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Single Mum Hacks

I want to preface this post by saying that I am far from the most amazing parent of all time. I struggle, daily. Most nights I go to bed wishing I had done things differently, wishing I could grow another pair of arms to juggle all the responsibility of it.

That being said, some nights I go to bed and pat myself on the back for a job well done. Parenthood is the toughest, most fulfilling, most-likely-to-put-you-in-a-psychiatric-ward job there ever is or will be.

As a single, working parent with extremely questionable mental health, there are some things I have figured out that work for me to make my life run a little smoother.

The first thing I want to talk about is cleaning. When you post on social media having a rant about how bloody messy children are, how the house is a tip, and you can’t keep up, most of the advice is to give yourself some grace. Amazing advice because you literally cannot keep a perfect home 100% of the time and have well-rounded, stable, creative children.

However, what do you do when, like me, your mental health is actually tied to mess?

Let me give you an example from my life. So, as you all know by now I work from home. I get up at 5.45 am everyday, I shower and get dressed, I drag three children out of bed get them all fed and showered. The first one goes to pre-school at 7.30 ish so we have to be out the door by 7.15 and I have to take my 7-year-old on the walk to the preschool because she is not old enough to leave at home with her 12-year-old brother. He leaves the house shortly after us to walk himself to school anyway. My 7-year-old starts school at 8.45, so I’m home by 9 am or just after to sit down and start my working day.

When I walk through the door, if there are piles of dishes in the sink or if the floor is covered in crumbs, then I have to ignore that and get to work anyway. That mess niggles at me, it distracts me, it annoys me. I’d even go so far as to say it makes me anxious, and that stems from having been in an abusive relationship and being terrified of social services finding out, visiting my messy home, and ripping my children away from me. It was quite the irrational fear back then, and it lingers now.

I had dealings with social services when I fled that relationship and they super helpful, they even signed me off as “mum-of-the-year” (her words!) so, I shouldn’t still be anxious about that, but I am. Mess in the home has an impact on my mental health, my work, my mood, everything.

It doesn’t serve me to ignore it and enjoy their childhood in the way that most well-meaning mums would advise.

What can I do about that?

I have three things that have really helped me in that respect, and now I have a significantly tidier home, less mental load, and a calmer state of mind.

First, I have a dishwasher. Sounds pathetic, but this is the best gift that anyone has ever bought for me. It was a moving in gift from my current partner, and I don’t think he realises how much it has changed my life. It’s not just the act of washing up, which I was having to do three times a day in the old place. It’s the sight of all the dishes in the sink or on the draining board, too. It’s neat, organised, and efficient. I can load it and run it once a day, I don’t struggle with this idea that people suggest of using it as another cupboard because it’s in constant use. It saves me time, it keeps the surfaces clear, and both of those things contribute to my calm.

Second, I have a cleaner who comes once per week. I think she is my favourite human being in the world. She does all the deep cleaning which means I only have to ‘surface’ clean as I go. When I make dinner I can wipe down the surface I use and not have to stress about the crevices behind the kettle, etc because I know she’s going to do it once per week. It’s the same in the bathrooms. I love her. She has helped me to shift another chunk of the mental load. Although it’s something that only needs doing once per week, that deep clean of the kitchen is on your mind all the time. When are you going to have time? Did you forget last week? What if someone drops round unexpectedly and they see the crumbs behind the bread bin?

It’s easy to carry a lot of shame when it comes to housework, and it’s also easy to tell you that no-one cares when they come to your house because they know that it’s a lived in home with children. But I care, and maybe you care, and others might not see it, but when I used to see that old pile of crumbs that I hadn’t had time to get to yet it would make me feel incompetent, and remind me that I had a full plate, an empty cup, and an awful lot of shame for not being able to juggle everything.

Having a cleaner for two hours a week has helped me to step out of that mindset. I do realise that’s not always affordable. You could get a cleaner once every two weeks, or ask a family member to come help. If you are anything like me, you get easily sucked into this negative cycle, and the advice that tells you no-one cares or looks at how clean your house is just isn’t cutting it. Take a proactive step to shift that load, you don’t have to live in that space, even in your own head. Step out of it, make a small change, shift it.

My third and final tip today is simply routine. At the weekends, sometimes I don’t get the housework done as early as I like to and suddenly I can’t get on top of it, I’m stressed and I feel at loose ends all day. When I stick to my routine, my mental health is grateful.

I have a quick whizz around tidy up before bed, picking up toys, making sure the kitchen is clear and the dishwasher loaded. Then, when I’m making breakfast in the morning I load the washing machine and fold anything that needs folding while the kids are eating, and wipe down the surfaces.

I also get the kids school clothes ready the night before so I don’t have to run around in the morning getting things together. Over the years, I’ve developed my own efficient system to getting my house tasks done in the quickest way so that when I get home from the school runs I don’t have any niggles on my mind distracting me or bringing my mood down. I can sit and work efficiently, knowing those chores are taken care of already. It means I can invest myself in work and be successful, while at the same time meeting my own mental health needs, keeping my home clean, and leaving the afternoons after school free for quality time with the children.

The way that I’ve laid all this out might make it sound like I have the tidiest home ever, that I’m a neat freak, or obsessive. That’s not the case. Right now there are toys littered across the floor behind me, wrappers on the table and a load of washing waiting for me in the machine.

There is no ‘perfect’ when it comes to housework, but having my routine and my little mental load savers, helps me to be a better, more available parent to my children. Everyday, I have to start my checklist again, that’s just the way it is when you have small people or a home to run.

My routine, dishwasher, and cleaner have helped me to shift my mental load, calm my mental health, and be a better version of myself even if my house is a dump sometimes. If you are struggling, and the well-meaning advice that it’s okay to have a messy house when you have kids just isn’t cutting it, there are things you can do and steps you can take to make yourself feel better.

If you’re like me, having a clean home isn’t about pleasing other people. Tidy house, tidy mind. That’s okay.

I also want to add here that if you are not like me and you are super chill with the tornado of mess that having children brings, then I absolutely commend you. I really don’t want this post to come across like I have no respect for parents comfortable with this. I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I could be like you, and lots of time pretending to be you. You are smashing parenthood and your kids are going to be wonderfully impacted by your presence and your comfortable, confident, self-assured nature. You are a superhero!


11 responses to “Single Mum Hacks”

  1. Jeanne, a fashion designer before the Australian clothing industry was destroyed by free trade, then a costume designer/ maker for Melbourne Theatre Company, then a Textiles teacher, then an Interior designer, sets a high bar.
    I’m happy enough for other visitors to see the CDs I’ve been playing or the screwdriver that I’ve been using and not filed away; even my Bunnykins mug. Those visitors provide motivation to tidy up, not ocd.


    • That’s quite the repertoire! Im impressed. No wonder she strikes such fear. I used to feel similar when the ex-mother-in-law would come to visit. She has the most upturned nose of any human being I’ve ever met.
      Also – love the bunnykins mug!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I LOVE this post, it’s so insightful! My mother-in-law is a monster. No, really. I understand. I get so stressed when my house is a mess and while I’m not a single mom… I kinda am two weeks out of the month because my husband works for life flight. I have a lot of routines that make my life simple and I couldn’t live without them.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a day! You definitely qualify for “mum-of-the-year.” You are smart to have a dishwasher and a cleaner. Both of these things definitely save time and make life easier.

    I live alone, and I have a “cleaning lady.” My cleaning lady is very meticulous and does a great job. The best part … my cleaning lady is my ex-husband. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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