Like many mothers, I have a bad habit of putting myself last and prioritizing everyone above myself. On top of that, I’m the sole parent to an incredible kid. Over the years, I have learned that while single mom self-care takes a bit more planning, it’s worth it.

Different Situations for Different Families

I know lots of moms that are in co-parenting situations where they share custody. In my case, in what turns out to be a blessing and a curse, I don’t have to, or get to, relinquish my daughter to another person a few days per week.
Hardly a day goes by when I fail to appreciate that I don’t have to run parenting decisions by anyone or argue about what’s best for my daughter. I’m sure there are some co-parenting relationships that are more cooperative but, unfortunately, I don’t see this dynamic often.
On the flip side, being the one and only parent means that I’m responsible for everything, all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining—this is the choice I made and I’m happy with it. But my “just the two of us” family structure makes it hard for me to find time for myself.

Want vs. Need

I have a supportive group of family and friends and easily find care for my daughter if I need to. The problem is that I don’t often look at self-care as a “need.” I struggle with a lot of guilt about doing something for myself that does not include my child. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be with my daughter as much as possible, even if it means sacrificing self-care. You see, my inner critic has decided it’s my fault that she only has one parent and thus I must be twice the parent.
This mindset needs work and I’m coming to terms with the fact that the better I care for myself, the better I care for my child. I am learning to love the part of me that feels guilty and self-critical, for she is only trying to protect me. It’s possible for me to send her love and let her know she can no longer be in control.
It’s hard work and sometimes feels impossible. It will take time before taking care of me first feels natural. In the meantime, I’ve come up with some single mom self-care pro tips that are guilt free.

Self-Care Pro Tips

Pro Tip #1: Do It Before Dawn

I know some people are baffled by those of us who wake up before 5:00 a.m voluntarily. Believe me, I would not do this if the benefits didn’t outweigh the costs. My ideal wake up time is 4:30 a.m., two hours before my daughter wakes up.
The amount of self-care that I can fit in this two hour window without leaving the house is infinite. I can exercise or go to the sauna, meditate, write gratitudes, intentions and to-do lists, drink coffee at the table with a book… I can watch a beautiful Colorado sunrise! You get the idea. Sometimes, I even take this time to unload the dishwasher or work on laundry because there’s nothing better than coming home to chores already done!

Pro Tip #2: Do It in the Car

I spend a lot of time shuttling myself and my daughter around town. For the longest time I always had a book, podcast or music playing.
If I turn the noise off, I have the best conversations with my pre-teen in the car. Something about the silence, the safety of sitting side-by-side and the certainty that the car ride will end causes my kiddo to open up and dish! I’ve learned amazing things about her social life and school drama this way. Sometimes, we don’t realize what we’re missing out on in our culture of constant stimulus.

Pro Tip #3: Do It When You’re Away

I’m very lucky to have a job that gives me opportunities to travel. I have learned to take full advantage of these trips. I’m not filled with guilt because I’m fulfilling a job requirement.
On my last trip I took myself out to dinner twice, ordered room service and watched episode after episode of LivePD. I read a book and got through half of an audio book. I walked around, talked to people and re-connected with myself.

Pro Tip #4: Do It with the Kids

Kids need to learn self-care, too, and they should see us caring for ourselves. What’s self-care for me can often be a fun activity for my daughter.
Need to blow off steam? We’re going on a bike ride together. Need to get out of my head a bit? Let’s go to the movies. Of course, this won’t work for everything, but it’s a handy tool to have when the need for self-care is pressing.

Pro Tip #5: Do the Boring Stuff Every Day

We all know (and hate) that self-care isn’t all fun and games. It’s also having good sleep hygiene, drinking enough water, eating well, monitoring health and being kind to ourselves. The good news is we can do the boring stuff daily without taking a moment away from our families, friends or jobs.
I hope you’ll join me in making self-care a higher priority and finding moments of zen where you least expect them.
single mom self-care
Photo credit: Faith Photography by Kati
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Emily is a Colorado Springs native who is passionate about volunteering and community engagement. She currently serves on the board of Teen Court and works for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center. Her pre-teen daughter, Amelia, keeps her busy, challenged and entertained. Emily is a self-proclaimed nerd and spends time reading, going to shows, playing games and exploring Colorado. She is obsessed with otters and soft pretzels and is a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. She hopes to inspire and inform other young, single mothers and to be a resource for any parent in a non-traditional family. Emily is a brand new aunt and you better believe she’s going by “Auntie Em.”