Frolo Financials: Solo mum of three working full-time in admin

In our brand new Frolo Financials series we’ll be looking at the monthly income and expenditure of real single parents to see who’s thriving, who’s surviving and how easy it is to manage short and long term finances as a single parent. Today we speak to a solo mum of three children, working full-time.

I’m 36 years old and I’m a solo parent to three children. My son is 16 and in college. He sees his dad for a few hours every other weekend. My daughters are 14 and 13. They’ve not seen their father in over five years.

I work full-time – 37.5 hours a week – as an admin assistant.

How much money to single parents have?

I had to give up my job when I got divorced. My in-laws used to look after my kids when I was at work, (the girls were two and three), but after the divorce they refused to do it. I had to go onto full time benefits and I went back to college for 18 months until my youngest started nursery. I applied to university and got in but the age for claiming income support changed at the time my youngest turned five and I needed to work 16 hours a week. I got two part-time jobs to make up the hours around college and kids and I have been in work full-time ever since.

I have been called all sorts. When I was in college with two part-time jobs I was slated for not being at home with the kids, when I worked part-time my colleagues would moan that I wasn’t doing enough work. You literally cannot please everyone.

Single parent benefits

I am pretty relaxed about money but being a single Mum I always worry that they don’t have the same as their peers so I try to keep it fair. I can’t buy brand new trainers all the time to keep up, but I give them pocket money that they can save towards things and I usually go halves with them. My son has a job and is really enjoying the freedom that comes with having money every week, so he doesn’t ask me for much these days.

I would like to be able to save for a deposit to have a mortgage instead of renting. I live in social housing, which is really not a lot cheaper than private renting in my area. I feel a bit stuck but I can’t buy right now as I would need three or four bedrooms and that’s not realistic to maintain when the kids will move out in a few years. My bills include £170 on mobile phones – we all have one and I pay for my Dad’s as well.

My kids all have hobbies, which I love to see them excel in, so every month my regular outgoings include singing, dancing and go-karting.

If I have a long term goal that I need to save for I am really good at sticking to it. I always plan and budget for a holiday every year – before Covid I had saved for over two years to go to Florida. Now that my son is almost 17 and with us not looking to go abroad this year, he probably won’t come away with us again. I am very much about making memories. I’m always planning the next day trip or concert.

My day to day budgeting is not as strict and I know I could save a lot more if I tried. I  would like to be a bit more disciplined but after a long week if we fancy a Chinese then we do. If the kids have an opportunity to see their friends then I want to make sure that they have enough money to join in with lunch or clothes shopping.

They won’t be at home for much longer and they are all a great help around the house. I really just want them to look back and not feel like they missed out on anything because it was just me pretty much their whole lives. I fully intend to sort my finances out when my money is just for ‘me’.

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How I make it work… with full-time Digital Director Gemma

Gemma Stevenson is a single mum to Florence-Ava and juggles parenthood with a full-time job as Digital Director for a skincare brand. Here she speaks to Frolo about how she manages early mornings, bedtime routines and everything in between.

My name is… Gemma Stevenson.

My family consists of… myself and my beautiful little girl Florence-Ava, who is 2 years old.

I’ve been a single parent since… February last year when my daughter was only 18 months old so I am very new and fresh to all of this. It has been the hardest year of my life and dealing with lockdown on top has added an additional level of complexity.

My work life balance is… the biggest juggling act ever. I am Digital Director for an incredible skin care brand so during lockdown my workload quadrupled with stores closing and everyone shifting to online. At the beginning I was trying to work like I wasn’t a mother and trying to mother like I didn’t work – this was quite frankly ridiculous and quickly changed. I was the one putting this pressure on myself, not my company, and with the endless Zoom calls it became hard to hide a 2 year old. Instead I embraced it. I started to be honest with people and push back on meetings when it was too hard to juggle. I have been on calls with Florence-Ava asleep on my lap and I have even mastered changing a nappy whilst hosting a meeting!

I am now very strict with my time – I finish work at 5pm to do the nursery run and I am very open with my team about this. I flex my time and catch up in the evenings when she is in bed rather than adding additional pressure to myself in the day. When I am with her I want to focus on her and only her and I am trying to be strict with this. My advice here is to be honest with the people you work with and be proud of your primary job – parenting.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is… preparation! I pack Florence-Ava’s nursery bag the night before and lay her clothes out ready for the morning. Cartoons are a welcome distraction to allow myself to get ready too. Florence-Ava is motivated by food so she knows she has to stick to our routine in the morning in order to make it in time for breakfast at nursery. Weetabix bribery at its best. A cup of tea on the go is a winner for me too!

My advice is to be honest with the people you work with and be proud of your primary job – parenting.

My support network consists of... so many people near and far. My parents live 5+ hours away and my brothers both live abroad so this has been tough for me, especially during lockdown, but the support I have via the phone and WhatsApp is always there from them. I have an incredible network of mums around me locally and an incredibly supportive friendship group that is always checking in on me.

For me becoming a single parent has made me realise how lucky I am to have such amazing friends and family and I have such an appreciation for every act of kindness no matter how big or small. However, it can feel quite isolating at times. Spending lockdown working from home and only having a 2 year old for company in the evenings and at weekends can take its toll so I’m making a conscious effort to be friendly – I always speak to neighbours and fellow parents at the nursery gates.

I don’t know any other single parents so discovering the Frolo app has helped me relate to other parents going through the same challenges and thought processes. Single parents are super heroes and I never realised how many super heroes were out there until this year.

The bit I find hardest is… doing everything myself. There have been so many times I have wished someone could hold Florence-Ava just for 5 minutes so I can get something done, or questioned when I’ll ever be able to have a dinner before 9pm… impossible when you cannot even contemplate cooking until after bath/bed time and that’s when they actually play ball and go to sleep! BUT doing everything by myself has definitely helped me build the most incredible bond with my little girl. We’re a team, we really are. I know she is only 2 but I truly think she has my back already.

Becoming a single parent has made me realise how lucky I am to have such amazing friends and family and I have such an appreciation for every act of kindness no matter how big or small.

My me-time consists of… running! I love exercise and I need to it to clear my head. However single parenting does not lend itself well to running….so I invested in a peloton bike so when she naps I spin. This has been a game changer for me.

If I could change one thing to make life easier… Selfishly a chef! I hate cooking and have no time for it but I love eating. Also, I would love to find a way to have more me time, even just an extra hour to make time to reply to friends and family.

One thing I love about being a single parent is… the bond I have built with my little girl. We are figuring everything out together and she supports me as much as I support her.

Dinner times at our house are… the only time Florence-Ava sits still. I love watching her enjoy her food and having this time with her. Knowing she eats well at nursery all week I am also less worried about what she eats at weekends.

Our bedtime routine is… prepping her bag and clothes for the next day together, then at around at 7pm bath time fun, followed by milk, stories and cuddles.

My best single parenting hack is… don’t be afraid to accept offers of help or be afraid to ask for help. Single parenting is tough be kind to yourself and let others help.

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How I make it work… with single mum of one Tamsin

How do you manage your work life balance as a single parent? What do mornings look like when you’re parenting alone? Single mum Tamsin shares her single parent hacks and the secrets to a smooth day.

Advice for single mums

My name is Tamsin. 

My family consists of me and my son William, who is four years old and in his first year of school! 

I’ve been a single parent since I found out I was pregnant in December 2015. My son’s father made the decision not to be involved straight away so it’s been just the two of us right from the start. 

My work life balance is difficult at best! I work full-time as a retail manager so the hours are unsociable and all over the place. It’s a juggle that I don’t always get it right but we try to make it work. This year’s been especially tough as I’ve had to work longer hours over lockdown and now it’s Christmas time, I have no work life balance at all! My parents help out a lot with childcare and I try to make the best of the time that I do have with William. 

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is…I don’t have one so can someone let me know?! I’m late for everything and I normally forget something! I’m the mum that’s running into school at the last minute every morning. Mornings just aren’t my best! 

My support network consists of my parents, who are the best grandparents to William. He has such a close bond with them and they help out so much. I also have an amazing group of friends that always involve William in whatever we do. 

The bit I find the hardest is the stigma attached to being a single parent. People always seem surprised that I have a job and that I lead a ‘normal’ life as a single parent. Assumptions are made about me, both in work and in my personal life. It feels like I always have something to prove before I’ve even started. 

My me time consists of dinner on the sofa with a glass of wine! I don’t get a lot of me time, normally it’s just evenings when William is asleep upstairs. One the rare occasion I do get a night out, the mum guilt is real! 

If I could change one thing to make life easier it would be making the rest of the world ready for single parents. There’s too many occasions you’re made to feel like the odd one out. From being the only single parent at an antenatal class when I was pregnant to being asked if dad will be joining me when looking around primary schools. Often people don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, it’s just the way the world is, but that doesn’t make it any easier to navigate. 

One thing I love about being a single parent is the bond me and William have. It’s always been just us so we’re really close. He’s my little sidekick and I really wouldn’t change being a single parent. 

Dinner time at our house is normally a rush! Because my work pattern is all over the place, dinner is always at a different time. But on my weekends off, we normally have a pizza and games night which William loves! 

Our bedtime routine is always ‘five more minutes’! William loves to read a story and always wants ‘just one more’. So it’s never quick, buts it’s a routine that happens every day which is nice when the rest of life is so chaotic! 

My best single parenting hack is trust your instinct. Everyone will always have an opinion and want to share it, but your gut is normally right. As long as your child is happy, that’s all that matters. 

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How I make it work… Lucy and Buddy

How do single parents make it work in real life? What does the average day look like? Lucy, single mum to Buddy, shares her tips with Frolo.

My name is Lucy.

My family consists of me and my son Buddy, who’s just turned three.

I’ve been a single parent since I separated from Buddy’s Dad in 2019. We moved into a new place in the October.

My work life balance is a lot better than it was! When I became a single mum I shifted my focus to Buddy, being the best mummy I could be, and continuing to build my business. That didn’t leave much time for me and I think it actually became a way of not processing all that had happened.

Over the last six months I’ve worked hard to create some boundaries with my work and instil some healthy self-care habits. I feel very grateful to have my own business as I’ve been able to be around far more for Buddy than if I was still working in London. Buddy is the reason why I do everything I do when it comes to work, but I know I need to have time out too otherwise I can’t be a very good mum or business owner.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is being organised. I get Buddy’s bag for nursery packed and leave it by the stairs with his book bag. I get his clothes out and sometimes mine too. Last year during the first lockdown, (and after reading the book ‘Miracle Morning’), I went through a spell of getting up at 5am and it was a real game changer, even for someone who’s not a morning person in the slightest. I’m hoping to get back to that when the mornings are lighter as I really enjoyed that time to myself first thing and found it set me up for the day.

My support network consists of my mum and dad, who live about 25 minutes away, my brother and sister-in-law, and some great friends. Obviously we’ve not been able to see many people for a while, but my neighbours are my support bubble and they’ve been an amazing support to us both over the last year. Being able to have some adult company when Buddy’s with his dad has been really nice as that’s one of the things I’ve found hard since the pandemic started.

The bit I find hardest is having to do everything myself and carrying the mental load on my own. There’s no one here to do bath time if I want to sit down for five minutes or change the sheets during the night when Buddy’s unwell and being sick everywhere! Also I often feel sad when Buddy leaves to go to his dad’s, it’s a real ‘all or nothing’ rollercoaster of emotions as a single parent I think.

I always tell myself I’m ‘good enough’ and no one is smashing it every single day.

My me-time consists of eating out and drinking cocktails with friends, (can’t wait to do that again), cycling, cooking delicious food and going to bed at 8.30pm with a book or Netflix. I lie on my acupressure mat most evenings for about 20 minutes whilst I do some visualisation exercises – the mat really helps with the tension in my back and helps me sleep better too. I also like to journal and usually write first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Since suffering from anxiety, (which was particularly bad last year), I’m hooked on sleep stories on the Calm app, they really help me to relax when I turn the light off to go to sleep.

If I could change one thing to make life easier it would be to have a housekeeper! I hate doing the food plan, food shop and cleaning and washing. I’d have so much time to spend doing other things if I didn’t have to do all that stuff!

One thing I love about being a single parent is the bond that we share and how close we are. He recently said thank you to me for working so hard and earning money for us to do nice things. It made my day!

Dinner times at our house are usually at about 5pm as Buddy’s tired when he gets back from nursery, we eat together at the table. I don’t mind eating early as it gives me more of an evening when he’s in bed.

Our bedtime routine is bath then bed by 7pm although he’s recently moved to a big bed and spends about half an hour getting out! After his bath we snuggle in my bed and read a story and he likes to look at old videos and photos on my phone of things we have done together. I’m really grateful that since he was a baby he’s always slept quite well and I’ve not had any problems getting him to sleep. I had a traumatic birth and suffered a fair bit when he was a newborn so that was a wonderful gift when he was a baby!

We all have bad days and I want Buddy to understand that, I’m not perfect and I don’t expect him to be either.

My best single parenting hack is to not strive for perfection. I’m happy if the house is messy and there are toys everywhere, or if we go for a walk and Buddy gets covered in mud and I have loads of washing to do when we get back. The pre-baby me would have got uptight about stuff like that but being a parent has made me a lot more chilled out, which feels so much better than always wanting everything to be perfect. I always tell myself I’m ‘good enough’ and no one is smashing it every single day. We all have bad days and I want Buddy to understand that, I’m not perfect and I don’t expect him to be either.

Did you enjoy Lucy’s story? Have a read of another post from our How I Make It Work series.

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How I make it work… Single mum Kirsten and six year old Louie

The secret to successful single parenting? Outsourcing, says single mum Kirsten, including a cleaner! Read more single parenting hacks from the self-employed mum of one.

Life as a single parent

My name is Kirsten.

My family consists of me, and my son, who’s six and a little legend. Louie lives with his Dad about 40% of the time and spends the rest with me.

I’ve been a single parent since my marriage ended in 2016. It was the hardest time of my life, but it’s been the making of me!

My work life balance is getting better. I have spent almost six years building up my HR consultancy business to a great place, and during that time I’ve moved from working two days and naptimes to five days and evenings. Now the evenings are a little less regular but they do still happen! I just try to build time into my working week for me, like walks or exercise while the boy is at school, lunches or walks with friends, and the odd morning off to just watch TV! I’m lucky to be able to manage my time this way because I’m self-employed.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is always think one step ahead! I am constantly planning what I need for the week/day ahead and making sure I do everything the day/eve before is key. I also try to do easy but healthy breakfasts that can be cooking while I am doing something else, (or cereal or toast and fruit if time is short because I’ve stayed in bed too long, which is a regular occurrence!) I’ve worked on routine with my son so he knows what needs doing next and he is now in charge of making sure he’s dressed, teeth brushed, and his school bag is ready. It definitely helps!

My support network consists of my boyfriend, who lives an hour away, my neighbours, and friends mostly via WhatsApp or Frolo! I don’t live near my parents as I moved away from my home town when I met my son’s Dad. It can be very isolating sometimes and I have to make a conscious effort to see friends regularly.

The bit I find hardest is doing EVERYTHING myself, from maintaining an old cottage, which seemed like a romantic dream at the time but can be hard work, (I get mice), running a business, making sure my son has all that he needs, and taking care of myself! I just try to do the minimum most of the time, and let things slide if I need to, for my own sanity!

My me-time consists of either fun times out with friends, eating, dancing or vegging at home. I love a long bath watching Netflix too! I am trying to do at least one thing a day for myself at the moment!

If I could change one thing to make life easier I’d live closer to my family. It’s hard being so far away from them, but it’s been over 11 years so I’m kind of used to it now!

One thing I love about being a single parent is that my relationship with my son is so close and special. I used to feel so inferior to traditional families and now I just love mine!

Dinner times at our house are normally quite quiet – we both love to eat! I always want to chat but my son has his head down scoffing so I have to find other moments for our deep and meaningful chats!

Our bedtime routine is a cuddle in front of the TV, a game of something like Uno, bath if it’s bath night, teeth brushed…. My boy puts his pj’s on straight from school normally – he’s learnt from me it’s what you do as soon as you get home! We then go up to my room and read a story in bed. He likes to use the two minute meditation on my Fitbit as well, I have no idea what started him on this but its such an amazing habit – I don’t always manage to meditate when on my own! Then we cuddle and chat before he goes to sleep. He’s started getting up recently to check I’m still there, but generally he’s really good at going to bed. It’s certainly easier now he’s older, I don’t miss the baby years in that way!

My best single parenting hack is OUTSOURCE! I spent years thinking – my God I just want a cleaner and when I actually thought about it, I could get 5 hours per month cleaning for just over £50. I realise that is a lot for some but I looked at my budget and realised I could make a few tweaks to afford it. I also look at it from the point of view that I can work for 5 more hours a month which actually means I earn more. I also ask my Mum/Dad/boyfriend to help with stuff when they are staying – makes a huge difference and people love to help.

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Life as an expat single mum

Life as a single parent can be challenging at the best of times, but what if you find yourself living abroad, having moved for love, not speaking the language and face to face with an elk? Anna Bainbridge talks to Frolo about the realities of being an expat single mum.

Expat single mum - living abroad as a single parent

One cold January afternoon, my son Zac and I cycled to the local playground with some friends.  As we arrived at the beautifully situated pirate ship playground, a stranger approached us. With wide eyes and a worried voice she said ‘there is an elk roaming the village streets and right now he is in that garden over there.’ She nodded to a nearby house. 

My brain sprang into action – cogs whirring away, interpreting the Swedish this lady spoke and judging how best to respond to this elk-near-playground situation.

Let’s rewind a bit shall we?

Here’s a quick bit about me: I was born and raised in South East London and moved to Sweden six years ago with my then husband to start a new life and new family. Things didn’t go as planned and after five years together we decided to go our separate ways, whilst still co-parenting our little son Zac. 

Growing up in a rough area of London, I learned to be street-wise: never walk down a deserted dimly lit street on your own, don’t talk to strangers etc. This is all very well in London but a lot of that street wisdom is simply not applicable to my new life here in rural Sweden. For example, all roads are dimly lit here and most are deserted so if I kept to that rule, I’d never go anywhere! 

Anyway, back to the elk.

As I mulled over how seriously to take this elk threat, (aren’t they just like rather large ponies? Surely it will be more scared of us than we are of it? Maybe we should just go home?), my friend Sara, who is Swedish and therefore an expert in elk-related matters, grabbed her daughter, ran to the pirate ship and hid. 

‘OK’ I said to myself, ‘I guess this situation is more serious than I thought.’

‘I’ll just take Zac up to the top of that rock over there!’ I shouted to Sara’s retreating back. ‘Surely elk can’t climb rocks?’ I yelled hopefully.

With my question still hanging in the air I turned to Zac, and as I did so came face-to-face with the elk himself! There he was in all his elk-like glory standing just metres away. Bigger than a horse, staring at me with large glassy eyes situated on either side of his massive head. 

Without thinking I grabbed Zac under one arm and climbed to the top of the rocky outcrop behind me. Climbing one-handed with a four year old is no easy feat but adrenalin gave me the push I needed.  There we stood, breathing heavily and wondering what the elk would do next. No one moved. No one spoke. I turned to look at Sara in the pirate ship and she returned my glance nervously. We didn’t even dare wave to each other. 

With all the excitement, my son inexplicably began to shout, ‘the elk is coming! The elk is coming!’ Perhaps trying to warn the other villagers. His voice seemed to enrage the elk still further and he began to gallop towards us, his huge body appearing to move in slow motion. ‘So much for him being more scared of us,’ I thought. 

Being a single parent is much like spotting an elk for the first time:  scary and a bit unpredictable.  But also, an opportunity to dig deep and find strength you never knew you had. 

I gently silenced Zac and the elk eventually wandered off into the centre of the village. After an appropriate amount of time had elapsed, we all came out of our hiding places, laughed hysterically at what had happened and then went home to my garden for a Covid friendly fika.

In some ways, I think this elk episode sums up what it is like to be a single-working-mum-living-abroad-during-a-global-pandemic. A total roller-coaster! 

expat single mum living in Norway

So for anyone else facing a similar kind of life challenge, here are some tips:

Learn the language

Unless you are living in an English-speaking country such as USA or Australia, you will have to learn the language.  I can’t over-emphasise just how important and life-changing this is.  Learning the language of your country of residence will open so many doors.  Doors of friendship, job opportunities, better services in places like the job centre or welfare office…the list goes on.  Every new word you learn is another foundation stone for your new life.  I use the app DuoLingo and also completed Sweden’s Swedish For Immigrants course when I first arrived.

Get a job

After my marriage broke down in 2019 and I lost my business at the same time, finances were a great cause of stress.  I had to find an income quickly.  The only job available to me at the time was stacking trays in the local bakery.  They had to be stacked in towers of 15 or 20 and it took ALL day to do this.  Yes, it was hard and hot work, (the baker’s ovens made the factory floor as hot as 30 degrees some days!), but it didn’t require a lot of Swedish, was close to my son’s nursery and it gave me a wage.  After years of financial challenges in my marriage, I was finally earning money just for me and that felt very empowering!

If you’d told me 10 years ago that I would become a full-time working single mum living in Sweden, I’d never have believed you.  But here I am doing just that!

After the bakery I worked in a local department store’s delicatessen (so much fun!) and then a year as an English/Music teacher at the village school (hugely challenging and growth-filled for me!)  Now I work three days a week as an English teacher at an international school in the local city and two days a week music teaching in my village school.

All of my jobs have enabled me to earn money to support me and my son.  They have given me a opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself and take my mind off the problems of my divorce.  The jobs have shown me how strong and resilient I really am.  If you’d told me 10 years ago that I would become a full-time working single mum living in Sweden, I’d never have believed you.  But here I am doing just that!  Yes, it can be hard some days but it is most definitely worth it.

Make friends

I can’t stress this enough.  You need friends.  You cannot do this alone.  Being a single parent is hard enough at the best of times but throw in living abroad away from friends and family and things just got a whole lot harder.  Make sure you have people in your life with whom you can be honest about your struggles.  

Keep your sense of humour

Watch Olive and Mabel videos, read funny books, call your funny friend.  A good belly laugh can up your well-being no end.

Play the long game

A bad day is so much easier to bear if you have something to look forward to and you know where you’re going in life.  Make plans and dream big!  Want to own your own home?  Start saving, visualise what that dream house looks like in detail.  What about your dream job?  Chances are, before your relationship to your child’s other parent broke down, you were using a lot of energy to ;keep it all together’.  You don’t need to do that anymore.  Now that energy can be used to plan your new awesome life.  What will it look like?  What will you look like? (Time for a new hairstyle?  Clothing style?)  How will you feel?  What do you want your family vibe to be?  For example, my ex was not very interested in sport and now I am enjoying being much more active.  This year I tried skiing for the first time on a school trip and loved it.  I have also purchased my first pair of ice skates and have been skating on a lake for the first time with my son.

Having an exciting plan that motivates YOU (yes, you!  Not your ex, not your child, not your parents but YOU) will keep you motivated on those inevitable low days.  The days when you’re behind on the housework, your kid is sick and your social calendar looks like a wasteland.  Play the long game.

In summary then, being a single parent is much like spotting an elk for the first time:  scary and a bit unpredictable.  But also, an opportunity to dig deep and find strength you never knew you had.  Remember me climbing one-handed to the top of the rocky outcrop with my son in the other hand?  Sometimes we don’t know the strength we possess until life forces us to use it.  You DO have it in you to start a new life abroad with your family.

You DO have what it takes.  You can do this!

Want to find out more about my expat single mum journey?  Head over to Instagram @annawithflair

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How I make it work… with single mum Leigh

Ever wondered what day to day life is really like as a single parent and how one person manages work and family life alone? Single mum Leigh shares her story here.

Single parent advice

My name is Leigh.

My family consists of me and my son.

I’ve been a single parent since my little boy was born, in September 2018.

My work life balance is busy. I work full time, and in normal times I commute to London from home in Essex, but have worked from home since March. My son is in fulltime nursery so the weekdays are a mad rush when he gets home as he’s still a toddler. Working from home has made it easier work/life wise to keep on top of things like washing and housework, and the days aren’t as long without commuting, but it means it’s all too easy to check emails over dinner and in the evening. I try to switch off as much as possible in the evenings though, and make sure I get a good walk in in the mornings after dropping him off.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is I throw on some joggers and a jumper to do the nursery drop-off and shower when I get back. I get him up at 7am, (if he hasn’t already wandered out of his room to find me!), and get his breakfast. We need to be ready to leave by 7.45am at the latest. My secret is doing as much as I can the night before; making lunch, getting breakfast stuff out, and sorting myself out after he’s gone off for the day. It means I can actually get a decent shower in. Another perk of working from home! Otherwise normally we get up at 5.30am and he goes to nursery at 7am(!)

My support network consists of a few people. My parents are incredible, and we lived with them towards the end of my pregnancy and the first six months of my son’s life. They’re my Corona support bubble too, which has been invaluable. Outside of that I have some great close friends, and during lockdown we have voice-noted every day, (two of them are also single parents), which has made the days feel less lonely. And of course, my lovely Frolo friends, who have without doubt been the most incredible source of support and laughs over the last two years or so.

The bit I find hardest is not having adult company at home, especially this year, and not feeling like I can get up and do spontaneous things at the weekend, as many two parent families can do together. I either have to plan in advance to do something with another family, (single parent or otherwise), or go on my own with a toddler, which isn’t the most fun thing in all honesty!

I’m fortunate that I have an active co-parent, so I have every Wednesday afternoon (after work) and every other weekend to myself. I used to find this really hard, but now I really appreciate that time. Normally I would see friends and go for drinks etc, but there’s not been much of that this year! So I’ve been making do with box sets, takeaways and a nice bottle of wine. I also really enjoy cooking and trying to get back into exercising. I’m also planning (Covid rules permitting) to start dating again in the new year. It’s time!

If I could change one thing to make life easier I’d get a cleaner. Definitely. And a Magic Money Tree please!

One thing I love about being a single parent is the freedom to create our home and life the way I want it, and the bond my son and I have. I answer to no-one, about anything (well, except my son…)

Dinner times at our house are mostly me saying ‘concentrate on eating please’. My son has a very healthy appetite, although green things are currently persona non grata. I try and have dinner on the table for 6pm and we almost always eat together, (unless I’ve opted to order a pizza when he’s in bed!). Being his age, I think its really important for him to learn from me and for us to have a family mealtime.

Our bedtime routine is bath, chasing him round his room with some lotion, wrestling him into his PJs and reading stories. It’s lights out by 7.30pm, but because he’s recently moved into a bed he spends about half an hour getting out of bed, with me popping him back in. I have to stand sentry outside his room until he drops off, because I refuse to sit in his room in the dark. Bedtime is actually my favourite time of the day, (not just because he’s asleep, honest!), but because it’s the time of the day with no distractions, it’s just me and him playing silly games in his room and reading his favourite stories with lots of snuggles.

My best single parenting hack is to let go of the idea of perfection. And talk to people. Be open, make friends and learn when to ask for help. You cannot do this completely on your own. And nor should you. Life is to be shared, but that doesn’t mean it has to be with a partner.

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How I make it work… with single mum Gemma

What’s it really like being a single mum? How do single parents manage their daily lives to make things work as a family? Single mum of one, Gemma, shares her daily routine here.

What's it like being a single parent?

My name is Gemma Clark I live in Norfolk and am a Projects and Planning Officer in Local Government. I live with my 5-year-old daughter Luna.

I’ve been a single parent for just over 2 years.

My work life balance is something I try hard to improve. I work during school hours Monday to Thursday. Friday I have off but it’s my housework day so I do my food shopping and some cleaning whilst Luna is at school. I try to make sure that the time I have with Luna is time where I can play with her and spend some quality time rather than frantically rushing around doing chores. It’s hard to keep on top of everything but I don’t watch a huge amount of television in the evenings so once Luna is asleep I might do a bit of work on the computer, housework or ironing.

I’m a bit of an introvert anyway but the pandemic has really shrunk my world down further. Working from home does have its advantages, including flexibility, less travel and being able to work around Luna better. However, going to the office and seeing my colleagues was like a social event for me and was good for my well-being. I have struggled with the isolation although I am in a bubble with my mum. Once this is over I really will make more of an effort to see friends and family and make that distinction between work and my personal life, which at the moment is quite blurred.

My secret to getting everyone ready in the morning is being organised. I get school bags packed the night before. Luna has school dinners so I don’t need to worry about packed lunches. I get up about an hour earlier than Luna and get myself ready, (coffee is mandatory!), then after getting her breakfast and drinks sorted she gets dressed whilst watching CBeebies and then brushes her teeth. Sometimes we walk to school as it’s good exercise and sometimes I drive depending on the weather, but its always a rush out the door!

My support network consists of my ex-husband, who has Luna one day and night on the weekend and sometimes one night in the week after school. In the school holidays we try to split her time between us, which enables me to work when she’s with him.

My mum is retired and I sometimes ask her to help out if I’m going out for an evening with friends for example and my brother and his family live round the corner too so again he steps in if I’m stuck. I’m quite an independent person and don’t like asking people for help as I don’t want to burden people but maybe I need to work on that perception as we all need help now and again and shouldn’t feel ashamed about admitting that.

The bit I still find hardest over two years later is when Luna has just been picked up by her dad. I worry about her leaving me, I feel guilt that because of me she has to split her time between her mummy and daddy, but I also feel some relief that I can get a bit of breathing space to look after me or just be able to get things done more easily. The quietness really hits you the minute the door closes and you’re on your own, particularly over the weekend when you’re wondering what to do. I find the best thing to do is just get busy and not wallow in negative thoughts, so I will start my chores or go into town or see family and friends or just put a podcast or some music on. Anything to get me out of my head and stop the negative thoughts spiralling.

My me-time consists of a very important early morning routine which has literally completely changed my mindset and mood everyday since I started it about two months ago. I was in a crappy place mentally, struggling with what’s going on with the virus, work, worry of parenting etc. I watched a really great YouTube video by Natalia Benson about the importance of a regular morning routine and I am really reaping the benefits. I get up at 6am – I don’t hit snooze, I’m straight out of bed. I drink a full glass of water to rehydrate and I have made it a habit to never check my phone or look at social media first thing as that can really dictate your mood for the rest of the day (especially being so negative at the moment).

I get on my yoga mat and lie down and do some breath work, just slowly and consciously breathing and counting.  I count 10 blessings in my head and then I visualise three things that I want in my life. This normally takes about five minutes, then I do some yoga stretches which takes about 10 minutes depending on how I’m feeling. So it only takes me 15 to 20 minutes max and I’ve found that it really puts me in a more positive, centred place in the morning and for the rest of the day.

In the evenings I like to read and sometimes I do a HIIT workout on YouTube. I always listen to a guided meditation or sleep hypnosis session with my earplugs on when I go to bed. At the moment I’m listening to one about self-love which is helping me with some self confidence issues I have.

If I could change one thing to make life easier it would be to not beat myself up so much about getting everything done. I put a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress on myself to have the house looking lovely, and all the chores done, but actually it really makes little difference. The most important things are that Luna and I are happy and healthy, everything else is secondary.

One thing I love about being a single parent is being able to be me. I can have the house how I want it. I can buy clothes that I like and not have to compromise what’s important to me to please someone else all the time.

Dinner times at our house are early as Luna is always famished when she gets back from school, so once we get home she watches television, plays or does craft and I get tea on. Usually we eat around 4:30pm. I don’t mind eating earlier too as it makes the bedtime routine less rushed and I get more of an evening.

Once Luna has had her tea I get her bath ready. Sometimes her daddy FaceTimes her when she’s in the bath or just after. She has a little play and then gets her pyjamas on and brushes her teeth. She enjoys me reading to her so I read about four books and she’s usually asleep by 8pm but sometimes it takes her a while so I sit with her in bed until she’s asleep.

My best single parenting hack is writing everything down in a notebook. I have lists for my monthly budget and expenditure, lists of jobs I need to do, clothes I would like, things I need to get for Luna, items for the house, Christmas present lists… you name it I have a list for it! It’s so good to get all the stuff going round my head onto paper so when I think of something I write it down straight away. It helps me keep organised, which is key to single parenting and helps me feel in control.

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6 single parents on why they’ve never been happier

It’s often assumed that single parents have a pretty hard time of things, so we spoke to six single parents about the benefits of single parenting and what they love about raising kids alone.

It’s a common misconception about single parents that our lives are basically a bit crap. We’re juggling work and home, trying to earn enough money to run a home by ourselves and are basically biding our time until a new partner comes along.

We wrote a piece recently challenging some of the common single parent stereotypes around specific things like work and money, but this idea of all single parents as being essentially unhappy and exhausted still seems to persist. While we aren’t denying it’s tiring and overwhelming at times, that’s often just life isn’t it? Married parents, non-parents, it’s just the same, we all go through ups and downs.

What we found while we were researching our myth busting piece was that actually there are an awful lot of single parents who are not just surviving, but thriving. These are parents who have never been happier, who, whether they became single parents by choice or not, find immense joy and pride in raising their children on their own.

It’s a common misconception about single parents that our lives are basically a bit crap.

We spoke to six single parents from the Frolo community about what exactly it is that they love about being a single parent and today we want to share these stories with you. We hope that they inspire you and reassure you that even when it seems tough, there are plenty of benefits to single parenting.

Emily has a four year old son and her new partner of a year has a five year old girl who spends half her time with them. 

Benefits of being a single parent

‘My marriage broke up really unexpectedly in January 2019’ says Emily, ‘and I went through three months of being told it was just a break before finally I discovered he’d been unfaithful and woke up to an email ending our marriage for good.  It was devastating. I was heartbroken for my son who was born via IVF as our divorce also meant destroying the frozen embryos that were meant to provide a sibling for him. It seemed as if it would be the end of the world.  

I really quickly discovered that it was the best thing that could have happened to me and genuinely feel my year of total single parent life was the happiest year in a decade! It gave me more confidence and the ideas and self belief to start my own business and publish a children’s book. This would never have happened if my ex husband hadn’t walked out and I would really love to help dispel any myths and give a bit of hope to any newly single parent who may be feeling that their world is over.’

Jade is a single mum to her 16 month old son.

Positives of being a single mum

‘I am a full single parent,’ explains Jade, ‘solely responsible for my son and it’s all I’ve ever known. I separated from my ex partner when I was five months pregnant for reasons outside of my control. Despite trying many different avenues to facilitate a father and son relationship my ex-partner does not see or help towards raising his son. It is all on me. 

I am happier now as a single mum than I have been the past four years. I know I am able to give my child the best version of me and that will always remain a source of happiness and pride. Although being a single parent comes with the obvious challenges it also comes with many positives too, once you accept the path you’re on and ignore the stigma surrounding ‘single parents’ you can truly appreciate how lucky you are.

Becoming a single parent doesn’t need to be the end of life as you know it; for some people like me it’s only the beginning.

Every morning I wake up to the sound of my son babbling away to himself in his cot and this instantly starts my day on a happy note. I do not have to argue with someone day in and day out regarding parental decisions or relationship squabbles; I have the freedom to choose everything myself and raise my son the way I see fit. As I’ve watched him grow from a newborn, to an infant to a toddler the sense of pride I feel is overwhelming because I’ve done it all alone. 

I’ve always wanted to start my own business and work for myself but I never had the courage. After maternity leave I lost my stable job and as a single mum, the flexibility I needed to balance motherhood and work was not easy to find. I made the decision to start my own business so I can work for myself around my son with no boss or office to answer to. 

Becoming a single parent doesn’t need to be filled with doom and gloom or the end of life as you know it; for some people like me it’s only the beginning.’

Julie is a solo mum by choice to baby Betsy.

Solo mum by choice benefits

‘I honestly think it’s easier doing this single!’ says Julie. ‘No compromising, no judgements on someone else’s style or approach, no resentments about who’s the most tired, no schedules to navigate around, no side-eye about how much I’m on my phone, how much TV we watch or what I eat! Literally the only downside seems to be that I’d love a cuppa made for me occasionally, but even then I’m pretty confident I can train the dog to do it.’

Celine has a seven year old daughter and a four year old son. She has been single since her husband left when she was six months pregnant.

good things about being a single parent

‘I always felt being a single mum had a stigma attached.’ says Celine. ‘Initially I got hung up on feeling like a failure, feeling ashamed that people looked at me differently, like I didn’t fit into the ‘norm’, but then I thought I should focus on my achievements, the fact I got through the most difficult time, and my children thrived from it and are happy, healthy and kind hearted children. I feel proud of my achievements – little things like getting through a tough day, turning the littlest of things into a special adventure for them, for working and taking pride in my job, becoming a strong independent woman who pays for our home and for making the most amazing memories.

Whilst I don’t get the encouragement or support from a partner in parenting I can honestly say that whilst it’s twice the work, it’s twice the pride! I’m not dependent on another human, it’s all on me, and that’s a feeling I wouldn’t have if I weren’t single! If I do treat myself to something expensive I have done it knowing everything else has been paid for and provided for and that feeling is amazing – it means I am one strong independent woman!’

Wendy is a mum to five children, including two sets of twins, three of whom still live at home.

Benefits of single parenting

‘I left a very toxic marriage,’ explains Wendy, ‘and was left with nothing. I didn’t want to be on my own at home whilst the kids were with their Dad so I decided to empty my account and go to New York for a few days. I decided on that trip that I was in charge of my own narrative and that the tag of single mum and all the negative connotations were not going to define me.

I’m 46, recently graduated with a first degree, and I’m about to start a masters in a completely different career, training to become a psychologist! None of this could have been done in my restrictive previous marriage. I have no one to answer to or consider aside from myself. 

As single parents we underestimate our skills and resilience. Just getting through an average week takes a whole lot of skills and organisation that we shoulder singlehanded. Never be afraid to be your own champion!

I decided that I was in charge of my own narrative and that the tag of single mum was not going to define me.

Sam is a single parent to Sonny, aged four.

single parent benefits

Solo parenting is hard, it’s intense, and I say that as someone who has a pretty low-maintenance child and a great support network! BUT it’s also the most rewarding relationship in the world. Me and my boy have an incredible and unique bond. 

I’m not going to discredit the plight of single parents at all, I know it’s damn hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s unhappy or that they’re aren’t benefits to single parenting. This wasn’t how I thought my life would pan out but I absolutely love it now, more than anything and wouldn’t have it any other way.’

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5 things that changed when I became a single parent

Emily was devastated when her marriage ended in 2019, but she soon discovered some positives to being a single parent that she wasn’t expecting.

My marriage broke up really unexpectedly, on my part at least, in January 2019. I went through three months of being told it was just a break, that he was temporarily staying at his mum’s but definitely coming home, before finally I discovered he’d been unfaithful and woke up to an email ending our marriage for good. 

It was devastating, in so many ways. It was a complete shock and I was heartbroken for my son. He was born via IVF and our divorce also meant destroying the frozen embryos that were meant to provide a sibling for him.

To start with it seemed as if being a single parent would be the end of the world but I really quickly discovered that it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

These are just a few of the reasons why…

I rediscovered my value.

When my husband left he told me I’d become ‘just a mum’.  While being a mum is the most important job and I absolutely don’t think there is anything ‘just a mum’ about it, I probably had let being a parent absorb me and I had very little self worth left. 

Being a single mum has made me see the reality. I’m a Head of Marketing who can spend one day presenting to a board and the next day jumping into puddles. I’m a mum who loves spending time with my son and bonus daughter from my new relationship, (no ‘step’ in our house), but equally I relish child free time. I love to lie in and spend all morning reading a magazine or sitting in the pub drinking too much red wine and laughing with friends.

I’m responsible but I believe in myself enough to take a few risks. I’m constantly broke as I don’t get any child maintenance, (long story), but that means that everything I provide for my son gives me a real sense of pride, and I’m hugely lucky to have very supportive parents.  Our co-parenting relationship has it’s ups and downs but on the whole is very civil – he recently came round for lunch with us on our son’s birthday.  I am now very confident in setting boundaries to protect myself though.

I am more confident.

Not just in my parenting, but in life generally.  So many of my friends kept telling me at the start how strong I was to be doing it all, and I know there is a tendency for single mums to say that we don’t have a choice, we have to be strong, but actually I am really proud of how I’ve not just coped but thrived.

I’m less inclined to sit back and just accept what I don’t like and more inclined to get up and try to change it.  For example, I hate the fact that there are no fun books for kids featuring characters who are from single parent families and, after an awful bedtime where I read Teddy Stick Man and he asked me if Father Christmas was going to bring his daddy home, I decided to do something about it. I have now written a couple of stories, one of which is currently being illustrated to be published this year.  

I’ve become myself again.

We live in a new house, in the area in which I always wanted to live before being convinced out of it by my husband. Instead of living in a new build that has been painted his choice of neutral, muted colours, I’m now living in a slightly ramshackle Victorian terrace with a pink front door that I’m slowing doing up bit by bit. 

It’s a bit shabby round the edges but full of colour, rainbows, laughter and reflects our life perfectly. Even my style has changed. I now wear things that make me happy – silver sequin trainers, bright pink leopard print, hot underwear – and I love it!

My social life got better.

Yes being the primary single parent means I can’t pop out on a spur of the moment in the evening when I have my son, but it does mean I can plan to have a social life. 

My ex-husband wasn’t the most sociable unless it just involved drinking in a pub or watching the rugby, and since we split up I’ve caught up with friends I’d lost touch with, spent more time out and about with friends, and been for weekends away, including to Paris with my girlfriends. Paris is where the ex proposed to me so we went to reclaim the city and I threw my wedding ring back into the Seine!

I’m choosing the direction of my own life. 

I’ve started writing a blog, which has been incredibly cathartic. I’ve had so many messages from women in the same position telling me how positive they find it, which feels amazing.

This year will see me start my own small business, which is totally inspired by my experience of being a single mum, plus publish a children’s book and hopefully lots more exciting things!

Read more from Emily on Instagram or on her blog, Pop Goes Perfection.

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