Thursday, May 17, 2007

Single Parenting Tips

Earlier this month a woman in our church died, leaving behind her husband and three young children, the oldest of whom is about 7. While he's grateful for the church-prepared meals, he is starting to want to get some independence again. Those of us who have walked that road before are compiling lists of easy recipes and tips for making things work more smoothly. Here are a few tips heading his way. Let me know if you have any additions.

  1. Snack tray Sunday - Take a night off from cooking every week. A snack tray can be loaded with all kinds of things: fresh fruit, cold cuts, cheese slices, sandwich quarters, yogurt, nuts, crackers, carrot or broccoli sticks and dip. Use your imagination and enjoy a night off. Make a party of it and watch a movie while having a casual dinner.
  2. Paper plate night - If you're overworked and need a break, it's paper plate night. No dishes.
  3. Snack drawer / snack shelf - With growing children, it's difficult to be personally involved each and every time they want a snack. Consider keeping a drawer or shelf stocked with things they are always allowed to have provided it's not too close to mealtimes: applesauce, graham crackers, cereal bars, raisins, anything that you would be glad for them to have. Then just set the rules for when and where they can eat, and who does the cleanup. It's handy to have juice boxes there too, and a similar area of the fridge with favorite flavors of yogurt.
  4. Sort movies by run length - Arguments about whether there's really time to watch a movie? We ended up sorting the movies by run length. 30-minute movies on the bottom shelf, under an hour on the next shelf, full length above that. If there's only time for a "short" movie, it's simple to say "pick from the bottom shelf" or "pick from the last two shelves".
  5. Grocery list stays on the fridge - Can't remember everything on grocery day? Keep a large post-it note on the refrigerator, and keep a pencil handy. Anytime you run out of something during the week, as you use the last of it, make a note on the grocery list.
  6. Bake a week's worth of potatoes - Potatoes are an easy side dish, but they take too long to bake or even microwave. Make a whole batch of them early in the week and keep them in the refrigerator. They re-warm quickly. They also make a nice economical lunch.
  7. Pre-sort laundry by day - Children too young to dress themselves or choose their own clothes each day? As you put away the laundry, group it into daily sets: a shirt, a pair of pants, socks, and underwear. It saves time in the mornings, which tend to be too hectic anyway.
  8. Fresh fruit with dinner - Picky eaters? No time to cook a side dish? Put the fruit bowl on the table and have everyone choose a piece of fruit. It's healthy, there's no argument over everyone having to eat the same thing, and you don't have to cook it. In the summer, a slice of melon works for an easy side.
  9. Let the kids help - Or, better yet, insist that the kids help. It is too easy to get caught up trying to do it all; our job as parents includes teaching them to be responsible too. To check whether the workload is balanced fairly, consider the children's ages and how much time each person spends working as opposed to resting or doing something enjoyable.
  10. Push-ups and jumping jacks - Do the kids know that you don't have time to put them in time out? Ever have them take advantage of it? Find some consequences that don't take so much time. Jumping jacks and push-ups are suitable once the children reach a certain age. It doesn't have to be a lot, just enough to get the point across: there are consequences for making things difficult.
  11. Extra chores - Someone acting up? Consider alternative discipline like organizing the pantry / videos / pots and pans. As an added bonus, it's much easier to be calm and feel good about assigning discipline when it teaches them discipline and you benefit from it as well.
  12. Slumber party Friday - If you're having difficulty getting everyone to stay in their own beds during the week, consider having a weekly slumber party. Everyone brings a sleeping bag to the living room and settles down together. With single parenting, it's too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on cleanness and schedules -- which can easily become problems when you're short a parent. Don't get so overworked that the warm side of family life is forgotten.

Anyone else with parenting tips?

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