Dear Single Parent Preppers:
If there’s one thing I know about, it’s taking care of things by myself. If you’ve been a single parent for a while, you know exactly what I mean. You’re the breadwinner, the disciplinarian, the homekeeper, the chef, and the decision-maker. If you’re new to being a single parent, hang on to your halo, because there are definitely going to be some adjustments to life as you know it.
And if generally holding down the fort isn’t enough work, add to this, your preparedness efforts. When folks think about family preparedness, they usually consider the traditional family unit, with two parents, some children, and maybe a grandparent. Often, it seems like single parent preppers are completely overlooked in these scenarios.
Even worse, when you do see an article about prepping as a single parent, it’s nearly always written by a married person and is a rehash of a prepping 101 article, advising the storage of emergency food and some extra water. You know, because if you are divorced, widowed, or otherwise single it wouldn’t occur to you to read a general prepping article or book. You’d only be seeking an article with the word “single mom” in it.
Ever since my first daughter was born, almost 21 years ago, I’ve felt that it was my responsibility as a parent to plan ahead for emergencies so that I could provide her with security no matter what life threw at our family. In fact, it was my husband’s job loss when she was a month old that sent me down the path of preparedness in the first place. (You can read the whole story about how I got started prepping here.) When I became a single mom of two daughters 13 years ago, it didn’t lessen my commitment to being prepared. If anything, I found that it was even more important.
Unfortunately, I have read some pretty discouraging things out there in Internetland that make it seem like single parent preppers are fighting against terrible odds, which is what compelled me to write this letter. Little aggravates me more than reading articles or forum posts that belittle entire groups of people or that serve to make people feel like their efforts are for naught. While not all of the posts are this judgmental, I’ve even had readers go off on uninformed tirades about what a horrible person I am for not being married, insinuating that a single mom is less than moral and speculating about the reasons even though they are completely ignorant of the situation.
(Update When I originally wrote this article, I inadvertently left out an entire subset of people who don’t fall completely into either category. There are a growing number of people who straddle the line for a variety of reasons. Some are the spouses of our military members who have been deployed overseas. Others are forced to live separately when one spouse finds employment too far away to return home each night. There are families in which one parent takes the majority of the responsibilities due to something that affects their spouses: chronic illness, addiction, or mental health concerns, to name a few. These semi-single parents face many of the same issues as single parents do, and these are topped off with additional worries about the well-being of their spouses.
Please remember this: whether you are a single mom, a single dad, or any other single individual in charge of children, your efforts are incredibly important.
Ignore those people who tell you otherwise, because folks who are so narrow-minded may actually discover that they are the ones with the limitations that get in the way of survival. We are accustomed to gritting our teeth and adjusting to the situation because we have no option.
While single parenthood was certainly never my plan when I dreamed about being a mom, it’s not as horrible as some folks make it out to be. Sure, there are difficulties, but every parent on the planet has difficulties. Perhaps your family is having money problems. There could be a chronic illness. You may hate your job because your boss pats you on the butt when no one is looking. Maybe your kid has behavioral issues. Your day might not have enough hours to get everything done. None of these problems are unique to single parenthood.
The lives of single parent preppers aren’t all bad.
There are a few things about it that are actually kind of nice.
First of all, you never have to persuade a partner to get on board with preparedness. A frequent issue with couples is that one person is more involved or dedicated than the other. In some cases, the prepper family member actually has to hide purchases and preparedness expenditure from the non-prepper family member. The extent of the family’s preparedness endeavors is entirely up to you.
In the event of an emergency, you don’t have to waste time discussing your decisions. While it’s great to have another person to bounce ideas off, sometimes you are flying purely by instinct. The ability to immediately respond to an emergency situation can often mean the difference between life and death.
The children of single parents can’t play one parent off the other to the same extent. Some kids like to ask one parent for permission, and if that parent says no, they try again with the other parent. As the only game in town, we don’t have any of that nonsense. It’s merely annoying in good times but could be downright dangerous if the situation changed in the US.
There’s no need to come to an agreement on how much to involve the kids. Some parents feel the kids shouldn’t have to worry about doomsday scenarios and thus, keep their preparedness activities completely on the down-low. Other parents believe it’s essential that the children develop a preparedness mindset from an early age. When parents disagree about what is best for the children, it can cause a lot of tension in the household.
Kids from single parent households are sometimes more independent. Of a necessity, kids in single parent households have to help out more. They aid in caring for younger siblings, they get dinner started, and they have a few more responsibilities. (I’m generalizing, of course – each family has its own dynamic.) This additional responsibility often results in kids that are highly competent and independent, and these qualities can really help out in a survival situation.
Of course, the life of single parent preppers is not all sunshine and roses.
Sometimes I get really tired of running the show completely on my own. Sometimes I sincerely wish there was another person on the planet who cared about the welfare of my children as passionately as I do.
If you can’t do something, you either have to learn or hire someone. In a two-parent household, there are often clearly defined roles, and if one parent isn’t efficient at a particular task, the other parent might be better at it. I can do minor repairs and MacGuyver with the best of them, but I’m not good at building things or doing more mechanical repairs. I’ve picked up a lot of skills out of sheer desperation (anyone need a drain taken apart?) but, if I need something done that requires a lot of strength or know-how, I have to hire someone to do it for me.
No one else will take care of your kids like you will. This isn’t the case in all single-parent situations. Some folks have a good co-parenting arrangement, which is very beneficial for the children. But in other situations, the other parent is absent, irresponsible, or deceased. And that means that it’s all you. Every single decision that affects their welfare, every dime of money that comes into the house, and every mama-or-papa bear moment in which you must defend your children rests on your sturdy shoulders.
No one has your back. In a situation where home defense is necessary, you may find yourself all alone to protect your children if you are without a partner. So, you must train, learn self-defense skills, practice at the range, and train some more so that if a day ever comes when you have to, you will be able to defend your babies. The idea of a middle aged mama going Rambo might sound silly, but that’s only to people who don’t think the way we, as preppers, think.
If something happens to you, what will happen to your children? This is a tremendous concern for me. I’m the only living parent of my children. As such, I don’t participate in risky hobbies (no skydiving for me, thank-you-very-much) or speed in the car or have unhealthy habits like smoking. It’s imperative that I be healthy and strong and able to finish raising my children, because there is not one single person on the planet who will unconditionally adore and protect them with the same motivation that I would. Thinking about the possibility of leaving my children orphaned keeps me up at night, because I am the only game in town.
My advice to single parent preppers
Most of the advice I would give to a single parent who is interested in being prepared is exactly the same as the advice I would give to anyone else. Stock up, be frugal, learn skills, and be alert. You know, the normal prepper stuff.
But there are a few things that a single parent family should pay special attention to, perhaps a little bit more than families with two adults.
1.) Don’t let your tasks be defined by gender roles.
There’s no room in a single parent’s life for stuff like “I’m a tough man, I don’t bake bread” or “I’m a helpless woman, I can’t change my own tire.” You can, and you will, especially if you intend to survive in a long-term emergency. There is absolutely nothing written in your DNA that precludes your ability to do certain tasks that are normally undertaken by the opposite sex.
The major exclusion to that would be physical limitations. While I’m pretty strong, there are some things that I simply can’t do because I’m not strong enough and in the last few years, I’ve had some back problems that would be exacerbated by doing stuff like chopping wood. For those things, I use physics whenever possible, moving things with levers, for example. When all else fails, I hire someone to do those things for me. And speaking of needing help sometimes…
2.) Make reliable friends in your community.
I have quite a few like-minded friends that I can call on when I need a hand. I don’t invite just anyone to my home, so it helps that some of the folks I know and trust are handy. It’s good to have someone on speed dial that can aid when there is an emergency. There may come a time when you need someone you can trust to look after your kids, help you with a difficult repair, or push your vehicle out of the mud. If you have family around, this may solve your problem. Otherwise, look for folks who share your views on the world. A friendly neighbor is always a good thing. Be ready to help out others when they need a hand, and build relationships with folks you can rely on if the need arises.
One caveat: unless you know people very, very, very well, never let them in on the details of your preps. OPSEC, baby.
3.) Be vigilant about security.
Out of all of the suggestions I’m giving, this one might apply more to single moms than single dads. (Of course, everyone should pay attention to home security.)
Some unsavory characters see a single woman and think: TARGET ACQUIRED. They feel that a woman alone with kids will be more vulnerable, simpler to overpower, and easy pickings. Even worse, some see a mom alone with kids and want to victimize the children.
If you only follow one piece of advice in this article, make it this one: DO NOT BE THAT EASY TARGET.
Make your property as secure as possible with better locks, warning signs, barriers to easy access, and visible deterrents. My property, which is rural, is posted with no trespassing signs. I have cameras and warnings about those cameras. My welcoming committee is comprised of a 160 pound guard dog. Then there’s a 70 pound dog in the house. Then, if someone gets passed the gate and the dogs, there’s Mama, armed to the teeth.
You don’t want to be a delicate flower. You want to be Sarah Connor in theTerminator 2: Judgement Day. She trained to become a bada** because everyone was out to get her son. Become that mom. Your children are depending on you, so you must train as though their lives depend upon your abilities. Because some day, their lives might. (This article has some fantastic suggestions for women.)
4.) Teach your children to be self-reliant.
Your kids may need to be a little more mature than kids in two-parent families. Although I think it’s a good idea for any kid to be able to feed themselves, keep themselves warm, keep themselves safe, and defend themselves, it becomes even more important when there’s only one adult in the house.
A difficult lesson for me was when my youngest girl and I lived up North in a cabin only heated by a woodstove. Initially, I wouldn’t let my daughter go near the stove because I didn’t want her to get burned. But then someone pointed out, “What if something happened to you and because the power was out, she couldn’t get a call out for help? You live in a climate where she would freeze to death in just a couple of days without a fire.” So, my pre-teen learned to build a roaring fire in the woodstove and maintain that fire, all on her own. Yes, she got a little burn when she bumped her arm against the door of the woodstove, and I felt like an awful parent for putting her in that position as she cried in pain. But…I would have been a more terrible parent if I hadn’t prepared her for something that could cause her death in an emergency.
Make sure that as soon as they’re old enough your children become competent in the following things:
- Doing laundry
- Doing dishes
- Preparing simple meals
- Taking care of pets and/or livestock
- Keeping things tidy
- Running the various systems in the home: the heater (whether it’s wood or controlled by a thermostat), irrigation for the garden, off-grid lighting and power, kitchen appliances, etc.)
- Caring for younger siblings
- Driving (as soon as they are old enough)
- Firearms if you have them (When they’re young, keep your firearms locked away and make sure they understand the rules about not touching them if they happen to be out. When they’re old enough, begin instructing them in using firearms safely.)
You can gently encourage self-reliance by the entertainment that your kids are exposed to. We like watching movies or programs together that have independent kids or (since I have girls) strong female characters that can kick bootie. Since I have a family of bookworms, the books that I bought my girls were often those that inspired an independent spirit. (Here’s a list of our favorite kid/young adult books to inspire independence and the survival instinct.)
5.) Make sure that your children know exactly what to do in the event of an emergency.
For example, we have bug out lists printed up. My daughter has a list and I have one so we can pack twice as fast. A couple of years ago, when the King Fire was nearly at our door, we were ready to go in just a few short minutes. By having a responsibility, the kids can focus on those tasks, which can help keep them calmer and more productive.
And, worst case scenario, if something happens to you, they need to know who to call, or if it occurs during a situation in which no help is available, they need to know how to take care of themselves and any younger siblings until such a time that an adult can step in. If they have the skills listed above, they’ll be far less likely to panic in such a situation.
6.) Make some things easy.
Sometimes, you need to take shortcuts. I’m all about low-tech, cooking from scratch, raising my own, back-to-the-land living. However, I can’t do everything all the time. No one can, and when there is only one adult, it becomes even more challenging. Remember, you are only one person.
Have some things that are easy. There will be days when you don’t feel like grinding wheat with the manual grinder, baking a loaf of bread, and doing everything from scratch. There will be days when your kids have to fill in for you. For those days, have some things that are a little less challenging.
- Keep some easy-to-prepare meals in your stockpile. (We use these because they are non-GMO, only require the ability to boil water and stir, and have no nasty additives. They require no draining and are so simple to prepare that a responsible 8-year-old could do it.)
- Have some wood set aside that is already split if you heat that way. Prep food ahead of time, at the beginning of the week so that leftovers are available.
- Prep food ahead of time, at the beginning of the week so that leftovers are available.
- Set up your watering system for the garden so that it’s automatic – that way no one can forget.
- Likewise, automate as much as possible the feeding and watering of your animals.
- Keep laundry and housekeeping under control, so that if you have to take a few days off because you are sick or injured, the household can still continue to function.
There’s no shame in taking shortcuts from time to time. If you constantly work yourself into exhaustion, it’s far more likely that you’ll get sick. Speaking of which…
7.) Take care of yourself.
When you are the only adult, it can be easy to get caught up in the grind of a constant struggle. There were several years that I worked so hard to make ends meet that my health suffered, I lost my sense of humor, and I rarely got to spend “fun” time with my daughters. It was grim indeed, but it taught me some valuable lessons.
You absolutely must take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. Your health is even more important than ever before because you have a child or children who are depending on you. If you burn yourself out, eat poorly, develop a stress-related chronic illness, or injure yourself, then you won’t be able to take care of them.
I call it the “flight attendant theory of child rearing.” When you’re on a plane, they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. This is for the simple reason that if you pass out from oxygen deprivation, there will be no one else to help. The same holds true with parenting in general. If you constantly care for others without a thought for your own well-being, you can become so drained that you are no longer able to help anyone.
- Don’t overcommit yourself. The most freeing thing I ever did was learn to say no. I limit the number of commitments we have because there are so many people that want a piece of our time. We all get pressured to do things like volunteer at the school, drive kids back and forth to extracurriculars and social events on a daily basis, and take on extra projects at work. You absolutely have to learn how to say no to some of these obligations if you expect to have a few minutes for relaxation or time for your own projects.
- Eat properly. One of the biggest pitfalls of a busy life is taking too many shortcuts with regard to nutrition. Keep healthy food on hand at home instead of going through the drive-thru for dinner. When I worked outside the home, I found that a weekend food prepping session was essential for keeping us on track throughout the week.
- Take time for exercise. Many people have a sedentary job that keeps them sitting at a computer all day long. Take time throughout the day to move around. Inertia can take its toll. (Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.) Enjoy a walk during your lunch break and coffee breaks. After work, do something active with your kids. If you are taking the kiddos to an activity, instead of sitting in the car playing on your phone while they are doing gymnastics, use that time to take a brisk walk. This will keep you healthy, flexible, fit, and actually increase your energy levels.
- Stop to smell the roses, especially those made by sticky little fingers from cotton balls stuck to construction paper and sprayed with stinky perfume. One day, they’ll be grown up and out of the house. You truly don’t want to look back on their childhoods with regret that all you did was grimly work to keep a roof over their heads.
Are you a single parent prepper?
You absolutely can do this. Lots of us do. Don’t let the naysayers discourage you. Don’t feel that it’s too difficult. Every single step you take toward greater preparedness is a step toward making life safer and more secure for your children.
How do you juggle all of your responsibilities? Do you have any tips for the folks reading this? And, if you are new to either prepping or single parenthood, do you have any questions? Please post in the comments section below.