Advice for Single Parents Navigating COVID-19

It is possible for a single parent to plan for many of the tolls this pandemic may bring. Here are resources that help address the common questions single parents have about COVID-19.

The realities of COVID-19 and social distancing reveal the additional challenges facing single parents. For parents raising kids on their own, it’s not possible to split work from home shifts with your partner while one of you takes on childcare. And the prospect of getting sick yourself can cause anxiety since it may not be obvious who will care for your child.

It is possible for single parents to plan for many of the financial, health, and emotional tolls this pandemic and shelter-in-place experience may bring. There will always be uncertainty, but here are some resources that help address the common questions single parents have about COVID-19.

Common Concerns of Single Parents

How can you ensure an ex or other caretaker adheres to social distancing?

It can be tricky to navigate conversations between an ex-partner or another caretaker who does not live in your home. Start by opening the lines of communication with these tips:

  • Use the form of communication that has worked best in the past. For some that might be email or text. For others over the phone works better.
  • If it’s a phone conversation, ask them for a time that best suits them. Make sure the children will not be in the room or in a place where they can overhear.
  • Establish an open tone by letting your ex know that your intention is to work together to create the safest atmosphere for everyone.
  • Keep the focus on the children, your shared interest.
  • Be willing to compromise, as long as it doesn’t place anyone in danger. What practices have you put in place, and what are they doing?
  • In advance of your meeting, share third-party resources, like CDC guidelines and state mandates for social distancing.

What happens if you get sick?

If you share time with the child’s other parent (or another caretaker) discuss a back-up plan should one of you get sick. Where will the child stay if one of you is ill? Is the other caretaker open to “banking” some time off in the future if you need to veer from your regular schedule? Are there other adults in the household who will take over your childcare if needed?

Talking about all these plans in advance will make shifting gears less stressful if needed. Remember, if either of you gets sick this will probably create a lot of anxiety for your child, too. Pre-planning will benefit everyone.

If you are the only caretaker in the child’s life, reach out to family and friends and create a back-up plan for help. Consider if someone might be able to care for your child, at your house or at theirs, if you become sick. If you’re having a difficult time identifying a helper, expand your circle. Think local houses of worship, preschool or school, or friends of friends.

If you become sick and you’re out of work, you may have difficulties paying your bills. Many lenders and utilities are working with people to create flexible plans. Reach out as soon as you know you need help.

Don’t forget about local food banks, and community programs, which are there to help you through tough times. Look online for “financial assistance programs” in your neighborhood. As well as federal programs under the US Dept of Health and Human Services.

Are there creative ways you can make school closures or working from home more manageable?

Having structure will help families with children of all ages. Start your day at the same time, and take breaks throughout the day when you can focus time on your child.

If you have a baby or toddler and are watching them solo while working from home, you realistically may need to work only during nap time or after they go to sleep for the night. Talk to your manager about making a shift in your normal schedule and block out times on your calendar when you know you won’t be available. Also suggest ideas for working asynchronously, like moving meetings to email or collaborating in a Google Doc.

You should also set boundaries for when you will log off for the day, so you have at least an hour to wind down before bed. One option might be getting an hour of work done in the morning before your child wakes up, two hours during nap time, and then another two after they go to sleep.

Set up a dedicated work space, so your child knows when you’re working. You can also implement a system so they know if they can interrupt you. Some parents use a green light, yellow light, red light sign on the door.

If your child is older, try asking them to pass you a note if you’re in a meeting. Giving your child a system for knowing when you’re fully available will empower them to handle some things on their own, and come to you for urgent issues

You may also want to consider asking a close friend, family member, or fellow single parent to isolate with you. This arrangement can be mutually beneficial allowing you both to trade “shifts” and responsibilities. Make sure you’re on the same page regarding the division of labor and adherence to social distancing mandates.

Another option is to coordinate taking online shifts with friends or family members. Can you take turns virtually helping with homework, showing a movie, reading a book, or teaching a craft?

Research online classes for topics your child may be interested in can also keep kids engaged while you work. This may even be a time when your child discovers a new interest.

Don’t forget to make time to connect with your adult friends and fellow school parents virtually for support and ideas. Your friends may be able to offer help, suggestions, and tips that you haven’t thought of.

Most of all, give yourself and your child permission to be flexible. Take breaks throughout the day. Be kind to yourself, and forgiving to those around you. These are extraordinary times, and your day may look different than you anticipated.

What if you’re worried about losing your job?

Unfortunately, the fear of losing your job is a stress that many parents are dealing with right now. It can be even more stressful when you’re a single income household. Research the options that are available to you should you become unemployed.

Enroll for state unemployment the first day you become unemployed to maximize the benefit.

Look into the government stimulus packages, like the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the SBA Payment Protection Loan program, in advance to see if you qualify. Even if you don’t need to use those resources you’ll most likely feel better having a plan.

What if you have to call on grandparents for help?

Social distancing strives to dramatically limit your exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as your ability to transmit it. That being said, some “families” are one person, while some are 10.

By asking older relatives to help, you may expose people who are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. And since we know COVID-19 can be spread asymptomatically, it’s important to take extra precautions whenever possible. Those include having food and medications delivered, regularly cleaning surfaces, using sanitizer, gloves, and masks.

The goal is to create a bubble around your shelter-in-place group. The more people in the bubble, and the more they venture out and their own individual contacts, the greater the statistical risk of exposure for each person in the group. It’s important for adults in the group to agree to the same baseline behavior: who goes out, what for, how often, and where.

Any other concerns or advice to highlight?

Reach out to friends and family, and ask for support when you need it. People are often willing to help once they know what you need!

Coordinate with local friends to consolidate trips. Do you have to run to the store? Offer to pick up groceries for a friend too!

Identify a self-care tool and make it a habit. Maybe it’s a cup of hot tea? Eating lunch in the backyard? Movie night with your kids?

Connect creatively! Join new online groups, or form one if it doesn’t exist. There are many single parents experiencing the same challenges right now, and there is strength in numbers. Find your tribe!

Chrisie Rosenthal is a Cleo Family Guide,owner of The Land of Milk and Mommy, and author of Lactivate! A User’s Guide to Breastfeeding. She’s also a single parent.