Whenever I tell people that I am a writer and a single mom to my three-year-old son, it’s common that I hear questions about how I do it. It’s either that or them saying how amazing it is that I get to do it all on my own.
To be honest, I love hearing the compliments but sometimes, I want to tell them that I actually just want to take a break because the daily struggle is exhausting.
Despite these occasional feelings of being overwhelmed, I know I am privileged to be able to witness all my son’s milestones and have a career that allows me to support us both.
As a single parent, there are really only two ways to go about earning enough money for you and your kid/s. You either work a full-time job and hire babysitters or nannies (or have family close by and willing to manage childcare) to take care of them while you’re at work, or you find a career that allows you to be a parent and a provider at the same time.
Here’s how I learned to be both a writer and a single mom and how you can do the same thing.
For me, the moment I saw my son, I knew that I couldn’t stay at my full-time job anymore, and so, I decided to be a work-at-home mom (WAHM).
I handed over my resignation letter at the end of my maternity leave and started looking for a job that would allow me to stay at home.
Writing has always been something I want to do professionally, and I figured that it was also something that I could do without having to leave the house.
It could be my eagerness or just my luck, but it only took me a few days from my resignation day to find a writing gig, and just like that, my journey as a parent and a freelance writer began.
What I didn’t expect was that after a year, I would become a single parent.
I did not have an easy relationship with my ex-partner. We had plenty of differences, and for a while, these things didn’t matter. When I gave birth, the reality of parenting hit me hard, and I felt like it was something too much for him.
I thought of giving him space to accomplish things for himself. I decided to move back to my parent’s house for a while so that he could focus on his career. It was something we agreed on as we thought of it as temporary. The distance was tough for the both of us, and we always ended up fighting over the phone.
Eventually, we took the chance of working on our family and moved in together again. I thought that we had made progress by doing so, but we still found ourselves in unhealthy situations. After just a few months, we decided to call it quits.
I asked him to leave, and I was left in the apartment with a toddler and a writing career. That’s when the real challenge began.
What do the careers of a single mom to a toddler and writer have in common? Learning to deal with isolation.
There are people who probably think that being a WAHM means I have everything figured out. I wish I did, but the most I can say is that I’m adjusting when necessary. As a mom of a toddler, it’s hard to have a routine in place and to balance the time when I have to work and be a parent. There are times that I have to be both, and it can easily become tiring.
I have seen posts by parenting groups on social media platforms like Facebook that they can’t be a WAHM because they think it will be isolating. This feeling is something I can relate to from time to time, but generally, isolation doesn’t have to be a problem.
I still manage to have friends over. I say having friends over because this option is the most feasible thing for me. It’s easier to invite people to my house because I don’t have to stress about bringing my toddler and all the toddler things out and about.
As a writer, isolation can also be seen as being an aid to being productive. This is a great time to focus your energy on writing, but with a toddler around, it’s hard to say that being a WAHM is isolating. It’s really all about perspective and utilizing the time you have well.
If there is really something that I am struggling to do great in, it’s being able to meet deadlines while still giving my son all the attention he deserves.
Before I became a single mom, I had the option to leave the house and write at a cafe or co-working space because my then partner could babysit. I don’t really have this option anymore, and so it’s all about time management now.
It is stressful to have a strong urge to write but not be able to because my son would rather be my focus than my laptop. If you’re a writer parent, I can imagine that you relate to this situation.
The best that you can do is to find something that can keep your child busy. A quick search online could lead you to activities that toddlers can do on their own safely. To also lessen your worry, try to find a spot at home where you can sit with your laptop and have your toddler do an activity where you can easily check on them.
Whenever I’m writing, and I have my toddler sitting beside me, I feel good and more motivated to finish an article or a chapter because as soon as I do, I get to reward myself by having more time with him.
The activities don’t have to be complicated. Crayons and a coloring book get me 30 minutes of uninterrupted writing or more when I’m lucky. I also allow him to watch TV or YouTube videos. I know screen time can be a controversial subject, and it’s a part of parenting that we might be doing differently.
When it comes to how much screen time is bad for a toddler, the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that children aged two to five years should get no more than one hour a day. And so, if you need it, an hour shouldn’t hurt, especially if it helps you get some writing work done.
When it comes to other practices that actually work and shouldn’t be ditched, it’s really trial and error. The best that you can do is to strategize and find what really works for you and your kid. For me, it took a few weeks to find a routine that worked, but I didn’t stop there. A routine is necessary, but it doesn’t mean that your daily lives should be repetitive.
Finding a good routine can take time. Part of this process is deciding whether it’s best for you to work during the day or night. You won’t know unless you give both a try.
What I realized is that I can do both.
When I decided to work during the night, what I did was I only focused on parenting and myself during the day. This work includes doing things like making breakfast, doing activities with my son, having lunch, taking a nap when my toddler takes his, and even spending some time on Netflix.
Then I make sure that I put him to bed on time, which is around 8 PM. This time works for me to be able to allot a few hours to writing before I get too sleepy.
Now, there are times that, for some reason, I can’t even stay up as late as 9 PM, which means I have to work during the day. Here is where the toddler activities come in handy and when food deliveries are highly appreciated. For example, if I have to finish an article or two before the day ends, I will have to spread my writing time throughout the day.
When I have to write during the day, I like to be checklist-oriented. I plan the day thoroughly and by the hour. This is what my schedule would look like if I’m on a writing-during-the-day schedule:
You can also hire a babysitter from time to time. Having one over doesn’t mean that you have to leave the house. You can absolutely have someone providing childcare while you work.
I recommend you be in a separate room so that your sitter and kid can do their own activities without distractions. But it’s also a good opportunity to go out and work elsewhere. I prefer not to hire a sitter, but I sometimes have a relative or friend over with their kids to play with my son. At the end of the day, it’s about what works for you and your family.
Without a doubt, trying to accomplish all the house duties while writing from home is easily tiring. This is why I don’t get to stick to a single routine. As a writer, there are times that we can’t find the motivation to write. Sometimes, we sit in front of our screens and don’t have anything to write at all. In times like these, I adjust my schedule and allow myself to come back later.
The bottom line is that time management doesn’t have to give birth to a single routine. You really need to find what works for you.
While there are times that I feel extremely tired of doing all this work, I think of how privileged I am to be with my kid while I work on something I enjoy.
I’ve already accepted that things are going to be challenging for a while. I remind myself that my toddler will eventually be a kid who prefers to be left alone, and a few years of meticulously managing my writing career while being a parent isn’t really a bad thing.
I will always appreciate that I was there when my son was able to take his few steps, that I got to monitor which tooth is finally coming out and that I get to do a lot of activities with him while also providing for his needs. Not everyone has the luxury to witness all their children’s milestones, and this feeling is what gets me by.
What always gets me smiling are moments of my son happily playing or coloring beside me as I write. I sometimes take a few minutes to let it sink in – I’m capable of doing both.
Jahlene is a professional content writer and editor who has worked on projects under different niches. Aside from writing, she is very passionate about music and film. You can find her on LinkedIn.