Single & Surviving Back to School

By Rebecca Lynn

If you are anything like me, you are counting down the days, squeezing in doctors appointments, and doing last-minute back to school shopping in preparation for the end of summer break. Whether you have one or four (like me), sending kids to school is a huge deal–it takes a lot of time, money, and patience to make sure they are ready for their first day. It is extra difficult if you are a single parent trying to balance work, school preparation, and caring for the kids. If you add in the fact that you are a survivor, working on living your unfamiliar new life, helping your children heal, and finding even the tiniest bit of time for much-needed self-care, back to school can be overwhelming. 

Single parents have a lot of juggling to do and obstacles to hurdle. You often have to choose between award ceremonies or meetings at work, struggles with school transportation, and losing time at work for having a sick child. You may have to give up time with your children for over-time so that you can make ends meet. According to 5 Toughest Single Mom Struggles, the five main struggles with single parents are financial strain, social isolation, decision pressure, guilt, and fatigue…sound familiar? 

Parents who are domestic violence survivors have their own hardships to overcome. According to Promising Futures without Violence, survivor parents are often focused on keeping themselves and their children safe. They may have multiple legal issues going on at the same time, like custody hearings, criminal cases or protective orders, which can lead to an unmeasurable amount of stress. Due to previously being isolated from family and friends, they may not have as much support as they need, and those who are there may not fully understand domestic violence, leading to shame and re-victimization. Not only does the survivor struggle with the aftermaths of abuse, but they may be battling PTSD, as well as helping their children go through the same issues.

First of all, take a deep breathe and know that you are doing the best you can. You are strong and committed to giving yourself and your children a safe, violence-free life. Healing doesn’t happen in a day, a month or even a year, but it does get easier when you remind yourself of your primary goal and how far you have come. Sometimes this can be hard when you are a single parent, wishing you could clone yourself or at least grow another pair of arms. You can’t be everywhere at once, keep the house spotless, and have a full course meal on the table every night at 5. This is the hard part, both of being a single parent and a survivor: you may have to leave your comfort zone and use community resources, accept help, and sometimes even go as far as asking for it. 

Financial Strains

There are many community resources you can use to assist you with the high costs associated with going back to school. These days supply lists require specific brands (not the generic ones), and then there are backpacks and lunchboxes. Not to mention that your kids most likely grew several inches taller, won’t fit in their shoes, and are wearing their pants as capris. Chances are they need an entirely new wardrobe.  Even with one child, this can set you back quite a lot. Single Parents Alliance of America has a long list of local and national organizations that help single survivor parents with free and inexpensive school supplies. Other local places that often take back to school donations and provide them to those that need them are schools, libraries, local grocery stores, non-profits, and churches. Don’t forget that many of the same places collect new or like-new clothes for this same reason. 

Then there is the extra cost of lunches. If you are on Medicaid or food stamps, your children are eligible automatically for free school lunches. My pride got in the way of this one for a while, but once you realize how much it actually does save for other necessities, you can usually put your pride aside for the time being. 

Parenting Hacks

  • Shop online and have it delivered or pick it up. This is the best thing to ever happen to single parents. Most stores that carry food items now provide the ability to shop on your computer, digitally clip coupons, and then request for a very small fee that your items be delivered to your house. Yes, this means they shop for you, bring it to your door (even your kitchen if you ask), and then since your kids aren’t worn out and grounded from a miserable two-hour grocery trip, they can help put away the groceries! It’s a win-win, it saves time and sanity–all important things to a single parent. 
  • Swap…there are so many online ways to communicate with others within your area and just like you, they have kids who outgrew their clothes or toys. Why not swap with them instead of buying new? This also works for services, like carpooling, babysitting, and clean houses. There are always people out there that can benefit from getting what they need without paying for it. 
  • Slow cookers are a single parent’s best friend. You can look online to get recipes for anything from fewer than 5 ingredients to frugal recipes. Then, you wake up, set the timer, dump the food in and leave and come home to a wonderful meal. 
  • Make lunches for the week in advance. You can form an assembly line, involve the kids in making sandwiches, putting snacks in serving size bags, and cutting fruits and veggies. Then put the sandwiches in the freezer, the fruits and veggies in a container in the fridge, and the serving size snacks in another container. In the morning they can grab their sandwich out of the freezer (which will be defrosted by lunchtime), grab one snack, and grab a fruit or/and veggie. Spending 20 minutes on a Friday night saves a lot of time on weekday mornings. 
  • The more reminders you have, the less nagging you have to do. I have the kids decide and write down their own consequences, screen time rules, routines, and responsibilities so that they are a part of the process. Then we hang them where everyone can see them. If they don’t follow a rule, they already know and can see what the consequence is without having to say anything. This means you nag less and they learn to associate their actions with their own choices.
  • Multi-task. Yes, I am confident that this is something you already do. In fact, you may be like me where I feel as if I am slacking if I am only doing two things at a time. According to Surviving and Thriving as a Single Mom, multi-task, but involve your kids and have fun with it. You can dump a bin full of unmatched socks into the middle of the floor. Have a competition to see who can match the most. Once they all have matches, they get to throw them into bins for points, giving you time to fold as you watch, get the socks folded, and, if you use the bin system, they are even organizing them for you. 
  • What is the bin system? Well, we have tons of different colored round bins that I bought for a dollar. These bins serve so many purposes. Each child has their own color so there is no confusion. The bins can hold clean clothes that are sorted and ready to be put away, they can hold miscellaneous toys, shoes, and books that they left around the house and need to go back to where they belong. These bins can do anything you put your mind to. They are worth every dollar.

Change Your Environment

Parenting hacks may make life a little easier for you as a single parent, but what about the healing part? Often when victims leave they have a lot of things that they missed out on. They want to change everything about how they do things, and the same goes for the kids. Here are a few ideas to help you positively change your environment and begin healing. 

  • The best way to make changes is to create new rules. Life with an abuser can be filled with unspoken rules, strong gender stereotypes, and exhibit unhealthy ways to show emotions. Have a family meeting and talk about what makes a “safe” house; some good ideas are no violence and treating each other with respect. 
  • Abusive relationships are filled with dysfunctional ways to handle emotions. Talk with your kids about ways they can handle their emotions and who they can talk to if they need to talk (this includes a teacher or a counselor at school). In addition, have everyone choose a place in the house that is their “calm down area,” this is a place where they can go when they need to walk away, take a break, and regroup so they can handle the situation in a healthy way. 
  • Become a team. Of course, you are still the leader of the team, but this creates a sense of working together. Come up with a team mission, picture, or saying and make it fun. Allow them to help to make new rules (within reason), suggesting new ways to do things, and how so much more can get done if everyone works together. 
  • Create a new “norm.” Change things up a bit from how they were when you were with your abuser. For example, if there were strong gender roles in the house, where the men sat at the head of the table and the women made dinner, served him, and cleared the table, change it! Lose the assigned seats, have the boys help clean the table and cook meals, while the girls take out the trash.  Let them know that there are many ways of doing things, and it is okay to do it differently. 
  • It is possible that, like many other survivors. your involvement in the kids’ school was limited. Now is your chance to advocate for your child, especially at a time they need it most. Keep in touch with teachers and counselors. You are all on the same side and want your child to succeed. Keep them updated on new medicines, health issues, and even upcoming court dates or active protective orders. By keeping an open line of communication, you can prevent problems before they start and intervene if there are already concerns. 

I can’t end without mentioning self-care, the word that goes hand in hand with healing. Self-care is usually a word we only dream of, but it needs to be a part of our everyday lives, for us and for our children.There are some easy ways to sneak some self-care into your day. 

  • Highlight the items you do on your to-do list instead of crossing them off, this way you can see what you have accomplished before you add more to the list. 
  • Have an outlet, even if it is an activity you are doing while cooking, cleaning, or driving.  
  • Put motivational quotes around where you can see them and change them regularly. Sometimes being reminded of how strong you are can help you when you need it most.
  • My personal favorite is changing your password on your computer to something motivational. Typing something positive every time you log-in definitely gets the point across. 
  • Take a nap, even for 15 minutes. Sleep is as necessary as food and water. 
  • If you get really lucky and have kid-free time, take a hot bubble bath and turn on your favorite music. This is the ultimate self-care and it is impossible to not relax while doing it. 

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you save time, begin healing  and change your environment. I know its hard, but sometimes you have to let go of the dirty dishes and the unmade beds, and be proud of yourself for having healthy, fed kids who are bathed and on time for school. Focus on what you can control, and the back to school chaos won’t be as bad. You are a survivor, you got this!

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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