7 Single Parent Hacks for Entertaining Kids (and Staying Sane) Every Day of the Week
March 21st is National Single Parent Day. Yes, that's a thing. It even has a hashtag #NationalSingleParentDay. Yipeee, let's celebrate you! The holiday was created in 1984 to "honor the sacrifices and diligent work of single parents across our country" with the hopes that it would become just as popular as Mother's Day or Father's Day. Okay, that's pretty cool. Except, you know, when you're single... there's no one to actually go out and get you roses or candy or take you to dinner or even draw you a bath...on National Single Parent Day, on Mother's Day, on Father's Day, or any other day... because, you're SINGLE. But you deserve to be celebrated—if not with roses then at least with a few helpful hacks to get through the week.
Yep, I'm single. Sure, in a perfect world of "teach other people how to treat you," said single parent would have taught her children to make gifts and cards for said single parent... or when they are older... walk to CVS and buy a gift card with their allowance. But again, we're single parents. I can barely get the kid back from dance, do the dishes, throw in a load of laundry, shove the bills under the other bills, on the way to the kitchen to make dinner, nag about homework, hunt in the bottom of the couch cushions for quarters to do laundry because, you know, I'm single so I can only afford a small apartment... nag about homework AGAIN, get dinner on the table, part of it burned so I eat the burned part, get evil looks because I forgot to go to the grocery store and get ice cream, find some mini Hershey bars in the back of the fridge leftover from Halloween (and it's March) to replace the ice cream, nag about homework yet again... walk the dog, realize the kid has been looking at Instagram instead of doing homework, blow a gasket, pack lunch for tomorrow but, you know, I forgot to go to the damn grocery store so the kid just gets saltines, a granola bar, and a bottle of water, finally sit down when I get a text reminding me I signed up to make cookies for the school bake sale tomorrow. Yes, that may seem like every mom's day... but when you are single, it's all on you. There is no, "Honey, I'm just going to run to the store."
National Single Parent Day... I'll take it. Even if I have to buy my own roses. Hooray for me! I made it another year. I actually really like being single, but maybe next year, I'll be brave enough to head over to Match.com, OK Cupid, or... oh, who am I kidding, I don't even have time (or the abs) to download the Tinder app. I'm spinning so many plates on my own that one is bound to fall. And I'm okay with that. I have an awesome network of single and married friends. But how does a single gal entertain kids non-stop... especially while trying to keep up with the married folks? It ain't always easy. During the week, finding kids to have playdates with works pretty seamlessly. My daughter didn't even know her friends had second parents because weekdays were filled with the friend and the mom (or nanny); the second parent was at work and, to a kid, invisible. But when the weekend comes, married families tend to disappear into some, I don't know, married cavernous black time hole. You call them, and you often get the same answer... "Weekends are our family time." Um, yeah, me, too. I know I'm the third wheel here, but can't we ALL go to the museum together? Pretty please? Because I have 48 hours to fill and I may not talk to another adult until Monday. Being single has its challenges and its pluses. Here are 7 hacks for entertaining your kid as a single parent to help you through the week.
#1 Monday Hack - Financial Aid. School is a single parent's very best friend. When my daughter went to preschool, she was only there for 3 hours a day, but I thought I had died and gone to heaven. When you're single, the excitement of Monday morning is similar to that of Christmas morning or winning the lottery—because relief, even if a short respite to go to Target on your own, is moments away. I loved those teacher so much, I'd bring them cookies even when there wasn't a bake sale. Did you know many for-fee after school programs have financial aid, and single parents frequently qualify? For programs that don't offer financial aid, ask. Many companies will work with you on reduced payment plans. That 3 o'clock pick-up could turn into 4:30.
#2 Tuesday Hack - Kids Eat Free. Restaurants are usually slow on Tuesdays so look for "Kids Eat Free" days at your local bistros. Better than than that, make it a weekly habit for your parent-friends. Having a big group of kids with parents is a great way to bond and create a family tradition—and, as a single parent, dining in a group means other parents can watch your kid while you go the bathroom by yourself... or run to put money in the meter... or SAY you are doing those things while you are really walk around the block just to have 5 minutes to yourself.
#3 Wednesday Hack - Farmers Markets. Farmers Markets and Costco are notorious for handing out free samples. Whether it's free fruit, broccoli, or even donut hole samples, by the time you get from one end of the block to the next, you'll have eaten lunch; and, for just a few bucks, you can take home some local organic produce. If you happen to have a Farmers Market with a "kid" section—steer clear! By the time you do a round at the bouncy house and the pop-up petting zoo, you will have spent your weekly grocery budget. Same for Costco. You can eat your way across the store, but, if you are on a budget, it's hard to get out of there buying a 52-pack of toilet paper.
#4 Thursday Hack - Get Your Present. It's Thursday and let's just say it's March 21st. Here are a few hacks for getting your kid to buy you a present.
- Live near a grandparent or relative? Ask them to take your kids shopping to buy a present. Family out of town? Ask them to talk to your kid on the phone and tell them it's a special day and really important to honor their parent.
- Ask a friend to take your kid to the mall to help pick out your present. This ritual will foster tradition so when the kid is 16, they might just go to the mall on their own to get you a little something.
- If your friends say, "Ooh, sorry, I can't because they're in the middle of "family time"'... head to the store WITH your kid. Tell them you will be on the next aisle and to pick out something for you. Of course, you will secretly keep your eye on them at all times. When they decide the perfect present for you is a large bag of Sour Patch Kids, you smile and say, "Oooh, my favorite." Baby steps.
- You go to Michaels and get crafts so they can make you a card and when the kid falls asleep glitter glue mashed into their pajamas, just finish making your own card. Self-love! But it's super cute so you post it on Facebook, "Look what my kid made me for National Single Parent Day."
#5 Friday Hack - Offer to Take Other Parents' Kids. When you say to a parent, "I'll pick up your kids from school and take them..." well, take them anywhere... parents scream, "Yes!" and run away before you can finish your sentence. Taking other people's kids entertains your own kid, whether you take them to your house, to a park, to the beach, to the mall... there's nothing better than kids entertaining EACH OTHER instead of having to be the sole source of entertainment yourself.
#6 Saturday Hack - Classes, Classes, Classes. Seriously, fill your day with kid classes. Head over to our classes guide for lots of ideas. If you can manage a for-fee class on your Single Parent budget, skip those 30 minute violin lessons and opt for a sport that takes up the whole morning: soccer, volleyball, hockey, archery. Or find some low-cost classes at your local Parks and Recs. In the afternoon, head over to the mall. If you have little ones, find a mall with a playspace. If you have older kids, find one with a food court. Teenagers love to hang out at the mall. For older kids, bring a friend (see #5 above) and let them wander the $5 racks at Forever XXI while you catch the sales at Old Navy.
#7 Sunday Hack - Community or Religious Groups. Consider joining a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or non-religious community group. When my daughter was 2 months old, I joined the church on the corner. I grew up in the church but, as an adult, was not religious; I'm more religi-curious. But I remembered the community it can foster. This church met with my "we welcome everyone" values and had an amazing group of parents, a Sunday School program (including infants, i.e. free childcare for an hour!) AND a great playground! The kids went to Sunday School and, yes, sometimes I listened to the adult sermon; other times, I went outside to the patio, got a free cup of coffee and a muffin, and sat on a bench enjoying my own church of silence. After Sunday School, there was playtime on the yard, and I'd even invite other single moms to join us. We'd bring a picnic, and by the time I looked at the time, it was 2pm. I had killed 1/2 the day already! I talked to adults, infiltrated some "family time," and made some really great friends in the process.
#8 That other day. Let's face it, as any parent - married or single - you kind of lose track of time. One day slams into the next with a force so strong that most of the time you're just so happy you managed to keep everyone above ground and even, occasionally, happy. And in those rare moments that you actually get to sit down, you realize, hey... I did it... I'm raising another human being... on my own... I'm not doing it perfectly, but I love it. And that's the best gift of all. But, you know, I'll take the roses, too.