Being a single parent sucks. Here are a few things that have helped me so far.
A slow cooker and a rice cooker
It’s not so much that you don’t have to watch a slow-cooker meal like you have to watch a pot of stew, although that helps. It’s that you can do all the prep early in the day, before the bone-deep weariness and existential despair sets in.
Also, it’s easy to clean up after most slow-cooker meals. I’ve found that when I’m measuring the relative stress of one dish over another, the amount of cleanup entailed weighs on me more heavily than the amount of prep work.
Finally, there’s nothing like a pot of roast filling the house with good smells all day to make you feel like maybe, just maybe, you’re successfully homemaking.
I have already accumulated a small stack of slow-cooker cookbooks, but this is a good book if you’re just getting started.
A rice cooker is the natural complement to a slow cooker, because there are so many stews, roasts, curries and chilis that go perfectly with rice. Zojirushi makes good rice cookers. With an electronic cooker you can dump the rice and water in, tell it when you want it to be ready, and forget about it for the rest of the day. If you’re ambitious there’s a ton of other stuff you can cook in a rice cooker.
Google Assistant (or your preferred digital assistant)
“OK Google, remind me to start some chicken breasts Thawing thursday night”
“OK Google, remind me to bring S’s blanket to daycare tomorrow morning at 6:30”
“OK Google, remind me to start the slow cooker at 9”
Seriously, I’d be lost without my steady stream of reminders.
Checklists, deadlines, and rewards
I’ve learned not to rely on kids to remember every step that goes into getting ready for school, getting ready for bed, etc.; instead I post checklists with large print prominently throughout the common areas. I like to decorate my checklists with iconography from The Noun Project for easy recognition, especially by the younger kids.
I’ve also learned: don’t make a reward contingent on simply doing a thing. Always set a clear deadline, and make sure the kids know that any rewards are contingent on hitting that deadline. This cuts down on nagging a lot.
I’ve experimented with buying them cheap watches, to help them keep track of deadlines on their own. But this has been complicated by their propensity for instantly losing literally any object I give them, even when it is strapped to their bodies.
Getting up early
Horrible, but true. If you’re being woken up by one of your kids, you’ve already lost the lead on the morning and you’re going to be playing catch-up for the rest of the day.
Even though she’s not local, my mom has been an invaluable help with menu planning, especially in the early days. It’s a hell of a lot easier to follow a recipe than it is to pick one, particularly if you haven’t spent a lot of time planning family meals in the past. This role could be played by someone else in your life: your dad, a sibling, a friend. But if you’re in a similar situation, find someone who can pick some recipes for you and maybe give you some shopping tips. It’s one of the few genuinely helpful things someone can do for you that doesn’t require them to be physically present.
A remote assistant
Not everyone can afford this; but then again, you might be surprised how affordable it can be to get a few hours of someone’s time per week. If you have a job that a) already requires you to juggle a lot of balls, nevermind managing a household; and where b) time is your most precious asset (e.g. consulting), a human assistant may well be a cost-effective choice. Mine helps me not just with managing my work calendar, but with remembering to plan for holidays, remembering school events, finding childcare, and a lot of other stuff.
I recommend Larceny for something sippable but still relatively affordable. And you can get it in the big bottle.