No Wonder I’m Always Tired

I’ve been a single parent for 8 years now. They’ve been some of the best years of my life – and also some of the worst. My son is so full of energy that he often literally bounces instead of walking. Meanwhile, I feel progressively older, slower and more tired as the years go by. Did he steal all that energy from me? I’m thrilled that he’s got so much… but can’t he return just a little? With just a spark of that exuberant energy glowing inside me it would be so much easier to get through the never-ending lists of work, study and chores that I need to do.

It may shock you, but I’ve only recently realised that I spend a significant amount of time each week doing unpaid work. As the only adult in this family, I am solely responsible for household chores, gardening, and child care, not to mention entertainment and education – while also being on call 24/7.

I’ve not got the time (or energy!) to record how long I spend on these activities each week. I’ve been trying to find some stats online, but haven’t found anything definitive enough to satisfy me yet. The closest I can get are some 2006 statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which indicate that the average of unpaid work then was 25.23 hours per week. These details are here.

I am confident that I actually spend longer then 5.6 hours each week cooking and cleaning up meals – I mean, there’s breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and dishes for these too. I’m also confident I spend longer than 4.13 hours on child care – my son has learning difficulties and we probably spend this long just on homework. But, 25 hours of unpaid work per week is an okay estimate to work with.

It explains why I’m so tired. As a single parent, I’m also responsible for earning enough money to meet our needs. I receive social security benefits, but these aren’t enough to live comfortably on. For most people, these payments are enough to cover rent and food, but little else. I’m lucky enough to have cheaper rent than most, but they still don’t pay all our living expenses.

Centrelink (Australian social services) require single parents with a child over 8 to work or study a minimum of 15 hours a week in exchange for these inadequate funds. If you’re not working or studying, they ensure you attend regular appointments with them and look for work by threatening to cut off your payments. They can even force you into unpaid work experience if you are not “meeting your obligations”. It’s stressful and sometimes demeaning.

I live in a regional area. I’m lucky to have 2 days of part time work that fit around the need for me to take my son to and fro from school, but I haven’t found more work than that. With limited child care, school holidays can be… troublesome for work. So I’m also studying part time, to build myself a better future. More on that another day.

So… each week I do:

  • 25 hours of unpaid work
  • 8 to 10 hours of paid work
  • 16 to 20 hours of study

Yes, I’m busy for 49 to 55 hours every week, just to get all my study and chores done during the week and earn a small income to meet living costs. Essentially, I’m working 6 days a week to earn half the income I used to earn in 5 days a week. Even when I get uni holidays, I fill them with extra chores and work that need doing. It wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s going to be like this week after week after week (etc) for the next 8 years or so. It’s pretty depressing when you look at it like that. But it does explain… no wonder I’m always tired!

I’d like to leave you with a quote from the inspiring Professor Marilyn Waring – feminist economist, Nobel Prize nominee, former politician (the youngest ever politician in NZ parliament), author and currently Professor of Public Policy at Auckland University of Technology:

“Men won’t easily give up a system in which half the world’s population works for next to nothing”

Professor Marilyn Waring

Being permanently tired and constantly feeling unappreciated is turning me into an activist! Professor Waring also notes that in Australia, women undertake 72% of all unpaid work, with the bulk of this being childcare. And unpaid childcare is the single largest sector of Australia’s economy. Read the original article here. I also stumbled upon this 1995 documentary on this exact topic, which suggests that not a lot has changed in the last 25 years:

Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics
Waring maps out an alternative vision, based on the idea of time as the new currency.

It’s obvious to me that we’re overdue for change! What do you think? Do you know how much time you spend on unpaid work each week?

Self Care Sundays

We all know that self care is absolutely critical when you’re a sole parent. After all, there’s no one else to take care of you. And if you run yourself into the ground then you can get sick or depressed, and of course this impacts negatively on your child and anyone else in your life. It’s not good for anybody.

I’ve always tried to make sure that at least some of each Sunday is given over to self care. It doesn’t always work! But when it does work, it can both make up for a hard week and prepare me for the week ahead. I think it’s been an instinctive part of my life for years, even in my carefree younger days. I just didn’t realise that it is a “thing”, until I found link on Pinterest to this great post:

57 Ideas for your Self Care Sunday Routine” by Rhiannon Day

Rhiannon’s post lists so many things that I already do on my Sundays! Even if I just fit one or two of these things in, like:

  • sleeping late
  • breakfasting in bed
  • walking the dog
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • gardening
  • diffusing essential oils

… it makes a difference to my life. On those rare days when I fit lots of these things in, it makes a HUGE difference to my life! Rhiannon also lists things I haven’t done, particularly one that my son would LOVE for me to do with him, “build the epic blanket fort of your dreams”. This will have to happen sometime soon!

In future posts I’ll be talking more about how I practice self care on a tight financial budget, and with little time to spare. But I’m not one for re-inventing the wheel, so for now I’m just going to refer you to Rhiannon’s post. It lists a lot of things which are actually easily achievable for single parents like me.

Do you practice self care Sundays – and if so, what are your favourite ways to spend them?

How I Taught my Son to let me Sleep Late on Weekends

I’ve always been a night person, not a morning person. It’s easier for me to stay up all night and watch the sun rising, than it is for me to go to bed early and leap out of bed in the morning. When my son was smaller I’d spend all day with him and then start working when he went to sleep at night, even if “working” was just doing household chores. As a single parent, it’s hard to get everything done in daytime hours when you’ve got a small child following you around demanding your constant attention.

When my son was little, say 3 years old, he started waking really early. Okay, I know “really early” means different things to different people. To me, it is like… 5:30am. I was not happy to have to crawl out of bed to supervise my son from this hour. Often it meant I’d only had 4 to 5 hours sleep. Not enough!! So I bought him a sleep training clock.

The one we settled on is a friendly looking elephant called “Mumbo” which makes calming ambient jungle sounds at the set wake-up time, instead of a loud beeping alarm sound. When you set it at night, it closes it’s eyes. When it’s time to wake up, it opens it’s eyes and makes it’s jungle noises. I simply set it for 7:00am and told him he had to stay in bed until Mumbo’s eyes are open. It took him a while to get used to it, of course.

To start with, he’d just get up whenever he felt like it. I had my own alarm set for 7:00am too. So if he was up and about too early, I’d just send him back to his bedroom. I told him that I didn’t mind if he played quietly in there, but that he had to stay in bed until Mumbo woke up. When he did stay in his room till 7:00am, I’d shower him with praise. It took months to work consistently, but work it did! For the past 5 years he’s slept until a respectable hour and not bothered me on the rare occasions he does wake up early. Mumbo saved my sanity!

In the last year or so, as he’s become more sensible and responsible, I’ve taken it a step further. When it was school holidays or the weekend and I knew I wanted to sleep late, I’d tell him I was tired and ask him to please let me sleep later, so that I wouldn’t be grumpy. I hate being grumpy with my child, but no doubt you know it’s hard not to be when running on little sleep. And when he did let me sleep late, I’d reward him with praise and treats like pancakes for breakfast or organising a friend to visit. Success!

I think it was the bribery that worked the best. Now I could sleep late most weekends if I want to. Of course, because weekends can still be busy we’re often up early anyway, getting ready to go somewhere or do something. But on those rare occasions when we have nothing planned, I love staying snuggled in bed and catching up on some of that sleep I missed during the week.

When I occasionally tell friends and family that I slept in until 10:00am, they are always astonished. Apparently this is not something that most parents of 8 year olds, single or otherwise, get to do very often. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Plenty of times he let me sleep in, while making a massive mess of the kitchen or lounge room. But, in the end, it’s been worth it.

Do you ever get to sleep in? Please share any advice you have on how you get your child to cooperate.

Photo by Nikldn on Unsplash at https://unsplash.com/photos/qp7WA8AV2x0

The Internet is a Single Parent’s Friend

I’m so thrilled that I live in the internet age. There are so many things that I don’t know how to do! A good search engine has saved me many a time. Quick example…

Went for a quick walk yesterday with my boy and our dog. My boy took his bike along, as he so often does. He just loves racing around on that thing! Unfortunately, this time the chain came loose. I’m not really a bike person. I had no idea how to fix it on again. It wasn’t the end of the world, but neither of us wanted to walk the bike the 10 minutes home again. Luckily, I had my mobile in my pocket for emergencies just like this one.

A quick internet search found me multiple sources of instructions for how to quickly repair loose bike chains. I’m so rubbish at practical things like this that I couldn’t follow the first set I found. So I found a set with pictures. A few minutes later we were back on the road again (with my grease stained fingers). Hooray!

I’ve never been one of those useful people who knows all about practical things like bike chains and home repairs. I’m a reader and a dreamer, not a handyman. Now that I’m living on a tight budget with a curious child, I’m learning all sorts of new skills. I’ve repaired flyscreens, doors and cupboards. I even bought an electric drill a while back! I’ve only used it to install a doorstop and fix a powerboard to a cupboard so far, but I’m still proud of myself.

My son, of course, takes it for granted that I can do these sorts of things. No doubt he assumes that all mothers can. He has no idea how terrified I am about getting them wrong, especially when I have to learn how to do them on the fly. Thank you, internet, for helping me solve our problems myself and teaching me to be the best parent (and person) I can be. You’re awesome!

Has the internet saved you lately? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave me a comment and share the details.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash at https://unsplash.com/photos/lQuWIesgs5Q