Work, Life, and Family Balance: How do Single Parents Manage?

When Paula, aka Fishgoat agreed to write this guest post, it brought with it the promise that one of the hardest issues for single parents would be tackled head-on. At OnlyDads and OnlyMums  we meet and hear from 000’s of single parents. This balancing / juggling act keeps us ALL preoccupied. I’ll hand you over to the lovely Paula 🙂

As a hard-working single mum of 2 girls and a carer to an elderly father, I often find myself juggling too many balls, however I’ve not yet dropped them.

I work in the care sector which means I need to work shifts, this puts masses of strain on me and the family but I need and love work, plus the salary does help! 

Before this job, I was unable to work (paid), I have 2 girls and not much in the way of support.  I was on benefit for far too many years but desperate to work.  Every job I looked at paid very little and I couldn’t afford to work ironically.!!   I did however fight back and continue to educate myself, joining as many different courses as I possibly could, fitting in with the kid’s school hours.

I eventually found voluntary work that again was unpaid but I could commit to this around the girls school hours, and it gave me a wonderful sense of worth again.  Through working in the volunteer sector, I was advised to go back to college to gain a qualification that would enhance my prospects in specific area’s of employment.  I realised that this would work for me and my girls (school hours and holidays), so I applied, and was accepted.  I worked fiercely on my course and eventually passed the course in style.  Now to find a job…….

…I had no idea where to start, which path to take but a friend pointed me in the right direction.  This was such an exciting time.  New qualifications in the bag and the girls getting that little older.. I could really do this??.  I really was getting into the work force!?

I eventually was offered a job, great salary, great setting – but shift work. I discussed this with my girls and it was decided “ we can do this”.  It would mean looking after each other and helping out more but we wanted and needed this change badly!!  Job offer accepted.

I’ve now been working in the same job for 4 years, however life always throws a curve ball at us.  My eldest daughter got herself caught up in bother and had to leave home, this left me in another dilemma, child care for my youngest??.

Initially it was agreed my youngest would go to her grandfather’s house after school.  Her grandfather has had 2 strokes so this is not ideal but it was the only manageable solution.  Unfortunately after a short period of time, it became obvious that this childcare option was putting immense strain on the grandparent/grandchild relationship and nobody seemed happy any more. What was I to do??, go back on benefit after all that effort and have no income?.

 Serious conversations took place between me and my youngest daughter and she wanted me to continue to work, but how could I do this?,  I had no time to ponder this, work doesn’t wait for you, so we decided we’d fight on and this meant  allowing my youngest to have a key to the house on certain days ( to break up the amount of time she had to go to her grandfather’s) and BINGO this has worked!!!

We get the best of both worlds, she is looked after on certain days, but on others returns home, locks the door, and studies hard for school.  IT’S WORKING, not ideal but its working. 

Some days I miss being mum at home so badly, and I feel intense guilt when she is home alone, even though she never complains.  We have nice holidays and have money to do nice things, wear nice clothes, eat well, pay the bills and be debt free!!!- Isn’t that what it’s all for?

My employer is for the most fair, and since I started my job (4 years ago), I’ve had every Christmas off work.  You must work either Christmas or New year!  My employer always looks at personal circumstances first and that’s taken some pressure off me at the festive period.  I’m with my tiny but lovely family together.  In fact its the best day (Christmas Day), my frail father makes the effort to dress up, the girls do the same and we have a cosy, relaxed day of it.

DILEMMA:  This year my employer has opted to forget my personal circumstances and has told me I MUST work Christmas….. Noooooo!   OK I’ve been lucky to have had so many off, so I pleaded that I work on Christmas morning, so I can see the family in the afternoon, prepare the food, share presents and relax ( still juggling those balls).  Employer decides NO to this request and insist I work a back shift!!! This stops me being able to cook for my father (who can’t cook a Christmas dinner) and also takes most of the day from me and my daughter!  How can I walk away from my daughter on Christmas day?,  How does this affect my dad’s one special day of the year??.  Family first right?……

So what are my options?

Work first?, do what I’m told and spend day with other people’s kids and leave my own child!?

Family first?, Ignore employer and face the sack?, back to benefits, everything  I’ve struggled to walk away from?

 I know what comes first but feel totally torn!!  My family comes first, but as a single parent, my options are few……….

I’m currently bargaining with others at work to swap shifts but only have two to choose from.  The 1st person I asked has already refused ( don’t blame them- but they don’t have dependants), the 2nd person needs to wait to see what his family are doing on that day ( so it’s a maybe). 

I’m just dangling now, waiting in hope for salvation or ready to feel the despair of rejection. 

I’m a proud single mum, proud of everything I’ve done, proud of my girls, all my hard work, but right now being a single mum at Christmas totally sucks….

What would you do??  Family or work ( how do you keep juggling – I feel I’m about to drop the balls)!!



About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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2 Responses to Work, Life, and Family Balance: How do Single Parents Manage?

  1. Hi Paula,

    I’ve been there – single mum of 4 with an elderly mum, being told “you have to be in work on Christmas Day”. A full working day plus 2 hours commute threatened to kill off the Christmas jollity quite effectively. When your work involves looking after other people’s kids, you are bringing the peace of Christmas into their lives by being there on Christmas Day. Sacrificing your needs for the needs of others isn’t ever easy, I know, but it’s made worse by feeling out of control. Being told there’s no other option if you want to stay employed is horrible and I do understand.

    I’m lucky, being half-German, that when this happened to me, I could make Christmas Eve my Christmas Day. My tribe got to open more presents early (they usually just opened my mum’s when we went round for a light supper) and we had a full Christmas dinner a day early. The following morning, I left Christmas stockings at the bottom of each bed, with extra presents and a special card. They trooped round to my mum’s for a few hours and then came home again. Everyone was so full of Christmas sweets and cakes that the turkey salad (complete with crackers, paper hats etc.) was appreciated more than a roast dinner would have been.

    I don’t know if you could do something similar? It sounds like you have a wonderful relationship with your “tiny family”; I think they would understand. Could your daughter(s) pop round to your father and either cook or reheat Christmas dinner for him and share that time with him until you come home?

    Whatever you do decide, don’t send yourself off on a guilt trip, easy though it is to do. You’re a great mum and your family is rightly proud of you. They aren’t judging you, don’t judge yourself harshly either.

    Best of luck,

    Anna x

  2. Tweetawix says:

    Hi Paula,

    Last year I had to have my first Christmas without my three boys as their mother and I decided to finally take alternate years. So my Christmas took place on Boxing day and although it was a day later than most it was just as special.
    I also used to work in retail so squeezing Christmas between the mad shopping rush on Christmas eve and starting the sales on boxing day was never that fun anyway.
    I am of course looking forward to this year very much as its my turn but sacrificing the day last year was not as bad as I imagined it would have been.
    Either way I hope you make the right choice


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