The ABCs of Single Parent Survival

My children are set to start another school year. You know what that means.

No, not a frantic dash to Target for new pencil cases and backpacks.

It’s the time of year when single parents everywhere need to do a little back-to-school shopping for themselves. So, I offer you the ABC’s of my single parent survival kit for the school year ahead. (My kindergarten teacher would be proud!)

A is for Apples. After a summer of ice cream, apples offer a tasty, low calorie snack for you and the kids. Better yet, caramel apples, apple pie and spiked apple cider are just around the corner!

B is for Balance. Don’t take on too much this school year, and don’t try to fill every moment with a scheduled activity. Unstructured time is a great way to create memories and balance for everyone – especially you.

C is for Calendar. You don’t have one of these?? Are you Crazy?!

Look, it doesn’t matter if it’s on your Blackberry or kitchen counter; you need a way to keep track of all those practices, book fairs and pick-ups/drop-offs with the ex. It’s also a great way to keep track of when your Candy supply is running low – you know, right after the ex forgets to follow the calendar you both set.

D is for Dating. If you haven’t taken the plunge recently, consider dipping your toe in the dating pool again. Opportunities abound online, at singles events, and sometimes (as I found out recently) through friends and acquaintances.

If you’re not quite ready to date someone else, date yourself instead. Seriously. Treat yourself the way you want to be treated, whether that means trying a new restaurant with friends or scheduling yourself a massage. The important thing is to just. do. it.

(And, hey, when the right “opportunity” does, um, arise, just DO it. It’s good for everyone.)

E is for Excitement about buying crap you don’t need in support of this year’s fundraiser…and for the Evil Elves that made me write that.

F is for Forgiveness. If your kids – or ex – are acting up about your situation, forgive them. (Forgiving and forgetting are two different things!) Most importantly, forgive yourself for not having all the answers. As we tell our kids, do the best you can; it’s all anyone can ask.

G is for faith in God to help you through the rough patches. And if religious faith isn’t your thing, a phrase like “God help me, I’m gonna send you to your Dad’s if you don’t stop that!” can come in quite handy.

H is for Honesty. Kids don’t need to know the gory details of your life, but answer their questions as honestly and factually as possible – without the nastiness. While it’s tempting to answer “Why can’t I stay at Mommy’s?” with a tirade about Mommy playing romper room with her new boyfriend, something like “Because tonight is our night together” is more appropriate.

I is for Individual. Our role as parents is a critical one – but not the only one. You may find this notion troubling; you want to do right by your kids, but may carry an extra load of guilt because of your circumstances. But acknowledge and appreciate the contributions you make to this world, not only as a parent, but as you. It’s Important.

J is for Joy in watching you and your children learn and grow. K is for a Keen Eye to recognize the moments of joy when you see them.

L is for Love. It goes a long way, even when you’ve forgotten the rest of the alphabet.

A new season of Lost helps, too.

M and N are for Mindful Noodling when you want to look like you actually understand your third grader’s homework. (A substitute: the Many Nights you’ll stay awake wondering when you got so dumb you can’t figure out your kid’s word problem.)

O is for Objective. This is tricky, but try – REALLY try – to remain neutral with teachers, family members and your ex. Keep negative emotions away from the kids and tell them to your therapist or Dear Diary instead.

P is for Perspective. Like anyone, it’s all about putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Remember that the things making you upset now will look different in one week or one year, so take a deep breath and always sleep on it before firing off that email!
Q is for Quiet; R is for Rest. Every parent needs quiet time, and it’s especially important for single parents to take care of themselves. Relax whenever you can. It really is okay to let the laundry sit while the kids are at their dad’s.

Fine. Put the laundry in the washing machine and THEN rest. Sheesh.

S is for Sense of Humor. Stock up on this one for all the times you’ll be called Mrs. Ex this school year. Without it, you’re pretty much Screwed.

T is for Time-Outs. It’s better to hide in the closet than to lose it in front of your kids – hypothetically speaking, of course. Take a few minutes to cool off before you make a bigger mess of things than the volcano you’re building with Junior. Trust me.

U is for Understanding that things don’t always work out the way you planned, but that sometimes you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.

V is for Valuing your ability to survive and thrive as a single mom or dad. W is for the Wisdom to know when to ask for help.

X, Y and Z are for X-Ray Vision, Youthful Spirit, and Zen. (Okay, so the X-Ray part is a stretch.) C’mon, there’s a reason X, Y and Z are always lumped together!

That’s my list – what’s on yours?