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Top tips from single parents
Going through separation? We've collected practical tips from parents who have been there to help you through. Filter by topic or find out more by following the links.
Talk to Citizen's Advice if you have rent arrears
I worked and took on a temp contract thinking it was permanent. Then they told me they needed me one week, then didn’t need me the next week. It was stop start, stop start, which was difficult for my rent. Citizen's Advice sorted it out. She helped with me being back on and off benefits. I played rent plus debt to get the arrears down.
Mum, 2 children, age 5 and 11Contact Citizen's Advice for help
Try making a 'daddy days' calendar
I made sure that the kids saw him and that they didn’t see any anger between me and him - I tried to hide that fact. The kids need to see visual things so I put up a calendar of daddy days so they could see when they would next see him, because time doesn’t mean anything to them unless they can see it.
Mum, 2 children, age 7 and 4More help supporting your kids through separation
Get advice before it goes too far
My problems with rent were about 5 years ago. I got advice before it went too far and kept in contact with my landlord. I’m not the sort of person to be hiding behind the couch! That is how you get into financial difficulty.
Mum, 2 children, age 5 and 11Get help with your rent
Always be honest
My son’s dad has spent time in prison and had no interest in contacting/seeing his son. I was always honest with my son and gave him as much information as was appropriate for his age. I was careful to never criticise his dad and always said it was the drugs that made him do the bad things and that he was a really nice guy when not on drugs. Now he is 12 he is finding out for himself what his dad is like. It is hard picking up the pieces but he knows that whatever happens I am here for him and that it isn't his fault his dad isn't interested
Go out of your way to make things work
1. Always try your best to play fair, it helps to view things as an unbiased outsider 2. Go out of your way to make things work, always be polite and smile 3. Remember why amicable is best, it’s in child’s best interests 4. Think of the long term, bigger picture. It does take time for everything to settle into a good routine 5. Keep a huge stash of haribo, chocolate and /or wine in :)
MumCommunicating with your ex
Use guides from Gingerbread
Gingerbread had some good information on first things you need to think about after a relationship breakdown. I had no idea, how to claim tax credits, housing benefit. Having a guide everything in one place, I could tick things off when I had no mental capacity.
Mum, 1 child, age 6Gingerbread's guide on what to do when you break up
Saving with homemade prezzies
We are doing a lot of homemade pressies this year. For example we’ve made chutney using discounted fruit and vegetables. We save empty jam and sauce jars, which my children decorate with stickers and ribbons. My eldest child is also having a go at making candles
MumMore on saving
I got my airbed in good old Asda and my camping chairs there too, I look for stuff at the end of season when it's heavily discounted and car boots are a good place to get the little bits like lanterns
UnknownHelp with money
Do free activities with children, collect things you recycle such as yoghurt pots and cardboard tubes into a craft box for rainy days, or to make birthday cards and presents for family.
Low cost basics
I frequently buy the very low cost basics range of items such as flour, butter, jam etc from my local supermarket... My daughter loves to make cakes, or shortbread
Mum, 1 childGet help with managing your money
It gets easier
At the time it would have been helpful to know that there is an end to it, it does get better, and it does get easier to control. We’re both with other people now, my daughter's happy, we don’t argue anymore. He used to drop her off and wouldn’t go near me, give me evil looks. Standing 20 metres away and leaving her to run to me. It would have been nice to know that you will come through this.
Mum, 1 child aged 6Information on communicating with your ex
Helping my son trust men
My son finds it really difficult to connect with men. He always feels like they’re going to abandon him. I’ve done my best to support him however he needs. We watch films like Star Wars together and I play football with him – me and all the other dads! On Fathers’ Day we always make a card and it’s for whoever he wants it to be for – one year it was a teacher at his school, another it was our neighbour. I just try to help him understand that what he feels is justified and it’s fine to be angry sometimes.
Mum, 3 childrenInformation on supporting your children
Let some things go
You may be strict on sugar and TV but they may not, which can create a very wobbly line for a child that is growing up and starting to push the boundaries. I have tried involving my ex-husband in conversations but it always ends in a disagreement or fight, so I have had to just accept and embrace that this is what happens in mummy’s house, and that is what happens in daddy’s house. Yes this is insanely frustrating, but honestly my advice would be to let it go. As long as your child/children are happy, being spoilt a few days a week isn’t the end of the world as long as they know the rules and boundaries in your house.
Mum, 1 childMore on making agreements with your ex
Asking for help is hard but important
I talk to my son's teacher and my mum, being frank about not being able to cope. Admitting I need help has been a massive thing for me to learn. It’s a gradual thing, being able to ask for support. But things are a lot easier now.
Mum, 1 child aged 9More on getting support
Remember stigma can be self-imposed
One thing I’ve learned, I went to work full time thinking people were looking at me - 'single parent on benefits'. I pushed myself to work full time and pay my way. Actually no one cares what I do, the only stigma was what I put on myself. I could have saved myself some stress.
Mum, 1 child aged 9Information on supporting yourself
Ask school to keep an eye on the kids
After we told them about splitting up, the kids were just constantly upset. My 5 year old was crying nonstop and not coping at school. The school staff are really kind so I straight away went and told the teachers. Everyone’s keeping an eye on the girls and they’ve been amazing.
Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10More on supporting your children
Try syncing your free weekend with other single parents
At the weekends they’re with their dad. Then it’s for me to find things to do. That’s where the single mums at school have come in handy. They have their weekends synced so that they have their time off from the kids together. It means when you haven’t got the kids, you’ve got someone to ring and ask to do something together.
Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10Meet other single parents at a Gingerbread group
Check if you can get extra financial help
When you change from a single benefit claim to a joint claim things change and you can get more help sometimes. I got help to pay for nursery fees – they paid 70%. If I didn’t have help with that, I wouldn't have been able to work. And a lot of people don’t know about those things.
Mum, 3 children aged 1, 5 and 10Information on finances after separation
Try the Turn2Us calculator to work out your benefits
I want to work and if I thought I might get a job, then I need to be ahead and work out my benefits. If I know everything’s in place that makes me feel organised and structured. I go on the Turn2Us calculator to get a rough estimate of money when I'm going back into work – you can see what you’re entitled. It’s really beneficial.
Mum, 1 child aged 4Use the benefit calculator
Speak to someone not involved if you can
I chose to have counselling. I just knew I needed to speak to someone who was away from my situation, wasn’t involved emotionally or personally with what’s happened and to have someone to speak to. Once it’s out your head, you’re not mulling it over.
Mum, 2 children aged 7 and 4Find out more about supporting yourself
You can change contact arrangement as kids get older
No matter what’s happened between us, I want my son to have a dad. When my son was younger we didn’t have a set routine, but when he got older we needed a routine. We both just agreed to every other weekend. It works fine.
Mum, 1 child aged 6Get more information on making contact arrangements
Going along to parent groups can help
I feel like there’s a lot of things I realised afterwards that I didn’t know about, like the parent groups that I’m attending. I was a bit isolated, so if I found out about the parent groups earlier, it would have been better. I would have probably healed quicker.
Mum, 1 child aged 18 monthsJoin a Gingerbread group and meet other single parents
Try to chat to other single parents
I felt better about everything when I started meeting other single parents; started talking to others in the same situation.
Mum, 2 children aged 9 and 13Speak to other single parents on the Gingerbread forum
Make a list - include what you'll do for you
I would make a list, just to tick off so you feel like you’re achieving something and making progress. I think it should be a mixture of things: what I need to do tomorrow or today, and include what you’re going to do for yourself like read a book for half an hour - it’s good to include those things. It’s a visual tool to see progression, that you’re doing something.
Mum, 2 children aged 13 and 20Get more information on supporting yourself
Focus on the positives
I used to keep something called a blessings jar. Every time something good happened - the smallest thing like your kid saying ‘I love you’. At the end of the year or whenever, you take them out and see the positives not the negatives. In the situation, all you can see is negative. Trying to focus on positives is really important.
Mum, 2 children aged 4 and 7More on getting support
Remember you're not alone
It happens, it's normal and it's ok to feel and be who you are. You are not alone and do ask for help and support if you need it. There are lone parent support groups available, where just sharing your experiences makes your load lighter. Remember with every end there is a new beginning. We are all here.
Single mumFind out about Gingerbread groups
Try not to put pressure on yourself
If I can get up in the morning and get the kids to school, myself to work, and pick the kids up from school, then I feel like I’ve achieved in the day. It’s about small achievements - don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make everything ok because you can’t. You’re only one person.
Mum, 2 children aged 4 and 7More on supporting yourself
Try to face up to money problems
It's no use trying to avoid money problems by not seeing it in black and white; always open bills, bank statements, etc., so you know what's happening. If you’re struggling to pay bills you could go to your local free advice centre for help.
Single mumInformation on managing money and debt
Try to put your feelings aside
I try to be as calm as possible, talking to my ex about contact with my daughter. I have even invited him to her birthday. It’s going to be a really difficult period having him there but at the same time she wants him there, so you have kind of got to do the right thing by your child.
Mum, 1 child aged 3Information on making contact arrangements
Single parent groups and holidays are worth it
You might not know it, but there are lots of groups and holiday companies out there just for single parents. Some single parents I've met are so on it they have joined up before the baby is out of the womb. For me, it took a while before I had the energy and confidence to join any but they really are genuinely fab.
Mum, 1 childJoin a Gingerbread group
Try not to influence your kids' views of your ex
Try not to call your ex-partner names in front of your children. Tell them the best parts whenever possible and leave it up to the child to decide if the other parent is worth it.
Single mumRead more tips on communicating with your ex
It might help to explain your situation early on
“So what does your husband do?” When another mum asked me that out of the blue one day, it threw me and upset me. Now when I meet new people, I explain early on in the conversation that I am bringing up my daughter alone. Just to get it out the way.
Mum, 1 childGet more tips on our forum
Try to be brave
Since splitting with my husband, I’ve just got loads more confidence. I’ve joined lots of clubs and try to be brave and get out there. It can be really hard to make yourself go to a new group or activity for the first time as you don’t know what to expect, but I’ve ended up with loads of friends out of it.
Mum, 1 childSpeak to other single parents on our forum
You can challenge benefits decisions
I followed some advice given to me by the Gingerbread helpline who advised me to go back to the benefits agency to ask them to review my claim, which ultimately proved successful and reduced my rent payments by half.
Mum, 2 childrenFind out more about benefits
Try to remember what you've got
My advice to other single parents is just to stay strong and try not to think about what you don’t have. I lost a lot when my husband and I split – both emotionally and financially. It’s a bit of a shock at first trying to get by on less. But I’d say, try not to let it get to you – look for the positives and remember what you do have.
Mum, 1 childInformation on supporting yourself
A detailed budget does help
I worked out a month by month budget and recorded every single penny coming in and out, if I spent a bit extra on school uniforms or some other essential, then I made sure the same amount came off the food budget so that I wouldn’t go overdrawn.
Mum, 2 childrenMore on managing money
Forums can be reassuring and supportive
I find reading the message boards where single parents support each other uplifting and reassuring. When I posted my story, another mum replied to say she’s been through something similar.
Mum, 3 childrenJoin our forum and speak to other single parents
See this as a time of change
My words of advice? Each situation is different and carries its own problems... see this horrible time as one of change rather than utter disaster, new opportunities and adventure rather than darkness. Impossible? Maybe. But for the sake of the children you have to force yourself to see another dimension to the experience.
Dad, 2 childrenMore on supporting yourself
There is a rainbow after the storm
I'm so glad I took the steps I did to make my life better. I really want to show other victims of domestic violence that there is a rainbow after the storm. Life does get better. And the only person who can change the situation is you.
Mum, 2 childrenInformation on keeping safe
You have an in-build survival mechanism
We were moved into a B&B after I left and I did my university finals there, writing essays in our little room with two kids playing around me. I don’t know how I did it. Single parents have an in-built survival mechanism that just kicks in. You dig deep and you keep going for your kids.
Mum, 2 childrenInformation on keeping safe
Ending it might be the best thing you do
The relationship I was in with my children’s father wasn’t good, he was emotionally abusive. It took me a long time to get over things once I’d made the decision to end it with him. Even when it’s really bad, you still want to make it work for the kids. Looking back now, I realise that ending it was the best thing I ever did.
Mum, 2 childrenInformation on keeping safe
Put on your own oxygen mask first
If you compare unexpectedly becoming a single parent with being in an airplane disaster (the emotions and sensations can often be comparable), the life-saving instructions are always the same; “put your own oxygen mask on, before attending to those of your children.” Why? Because if you are not in a good, strong, resourceful position where your own essential needs are taken care of, you will not have the strength, energy or capacity to be there for your children in the way that they need you.
Mum, 4 childrenMore on supporting yourself
Focus on your kids
Focus on your children - they will not always be as dependent as they are now, and you will kick yourself when you realise you wasted time and energy on a relationship that didn't warrant it. Relationships can all too sadly come and go, but your kids are your kids for life. Show them you are there for them, no matter what.
Single mumMore on supporting your children