How to Succeed at Work as a Single Parent

Ariel Skelley / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Millions of single parents navigate work-life balance every day—without a co-pilot. It can be a challenging way of life from both perspectives: as a parent and also as an employee.

How can you balance your need to be a good, involved parent with your work? Get tips for how to thrive in the workplace as a single parent.

Seek Out Family-Friendly Companies

When it comes to accommodating employees with kids, not all companies have the same policies and attitudes. Search online for lists of family-friendly companies. During your interview, look for signs that the company is accommodating to parents.

Either before or after the interview, check on LinkedIn for connections you might have at the company. If any are parents, ask for their take on the company's attitude and policies toward working parents. You might also be able to get insight through reviews on sites like Glassdoor. 

If you find that your current field doesn't work for you as a single parent and you want to shift to a new role, explore our list of best jobs for working parents.

Be Open with Your Manager

If you are currently employed and become a single parent, it's worth it to be open with your manager—even if you're a private person. Sharing your situation will increase your manager's sympathy and help him or her understand why you're turning down opportunities or unexpectedly need to work from home due to child-related circumstances.

It's possible that sharing your situation with others, from your manager to HR, will reveal options at work that you weren't aware of, such as a reduced-rate childcare perk offered by the company or the ability to work a flexible schedule (more on that below!).

Figure Our Your Schedule

When you're a single parent, juggling your schedule is a constant challenge. You have the hours when you need to be working and the hours when you need to be parenting—sometimes, these two categories might overlap.

Consider looking for jobs at companies where working a flexible schedule is an option.

You can also explore this option at your current workplace, talking to your human resources representative and your manager about the possibilities. A part-time job might be the answer or a day each week when you can work from home.

Find out more information on flexible schedules, along with tips on how to ask your employer for this schedule.

Merge Your Work and Home Calendars

To avoid moments where the much-anticipated dance recital and that essential Q3 meeting fall on the same day and time, combine your personal and work calendars. That way, it'll be easier to see scheduling conflicts in advance and avoid them.

Delegate, and Accept Help

Even as a single parent, you probably can't handle everything solo. If you have friends and family who are available to help out, accept their offers.

And at work, try to abandon any go-it-alone attitude. If you have a team, be part of it, and not a solo operator. If you supervise staffers, give them responsibilities. An intern can tackle an expense report, with you reviewing at the end. A staffer can write the first draft of office-wide correspondence and then eventually take on the task completely.

Delegating responsibilities is ultimately helpful to the people you supervise—by letting people handle additional tasks, you're letting them know you trust them, and you're also helping them build skills and add bullet points to their resumes. 

Set Expectations

Either at your current job, or during your job interview and early days at a new company, strive to set expectations. If you can travel for work, but only if you have three weeks' advance notice, make that clear.

If you are eager to lead projects, but need to be able to work from home to get an hour back in transportation time, say so.

If you'll need to miss a few hours of work every few months for parent-teacher conferences or school performances, talk to your manager about the best way for you to make up those hours.

Setting expectations in advance will reduce surprises for both you and your managers and set you up on a path where you can succeed as an employee (and have your needs as a parent accommodated).

Be a Good Worker

Even if you land at a company that's accommodating to your needs as a single parent, you still need to be a good employee. When you're at work, so long as there isn't a crisis with your kids, doing your job should be your primary focus. Even the most understanding employer and company still has a bottom line that's related to the company's success, and work getting done. 

Think Through Your Boundaries

Some experts may recommend that you make the boundaries between home and work firm—when you're at work, focus only on working, and at home, focus solely on your kid. That's one option, and may work for you.

But you may also find that it's helpful to leave work early and answer emails at home while your child does homework.

When it comes to being a single, working parent, there's probably no one right strategy, so do your best to find the option that makes sense for you, your kids, and your workplace.