Preparing For The Return To The Office As A Single Parent? Here Are Ten Practical Tips That Can Help You Adjust

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After nearly three years of remote working, countless employers, from startup companies to multinational conglomerates are now requesting employees to return to the office five days a week.

Despite numerous studies and reports indicating employees tend to be more productive when working from home, employers remain persistent that their staffers be present in the office every day of the week.

In fact, a report showed that in ten major American metropolitan areas, office attendance has already reached 50 percent, the first time since the pandemic started in March 2020. In some places, like Austin, Texas, office attendance is already standing at 66 percent by February 2023.

For some working parents, the opportunity to work from home, even several days of the week, allowed them more flexibility in their daily schedule. The improved autonomy meant that many parents could take up childcare duties, while still being on the clock.

However, more freedom to plan their days, and attend to their children didn’t always mean increased efficiency. A report by The Ohio State University found that nearly 66 percent of working parents experience parental burnout.

Parents were often left having to juggle childcare responsibilities, while still maintaining attendance at work, leaving many exhausted and with a feeling that they have ‘nothing left to give.’

Single-working parents could face the toughest headwinds before returning to the office. Now that they are no longer available around the clock to care for their children, and plan their days around their household, making the necessary adjustments could be a challenging task in itself.

Tips To Help Single-Working Parents Adjust

A “return to office” email can find itself in your inbox at any given time, and having a contingency plan means that you are prepared for the day this might happen.

While it’s not at all possible to plan for the exact time and day this will happen, making sure you have the basics under control will help make the return to office process a lot less stressful on you and your family.

Have A Daily Childcare Plan

In an American Time Use Survey Summary published by the U.S. Labor Statistics, adults that reside in a home with at least one child under 13 years, were found to spend on average 5.3 hours per day providing secondary childcare.

Other than that, those parents with at least one child under the age of 6 years, spent 2.1 hours per day providing primary childcare to household children. It was also found that parents tend to spend less time on secondary childcare during the week, compared to weekend days.

As a single parent now on their way back to the office, planning means that you will need to plan for your children too, especially in cases where they are unfit to attend to themselves.

It’s at times best to have a childcare schedule already in place that covers every day of the week, from Monday to Friday. For each day, make a list of what your childcare options are, this way you will have a clear idea of what works with your schedule, and your budget and is best suitable for your children.

The planning might feel somewhat laborious, but it would ensure that you and your children find a suitable workaround, that is planned according to your daily commute and does not affect their schedules as well.

Plan Your Finances

Like many other things, returning to the office is more expensive now than it might have been when you left it.

In recent months, younger generations have taken to social media to document the average daily cost of going into the office. Those that have kept track, found that they often spend between $30 and $45 per day on transportation costs, coffee, and daily lunches.

Those that are required to be in the office at least three days per week found that it could cost them up to $100 per week.

When you begin to factor in other costs, such as meeting with colleagues for a lunch or coffee date, having to update your work closet, and having to commute to the office each day, you will quickly realize that the return to the office isn’t cheap.

Planning your budget will give you a clear indication of how much you can set aside for things such as transportation, or having to update your work attire. Not to mention, the additional cost of after-hour childcare, lunches, snacks, and the occasional coffee on your way to the office.

Make sure that you have all the basics covered, and that you plan emergencies that may cost you extra. Having control over your budget will help you see where your paycheck is going, and how much you have left for savings or luxuries.

Make Use Of Carpooling

The cost of your daily coffee or lunch at the office isn’t the only thing that is now costing you more. Data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that the price of gas per gallon is still somewhat higher than what it was during the pandemic years.

As of July 2023, the national average was $3.712, compared to $2.272 in July 2020. These prices are still relatively below their peak of $5.032 in June 2022. The one dollar difference might not look like much at first, however, once you begin to calculate the cost of your daily office commute, including having to drop off and pick up your children, the difference begins to weigh heavily on your monthly budget.

Many parents today still make use of carpooling, whether it’s for themselves, or even for their children. In some communities, parents have taken the responsibility of sharing the cost among themselves of having their children carpool.

As you begin to find your feet in the office again, ask around whether a colleague would like to carpool with you, or vice versa. There are different ways you can make your commute, and that of your children work for your schedule and budget.

Take up the opportunity to ask about any available community groups within your neighborhood, or perhaps reach out to other parents. Having a helping hand, even if it’s for a few days of the week can help minimize any burdens on your schedule.

Consider Asking For Help

There is nothing wrong with asking for help, even if it means reaching out to a friend or family member. There might be a time when you feel that an extra pair of hands around the house could help take a load off your shoulders, and in that case, it’s best to consider the options you might have available.

If your partner is still available, and around to help out with childcare duties, reach out to them and explain to them your situation. This will help to alleviate immediate primary childcare responsibilities, but also ensure that your children are being taken care of by someone they are already familiar with.

Reach out to a family member, whether it may be your parents, an aunt, or even a younger sibling or cousin that can help out with household chores every other day of the week. You may find yourself relying on those closest to you in times of need, however, it’s best to ask people your children are already familiar with, but more so, finding someone that you can trust.

Childcare responsibilities are one thing, but having someone come around the house now and again to help clean, wash, and fold laundry, maybe even help out with homework can help free a lot of time in your schedule and minimize the stress of having to make critical decisions for your entire family alone.

Meal Prep Lunches And Dinners

One way to save a bit of extra time, and effort in the mornings and evenings is to plan your weekly meals and cook in bulk. In some cases, you can cook large quantities, and freeze smaller portions for when you might need it in the near future.

Having a weekly meal planner can save a lot of time, and take away the guesswork of what to pack for lunches, or what to make for dinner. Not only this but when you know what you are planning to make, you eliminate the chances of making unnecessary purchases at the grocery store, which can also help bring down your monthly grocery bill.

Now that you are working in the office again, you will want to make sure you pack enough nutritious food that can carry you throughout the day. Look for products that are high in energy, that contain a lot of important minerals and nutrients. Pack extra fruits that you can have during your commute, or when you begin to feel hungry in between office hours.

Do the same for your kids, make sure that they are now receiving the same amount of nutritious meals as what they had when you were still working from home. Remember, their dietary changes and habits will be just as big an adjustment as it is for you, so be patient with them, and talk to them about these things beforehand.

Ask Your Children To Help

When the time is right, have a conversation with your child or children about the new changes that will be taking place in the coming weeks. There is nothing wrong with asking your children to help out around the house, especially if they are already oil enough to care for themselves under your supervision.

Set up a weekly chore chart, whereby your child or children can help complete weekly duties in and around the house. Whether it’s cleaning their rooms, folding and packing away laundry, or organizing the living area, simple things that can easily be done by a child will help lighten the burden on your shoulders.

Never make it seem or feel like work for them, that’s when children become increasingly opposed to something. Just as you would with other people, explain to them the situation, and how the household dynamic might now be changing as you return to the office.

Keep in mind that you are not alone in this, and many other single working parents are going through the same things as you are. In fact, nearly a quarter of American children under the age of 18 years reside in a single-parent household.

America has one of the highest single-parent households in the world, with 23 percent of children under 18 years living with one parent, compared to the global average of 7 percent.

Think of it as a ship, when all the parts are properly working and moving, then it feels as if nothing can go wrong. Yes, there are times when it might not all be smooth sailing, but at least you and your kids know what needs to be done to overcome turbulent conditions, and how everyone can contribute to the household.

Make Use Of Extracurricular Clubs

There might be a chance that your children can attend an extracurricular activity or club, before or after school hours. This would give you some peace of mind, knowing that your children are still being cared for, within a safe space among the teachers and students they are familiar with.

If your children are not currently attending any extramurals, outside of school hours, see whether there might be something they are interested in, that they have always wanted to do, but never actually thought of before.

Your kids might want to take up art classes, writing, or an Advanced Placement class, but never had the appropriate exposure to help them decide which is right for them.

See if you can help your kids hone in on their skills, and how a morning or afternoon school club can help them build on this knowledge. While there might be additional costs to these extracurricular classes, consider the time and resources it would save you in the long run, but also what it could potentially mean for your children.

Plan Your Weeks And Weekends

Any parent will share the craziness that comes with being a parent, and not having an appropriate schedule to follow during the week. Make sure that you take up the planning of your days or weeks well in advance, either a week or two before you have to start working in the office again.

This would be a great opportunity to talk to your children about the changes that will be taking place in and around your home. More so, if you are taking up private childcare, such as a nanny or childminder, then you can give them some time to acclimate to the new person that will be helping out with the chores and daily responsibilities.

More than this, planning your weeks will help you know exactly what everyone is doing, where they might be at any given time of the day, and where your attention might be needed to help fulfill your role as a parent outside of work and household chores.

Planning your days will help if something suddenly changes. There is a lot that can change on a whim, someone might be sick or needs to be picked up from school earlier. You might get sick or need to travel for work, or even get stuck at the office later than expected.

Having your days planned out means that you can be as organized as your schedule and lifestyle allows. But more than this, it ensures that you and your family know what needs to be done in and around the house, and who might be responsible for certain chores.

Make Time To Network With Colleagues

You might have spent the better half of the last three years communicating with your colleagues through a computer or over the phone, however, now might be the time to reconnect with them in person before you return to work.

If you haven’t already done so, take some time to schedule a quick meet-up with one of your closest colleagues, this way you will feel less stressed or anxious about returning to the office. Knowing that you are not alone, can help put your mind at ease.

Perhaps your team has grown in the last several years, and there have been some new additions. This is a good time to reach out to them, as they might also feel just as anxious about going into an office full of people they’ve only known through conference calls or virtual messages.

Whether it’s a quick lunch date during the workweek, or even having coffee with an old colleague and work friend the weekend before the return to the office, these small things will make a big difference in how you approach the situation, but also help give you more peace of mind knowing you’re not the only one feeling agitated about the fact that you are returning back to in-person work.

Schedule Alone Time

Now that the days of working alone at home might soon become a thing of the past, make sure that you schedule alone time for yourself.

This might be something small, such as going for lunch by yourself during the workweek, or even taking yourself for coffee over the weekends. Having a bit of alone time, especially now that you have to take on so many more responsibilities, can help you unwind, relax and reflect.

Being a working parent isn’t easy, and there might be times when you feel overwhelmed with everything that is taking place. Keep in mind that you are also human, and although you are doing your very best to accommodate everyone around you, you also need to make time for yourself.

Be mindful of your alone time, and indulge in the things that you enjoy. Make sure that your children, caretaker, or nanny are aware of the times when you might be out of the office and also out of the house. Setting boundaries with yourself, your work and those around you will ensure you receive the rest you need to operate at your fullest capacity.

Concluding Thoughts

After more than three years, your work-from-home might soon be coming to an end. Nevertheless, whether you are needed in the office full-time, or partially, it’s best to start planning your days, ensuring that you and your children are aware of the changes that will be taking place, and how this will affect everyone in the house.

Having a contingency plan, and making sure everyone is on board with the new responsibilities they will be given can give you as a single working parent some peace of mind. Knowing you are not doing this alone, and that like many others, you already have a team of your own that can help prepare for your return to the office.