This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my affiliate policy for more information.
Short and Sweet Summary: Widowed solo parents have a tough job. Trying to shepherd our kids through their grieving process AND parent alone at the same time can be a recipe for disaster. Prevent unnecessary stumbles with these 5 essential tips for solo moms.
Solo parenting is tough.
Raising kids is hard enough as it is with two parents. And, if I said it’s doubly hard to do it alone after your spouse dies, you’d know I’m lying. You’d understand immediately that it’s not doubly hard.
It’s more like quadruple-a-zillion times harder to solo parent.
The weight of the world is on your shoulders and you look around wondering why you’ve been tasked with protecting everyone from its catastrophic collapse.
You’re grieving. Your kids are grieving. Perhaps your in-laws’ grief affects your family, too. It’s one big shitty grief fest and you’re at the head of the table trying to keep your shit and everyone else’s shit together.
That’s a heavy weight, my widow peeps. It’s crippling. I’ve carried it, too.
And then, after too many failed attempts at trying to control the Universe, I finally set the weight down. And so must you.
Because I’ll let you in on a little secret: YOU CAN’T MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER FOR EVERYONE ELSE.
Sorry for screaming, but I need you to know that you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders anymore.
You’re not omnipotent enough to protect everyone from any additional disasters. Grief isn’t going anywhere, so you might as well make friends with it. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s not your job to make everyone else, including your kids, happy.
The most important person for you to take care of right now is YOU.
To start, let’s go over some essential tips for solo moms describing how you can keep your sanity while parenting your monsters, ahem (*cough, cough*), I mean, angels.
CREATE AND MAINTAIN STRUCTURE
I know how easy it is to slip into a “do whatever the hell you want” mentality when the emotional toll of solo parenting becomes too much.
We’ve all been there, including yours truly.
Have you had it up to your eyeballs with too much debating?
Or too much refereeing?
Maybe you’re tired of the disrespectful attitude and tone of voice.
The thing is, kids (no matter the age) need some sort of structure. And the structure is the first thing to go out the window when your spouse dies because of the unpredictability of death. Everything is topsy-turvy and nothing makes sense.
But creating structure is an essential tip for solo moms because it’s one that will significantly reduce the anxiety-inducing aspects of your newly erratic existence. When your kids learn to expect things to be a certain way, they are more secure when their lives veer off in unpredictable ways.
So what’s the secret? How do you create and maintain structure?
Keep implementing what works best for your family. Whether it’s setting a non-negotiable bedtime (yes, this is easier for the littles than for teens), establishing screen/device time limits, or calling a family meeting once a week, create the structure that helps your household work better.
In our early days post-death, my boys and I struggled to maintain our bedtime reading schedule. I was exhausted. They acted out and didn’t want to read. And we couldn’t get through many stories without one of us breaking down past the point of no return.
So, I just kept at it until we fell back into a semi-consistent routine. Things won’t ever be the same as they were before. But even a semi-consistent routine was better than nothing. Also, there were plenty of nights I didn’t have it in me and they didn’t read. Which goes to show you you can change your mind at anytime.
As with anything solo-parenting related, creating and/or maintaining structure isn’t easy, but it is doable. Keep trying to see what works.
Create whatever structure works best for your family.
It’s OK to change your mind or change your routine if necessary. Try not to get caught in a loop of negative self-talk if something you planned didn’t pan out like you expected. You are learning and experimenting.
EMBRACE AND ADMIT YOUR MISTAKES
If I had a dime for every time I made a parenting mistake since my husband’s death, Bill Gates and I could compare investment portfolios.
The discipline tactics and rules my husband and I enforced no longer worked with just me at the helm. My kids took advantage of my solo status (and sheer exhaustion) to manipulate me into getting their way. Most of the time I stood my ground, but damn if I didn’t cave more than I care to admit.
Hey, I’m human. I make mistakes. And you will, too.
This new life you’re leading is full of unknowns. Learning how to navigate those unknowns takes time. You’ll be tasked with lots of trials and tribulations that test your mettle more than you’ve ever been tested before.
So, embrace your mistakes because, at best, it’s a sign that you’re trying. At worst, you’re learning how to improve a situation or make different choices. Either way, your kids will benefit because you cared enough to try.
Your kids will also benefit by hearing you admit your mistakes. Saying “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” is an incredible example of showing your kids what it’s like to be vulnerable and human. It took me a while to figure this one out because I thought if I admitted I was wrong, my kids would continue to take advantage.
But, the opposite happened.
They appreciated that I was honest and admitted my regret when I acted in ways that didn’t showcase my best parenting moments.
Mistakes will happen. There’s no getting around that one. Owning up to our mistakes gives our kids the best example of how to do the same. Save yourself extra hardships by showing your softer side. This is one of the harder, but most important, essential tips for solo moms.
When apologizing for making a mistake, say what the mistake is and also why you’d change things and do it differently in the future. If you said something you regret it could look like, “I’m sorry I said you were a brat. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Next time I will check myself and count to ten before I let my anger cause me to say something unkind.”
GIVE YOUR KIDS JOBS
Do you kids pitch in around the house? Hopefully, you’re giving them more and more jobs to take the load off of you, because your kids really should be helping as much as possible. It doesn’t matter what age they are or how many excuses they lob your way, they MUST contribute to the structure of your household.
Because making your kids self-sufficient is a win-win for everyone. I, for one, don’t want my adult kids living in my basement one day because they don’t know how to accomplish essential life skills.
I’m sure your goal, like mine, is to raise competent, productive members of society. I don’t want to do for my kids what they’re capable of doing for themselves. Because, honestly, the more they do on their own, the less I have to do.
My boys were eight-years-old when they started doing their own laundry (wash, dry and put away). They were also around this age when we started a cleaning routine every Sunday morning. They were required to clean their rooms, change the sheets on their beds, and clean their shared bathroom.
I don’t want to you think I waved a magic wand and my kids turned into stellar cleaners. That’s not how it happened at all. There were LOTS of tears involved. You can read more about those good times here.
Next, I taught them how to make scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches when they were around 10 so I could tune out the “what’s for dinner” complaints. When your kids are hungry and all you want to do is pour a glass of wine and eat popcorn for dinner, hand them an egg.
If you’re overwhelmed with all of your to-do’s, it’s time to stop doing ALL the laundry, cooking, cleaning, yard work, following up on homework assignments, scheduling appointments, etc. Trust me, they can handle some of these chores.
If you’re stuck for ideas about what your kids can handle, visit The Ultimate List of Age-Appropriate Chores for some ideas.
Oh, and when they get to the preteen/teenager ages, ask them to make their own appointments. Kids these days don’t know how to talk on the phone much, so making an appointment for a haircut requires them to speak to another adult using words (*gasp). They need a tutor? Ask them to make the call. If they have a question about their bank debit card, ask them to call the bank.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and your head is spinning, stop for a minute and ask yourself, “what chore can I offload at this point?” We all learn by doing, so don’t wait for you kids to be “ready” for a chore. Teach them how to do it instead.
DON’T REWARD BAD BEHAVIOR
It’s hard enough for adults to understand grief, let alone kids who have zero life experience to pull from.
The fact that grief often masks other emotions, like sadness, but expresses itself in anger and fear, means kids will lash out in ways they don’t even understand. The key is to avoid rewarding unacceptable behavior because you feel bad for your kid who doesn’t understand why he feels so bad.
I’ve dealt with unpleasant demeanors and serious cases of disrespectful behavior so many times it makes my head spin. Sometimes when I watch in horror as my kids morph into insulting savages, I’ll curse my dead husband for leaving me here to deal with all of this nonsense by myself. And then go hide under my covers.
Other times I’ll snap to like a drill sergeant and demand better behavior or else.
Neither of these scenarios works as well as outlining simple cause and effect. If you do A, then B is the result. For example, I’m not inclined to be cooperative and courteous when I don’t get that same behavior in return. Like when my son asks me to drive him to his friend’s house after he throws a fit and refuses to clean his room.
A (cause): Son throws a fit and refuses to clean room
B (effect): The result is that I won’t do a favor for him
“No, I won’t drive you to your friend’s house. I’m not feeling very generous or charitable at the moment. I’m much more generous to people who pick their clothes up off the floor when asked.”
The cause-and-effect scenario works so much better. If you do A (refuse a chore) then B happens (you don’t get what you want). Kinda like real life, right?! It takes practice, I’m not gonna lie. I’m not always in the best place emotionally to stick to my guns and wait out a stand-off. But rewarding bad behavior only leads to more bad behavior. As Dr. Phil says, “we teach people how to treat us.”
IT’S NOT OK TO BE DISRESPECTED (uh oh…there I go screaming again). But, I want to say this loud and clear: you do far too much for your kids to withstand verbal attacks or perpetual poor attitudes.
Try not to take the poor behavior personally. I say this from experience. I used to take a lot of my kids’ behavior personally, and it doesn’t serve you in any good way whatsoever. Practice self-compassion when your inner critic rears its ugly head and repeat after me, “I’m a great parent who is teaching my kids to correct inappropriate behavior and learn new ways of respecting others.”
BE WARY OF OTHER OPINIONS
Do you get lots of advice about what to do now that you’re a solo parent raising kids by yourself?
For some reason, people who’ve never been a widowed mom or solo parent, think they know how to handle the situations we find ourselves in after the death of our spouse.
The tried-and-true parenting hacks that work for other people, and maybe used to work for you, might not work anymore. Instead of taking other people’s opinions as the way things should be, start figuring out what will work for your family instead.
You’re not parenting “wrong” if your way isn’t the way others think it should be. You’re parenting with the information you have at this moment and doing the best you can right now. If you get additional information, you can adjust your parameters. If you don’t, that’s fine too.
You don’t need to justify your actions or decisions to anyone.
I’ve changed my parenting approach frequently, because I keep finding myself in situations I’ve never been in before. Where other people feel compelled to insert opinions such as, “well, I would do this…” or “I’d never put up with that…,” I have to remind myself I’m new at this. I’ve never parented teenagers by myself before or parented grieving teenagers by myself before. I’m learning and adjusting and revising. I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I’ve also hit a few home runs. I can change what didn’t work in the past. I can try new things in the future. And I can keep improving.
It’s easy to be a backseat driver instructing others what to do. It’s something else altogether to be in the driver’s seat.
If you change your parenting approach because you’re learning new things too, congratulations! You’re human! And a WONDERFUL example to your kids!
This is one I need to keep practicing. When someone offers unsolicited advice, you can reply, “I value your opinion and I’m so thankful that you care, but the decisions I make are between me and my family. I don’t need help with this right now, but if that ever changes, I promise to let you know.”
WIDOW WRAP UP
These essential tips for solo moms are meant to make your life easier, not harder. If something doesn’t work for you, let it go. When what you thought would be easy takes double the effort, give yourself extra grace.
Nothing I’m saying here will magically change the entire landscape of your widowhood from frazzled to calm. These tips will help, for sure, but there are lots of variables in every widow’s situation.
Do what you can, when you can. And nothing more.
Remember, it’s not your job to make everyone else, including your kids, happy. I recommend focusing on you and your sanity first so you can give everyone else the best you can be.