity. Then work through it systematically. But what happens when everything on your to-do list is a necessity?
I know I can maybe leave certain chores for the next day. I know the floor doesn’t need to be cleaned today. I know the grass in the garden could get a bit longer. I know the laundry could be put off for a day or two. I also know that I need to write a blog post. Then I need to promote it. Then I need to reply to comments I haven’t got replying to yet. Then I need to do some study for my Life Coaching course.
Look, I’m a single parent. I might only be just over a year into it but I am well-versed in prioritizing at this point. The problem arises when the priorities aren’t something that can be ignored. If I don’t do something today then it’s going to be on tomorrow’s list. And if tomorrow’s list was already large then I would be dropping something off it until the day after. Can you see the cycle here?
Prioritizing is basically just pushing things off to a later date. It’s moving things from one point to another on a spinning wheel. And when it’s things that definitely need to get done if not every day, then every second day, or every week. You can’t push things back forever. It’s inevitable they will come back around to you very quickly. There comes a point when practically everything on the list becomes a must-do thing.
As a single parent, especially as a fairly recently separated one, your two main priorities are going to be your child or children and doing the financial necessities needed to live.
Everything else has to come after. Even the self-improvement you are trying to do for the chance of having a better future.
As for a social life…What social life?
So what’s the realistic solution?
For a busy working single parent that has a lot of things to do at home be it getting fitter, or studying for a course, or both. I can only see one real answer.
Forget about getting a balance. Balance doesn’t exist as a single parent. Especially when you have to be totally self-reliant. Time management as we’ve seen can be a very loose concept. Prioritizing can help to an extent.
For me, there’s only one solution. It’s not the best. It’s a bit chaotic. But it’s the only one I’ve got that suits the chaos of single parenting. Especially the single parenting where it is just you that has to deal with everything. Just you that has to cope with all the unforseen things that come your way.
Grab Your Opportunities
Any time you find, whenever it is, no matter how much or how little. You have to grab it and do the best you can with it. Make it productive. You might not get all the things you need to do done. But you will get some. Anything done is a step in the right direction. It’s not ideal in any way but being able to do something with your time is better than doing nothing.
Use your days off work wisely
The days you don’t have to work provides you with a better opportunity of having more time to dedicate to doing the things you need to. For me, it’s working on my blog or blog related stuff, doing my Life Coaching course, going to a self-defence class.
Don’t even think of ‘me’ time.(Or at least cut it down)
‘Me’ time is a luxury. My ‘me’ time is spent doing all the things I need to do to improve. There is a problem with this though. At some point, you will have to say enough for now and actually use that ‘me’ time in the correct way. Doing something for yourself in order to relax and get away from the overwhelm that you are eventually going to feel from trying to do everything by yourself.
Don’t believe their lies!
By this point, I have listened to a lot of personal development books. There’s a lot of people out there saying it’s possible to have it all. Reach the level of success and achievement you want and still raise a family. I’m just going to say it here. To an extent, they are lying.
You can talk about managing time and prioritizing all you want. The fact of the matter is we can’t create time. It’s finite. There are only 24 hours in a day. Trying to get all the things you need to get done can be damn near impossible.
Yes, you can get things done. Yes, it will require sacrifice.
But if you are a single parent trying to achieve all this. Trying to work as they would advise. From very early in the morning until late at night and still raise your child properly and give them the attention and love they deserve. Not pass them off to whoever will have them or make them do the things you want to do or ignore them as you do work on your phone.
Then the reality is it’s going to take you a lot longer to achieve that success than it would a single person with no other commitments or even a parent that has the support of a partner.
Fact is, if you are on your own trying to raise a family, even if it’s just you and 1 child, it’s going to take some time to get where you want to be. You won’t have the same luxuries of time other people have. You won’t have the same support. But have heart. It can be done. It’s just going to take a bit longer.
P.s. If anyone has some ideas to help with time management while living in a time consuming environment feel free to tell me. Any suggestions are more than welcome 🙂