Money management, dating and more: 5 important life lessons we can learn from single moms
Life doesn’t come to a screeching halt
Staying up late with a sick child, working overtime to meet a deadline, school pick-ups, disciplining angsty teenagers and a never-ending list of decisions — Single moms do it all, and often, they have to do it alone.
They’ve mastered multitasking like professional jugglers in a circus. And there’s no ‘off-time’ when you’re a solo parent. “Parenting feels like a full-time job since my husband passed away. Earlier we split the tasks. One person did the school pick-ups and homework with them. The other managed the meals and after-school activities,” says Charu*.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. When you’re staring at the daunting task of being a single mom in a patriarchal society that sets you up for failure, you find ways to navigate working, parenting and life.
“Solo parenting brought into focus what’s really important for me. You have to adapt, your priorities change, but that’s what we sign up for as parents – single or coupled. You develop creative problem-solving techniques and a lot of it is jugaad — you learn through your mistakes,” adds Aparna Lakhani.
Whether you’re struggling with burnout and work-life balance, dating in 2021 or counting rupees to make fruitful investments, there are observations, hacks and lessons we can all learn from single moms.
Life lessons we can learn from single moms
“Identify your goals (short-term and long-term) and segregate your finances”
When you become the sole breadwinner in the house, there’s pressure to make ends meet without the safety net of rich and supportive parents. Even with their little push, you still need to create a nest egg for the future and all the daily expenses that come with raising children. From school fees to tuitions, 16th birthday blowouts, doctor visits, braces, extracurricular activities and more.
Start with stashing away money for rainy days. “You should always have an emergency corpus in place and it should be readily available,” says Binoli Dodhiwala — co-founder and CEO of a financial firm, The Money Managers and a single mom.
Fixed deposits (FD) and recurring deposits (RD) are good options to start with. Recurring deposits automatically deduct a set amount of money from your account into a savings kitty. The amount can be as little or large as you want, set a deduction date close to the day you get your salary in.
This way it’s kept away before you get the chance to spend it. An RD can be broken at any time and serve as the emergency fund whenever you need it. “My son had a bad bicycle accident where he broke four teeth and required dental surgery. Closing the RD instantly transferred the money to my account and I didn’t have to worry about the bill or make calls for help from others,” says Shaili S. Even when she has money to spend she likes to keep the belt tightened a bit to ensure there are savings to fall back on.
Identify future milestones that you might need to save for. If you’re looking to invest money and grow your nest egg, seeking professional help from a financial advisor can help you figure out your options. “My kid is eight, there is a lot of time for college or higher studies, so the long-term goals I have set will be equity-oriented mutual funds,” says Dodhiwala. “With a long-term goal, I can afford to take the risk. An equity-related mutual fund also gives you higher returns in the long run,” she adds.
“Of course, I want to be a boss but I need to be reasonable about my work expectations and goals”
It’s not about letting go of your ambitions, says Mrinal Chouhan, but changing the pace. There are only so many hours in the day that you can put towards work. If you’re lucky, your manager is understanding of your other responsibilities and will let you dip out to pick up your kids from school and then come back to finish your work.
As a newly single mom, Chouhan realised that she needed to reassess. “I needed to work for financial safety, but I also had to be reasonable about what I could really put into it.”
Sometimes that can mean sacrificing higher pay and upward mobility, even if only temporarily, when the projects demand more time and attention.
Don’t make promises at work that you can’t keep and capitalise on what you’re good at. “There’s no point saying yes to things when you know you won’t be able to complete them, or are forced to do it at the cost of your sanity. It may work once, but it’s not sustainable,” says Charu. “Instead of over-promising, lay out on the table what you can do well.”
You might not be able to do a presentation in front of clients after work hours, but can, instead, write the copy for the slides because that’s a skill you excel at.
These things are situational and vary according to the work environment you’re in. The expectations and pressure on working moms are high enough as is. But both Charu and Chouhan say it’s better to make these things clear from the get-go (if you can) at work so people understand your boundaries.
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“Your support team can be anyone, a friend, a neighbour, even your kids”
All the single moms we spoke to stressed the importance of having a support system to help you through the challenges of single parenting. Not everyone has the luxury of parental or family support. Some women have elderly parents who themselves require care. Others have escaped abusive households, but left family behind.
Sanjana T “had to seek out people and create my support team.” She actively befriended neighbours who could come over at a moment’s notice and offer child care.
Online support groups and even Facebook groups for single moms can serve as a ear for your problems and a network of people with contacts that you could use, like trusted child care and creches in your area.
“When you don’t have a family, you can create one. Your team can be of friends, coworkers, neighbours and even your kids,” adds Sanjana. She involves her two children in housework, even cooking, turning them into fun activities to bond over. Saturday lunches are always planned and prepared by the two pre-teens. “Of course, I’m there for support, chopping and major knife work. But I turned it into a game — whoever makes the best dish gets extra computer time.”
“My son is ten but very aware of our family structure. I don’t force parenting duties on him but he happily steps up to babysit my toddler when I need to get through a conference call or meet a tight deadline,” says Shaili. “Instead of hiding the reality of single parenthood from him, I’ve been open about it from the start with sensitivity. It’s helped him adjust better and also makes him feel like a contributing member of the house.”
Single parents involving children in household tasks from a young age gives them a greater sense of responsibility and self-sufficiency. Studies show that kids recognise the value of their contribution to the family overall, and are proud of their work.
“Know what you’re looking for when dating and make it known too”
People automatically assumed that Nandita* was looking for a new father for her child when she started dating as a single mom. “I’m not looking for a new husband. I just wanted to eat some bhel puri, chat about my favourite books and get steamy.”
Telling prospective dates that you’re a single parent can make many of them skittish. They assume you’re looking for complete commitment from the start. “I was looking for someone to go out with, have fun with and that’s the message I put out there. I’ve put it in my Tinder bio and clearly told anyone who’s suggested setting me up with someone – ‘I’m a single mom, not looking for a husband (unless you’re Hugh Grant)’.”
Finding a date night as single moms on the job 24×7 can be a challenge but if you’re set on putting yourself out there, take time out for yourself. It can be picking one night in the week when your little one has a sleepover at their grandparents’ or friend’s home and you can go out and have fun too.
Explore different avenues of meeting people. Don’t be afraid of online dating. Not all dating apps are for hook-ups and Gen Z. Sure there are plenty of people to swipe left on, but if nothing else you come away with some friendships and entertaining witty banter.
Going through a medium like an app can make you feel more at ease about dipping your toes into the dating pool after exiting a long-term relationship. Having those initial few conversations through an impersonal phone screen can help create a connection. You can also have difficult or awkward conversations beforehand and clear up any confusion about what you’re looking for.
“Make the most of the brief in-between moments for some kind of self-care or ‘me time'”
Time is money for single moms and most times it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. But you get those brief moments of respite in-between tasks. When you’re waiting for the curry to cook, while the kids are taking a nap or involved in a video game. It’s in these brief moments that you can focus on yourself. Even if it’s for a brief 5 minutes.
Self-care can mean different things to different people. “We have an epidemic of anxiety and depression,” says Paula Gill Lopez, PhD, associate professor and chair of the department of psychological and educational consultation at Fairfield University. “Everybody feels it.”
The mental health of single moms is tremendously important while they are battling work biases, societal pressure to remarry so the kids have a “stable home that needs a father”, something that was said to Shaili.
She enjoys journaling at the end of the day right before she goes to sleep as a way to unwind and clear her thoughts. Lakhani swears by early morning yoga. Charu recently started online watch parties with friends over the weekend during the pandemic when they couldn’t see each other in person. For Sanjana, it’s evening coffee and Parle G biscuits in the balcony where she has created a green haven with plants and a little reading nook. “It’s five minutes of me all alone. No kids, no screaming and shouting. Just coffee, biscuit and silence.”
*Name changed to protect privacy