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Egg Timer, Soup Nuts, and Dance Shoes: A Single Mom’s Survival Guide

Rivky Winter

“How do you manage?” is usually the first question I’m asked when people find out that I’m the single mother of five young children. The second response is often: “But your kids seem so normal!” Most time, I suffice with the short answer: “Hashem helps me.” Recently, however, I realized that others — both single mothers and those women thrust to the helm of their family due to illness, travel, or any number of reasons — might benefit from the longer answer.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Five Keys to a Smooth-running Household 1.     Organization I need to stay organized in order to juggle all my various roles and goals. I make use of a small loose-leaf binder, a calendar, and tons of lists. Each day (sometimes many times a day) I go back to my lists and calendar and try to figure out how to shoehorn all my obligations into the measly hours of each day. Often, items get bumped along the days of the week, but having a system in place definitely helps me stay on top of my game. 2.     Shared responsibility My kids each have chores at home, and they know they all need to pitch in to keep things running smoothly. My eldest takes out the trash and does the dishes Erev Shabbos. My four-year-old is in charge of putting the shoes in the shoe drawer and is great at collecting Legos and Clics. My five-year-old collects the bath toys and takes the laundry from the bathroom to the laundry room. My eight-year-old is very helpful in caring for the two year old. I find that if they understand that I really need and appreciate their help, my children feel like responsible partners in keeping our home a pleasant place to be. 3.     Efficiency Even with my salary and child support, the budget is still tight. I sew a lot of clothing for myself and my daughters. Once a month, I stock up on nonperishable staples at one of the cheaper supermarkets, then each week I pick up bread, milk, eggs, and veggies locally, or order those items over the phone and have them delivered. 4.     Downsizing My home doesn’t belong in Better Homes and Gardens. We downsized significantly from the home we lived in before the divorce. I try to have as little “stuff” as possible. If I don’t use an item regularly or have an emotional attachment to it — out it goes. There are few gadgets in my small kitchen, and I prefer keeping the laundry in perpetual motion to having tons of clothes. The living room doubles as my son’s bedroom when he is home from yeshivah, and my room is also my office, sewing studio, and library. The kids’ bedroom is also their playroom. Our apartment is small and unceremonious, but functional and warm. 5.     Self-care Since I’m the lynchpin who holds our whole family together, it’s important I take care of myself. After all, “If I am not for myself who will be for me?” Investing in my physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing allows me to nurture my kids and I clearly see how my mood is reflected in my children. There are many aspects of self-care, and for me staying social is crucial. When the kids are home for vacation, days go by in which the average age of everyone I converse with is about six. I noticed a pattern: when the average age of conversants decreases, so does my patience and my mood. Even if it is inconvenient, I make a point of scheduling in some adult conversation each day, especially when the kids are home a lot. It might be a Shabbos meal with friends, a trip to the playground with a neighbor and her kids, or a phone call to a friend. I enjoy going to friends for Shabbos meals, but also enjoy hosting others. Having a full Shabbos table makes us feel like a normal family. Every now and then I treat myself with a massage, crafts supplies, a Shabbos away, or an educational seminar. When I take care of myself I’m able to use my humor and creativity to get through the rough spots and be the kind of mother that I want to be. 

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