The coronavirus pandemic has been stressful on everyone, but if you’re a single parent you likely face additional challenges. Being the sole caretaker during quarantine means getting no breaks, not even for a minute, because your usual childcare and support systems are largely unavailable. Even simple, everyday things are more difficult because you’re basically doing everything with kids in tow.
Almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with only one parent, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. In fact, the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. They’re not all living with Mom, either—over 3 million children are living with a single father. So chances are if you’re not a single parent, you know someone is.
If you’re looking for ways to support the single parents in your life, look no further. These 11 ideas offer realistic, simple ways to lend a hand—even if you can’t come over to babysit right now.
Ship groceries and supplies
Some single parents can’t afford grocery delivery services—or groceries in general, particularly now that so many parents have lost income due to pandemic-related business closures—and for those who can, they have little choice but to visit the market with their kids, which is akin to going into battle these days. Save a single parent the worry and headache and send a shipment of groceries, staple supplies like cleaning agents and over-the-counter medicines, and even small treats like candy—or drop them off on their doorstep if you live close by. You can also mail them gift cards to local grocery stores and gas stations. If the single parent is part of a larger network of friends, you may want to set up a schedule where everyone takes turns keeping him or her stocked up.
Donate kids’ clothes
Keeping up with children is a challenge in every way for a single parent, including when it comes to clothes since kids tend to outgrow things quickly. Round up gently used clothing that your kids have outgrown, and make it a habit to pass it on. If you and the single parent are about the same size, you may even want to share your best hand-me-downs, too.
Entertain the kids virtually
While you lead their kids in a craft or even just chat, single parents can take a shower—or steal a few minutes for a simple break. Set up a time when you can read bedtime stories to the kids, play online games with them, host a tea party, or have a virtual dance party using Zoom or FaceTime. Just knowing there’s a window each day—or even just occasionally—when they can plan on having some time to themselves can provide a huge relief.
Offer to babysit—pandemic style
Keeping kids occupied through a screen is great, but if you live close to each other, a few parents have found unique ways to safely give single parents a break even during social distancing. One single mom on Facebook told us she has someone who’s volunteered to watch her kids outdoors (from over 6 feet away) while she tackles chores inside. Another mom with older children has a friend who’s agreed to come over and park in their garage with a monitor so she can hear what’s going on in the house, and only go inside if there’s an emergency, if an urgent need ever arises. Yet another mom has a friend who parks next to her in the grocery parking lot while she runs inside, so the friend can keep an eye on the (older) kids in the other car without getting too close.
Gift them a subscription to a streaming service
Many single parents rely on only one paycheck, so subscriptions to services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu often aren’t in the cards. Living without them might have been fine before the pandemic hit (and probably still is), but now that we’re knee-deep in quarantine, having something to stream would go a long way, not just for the single parents, but for their kids, too. If you can’t afford to pay for the monthly subscription fee, try gathering donations from friends and family. With millions of Americans bingeing on shows right now, people understand better than ever how a little thing like a streaming service can make a huge difference, and most would love to help.
Treat them to restaurant delivery
This is especially helpful if the single parent is celebrating a birthday during quarantine, or maybe they simply had a bad day. It may seem small, but not having to cook or clean can really take a load off a single parent, especially if they have more than one child. If you live in the same area, a homemade meal dropped off for dinner would be equally appreciated.
Donate arts and crafts supplies
This is a great idea if the family has young children who are likely to be entertained for long stretches if they had something creative to do. Whether you share your own child’s crayons and markers or you send them kits with myriad projects to do, every little bit helps. Michael’s has nearly 100 activity kits for kids that are all under $10, but there’s no purchase required—the novelty of having something new (even if it’s actually gently used) can keep kids entertained for a surprisingly long time. Financially stretched single parents can’t afford extras like these, and even those that can will appreciate the window of opportunity to make dinner without screaming kids running around underfoot.
Offer to do the laundry
Talk about taking a “load” off! For single parents who never get to share laundry duties with a partner (or take a break from any of the household upkeep, for that matter), having some help in this department is more than welcome. Ask them to leave their pile of laundry on the doorstep, then swing by to pick it up and drop it off when it’s ready. Wear gloves and a mask while you wash and fold to be safe!
Donate open-ended toys that keep kids busy
One single mom on Facebook suggested wooden blocks, marble runs, and train tracks—any open-ended toys or games that tend to entertain kids for hours. If you’ve got any stuffed in a closet, or you’re looking for something to gift a single parent, consider imagination-based toys that encourage pretend play to free up the single parent’s time a little bit. Slightly older kids might appreciate things like a journal, LEGOs, or fun ingredients to make slime to achieve the same goal.
While it may seem obvious, a top complaint we heard from single parents was how hard it is to ask for help, or to admit how much they’re really missing adult interaction. If no one ever checks in, most will just keep to themselves—making an already lonely situation feel even lonelier. As one single mom told us on Facebook, “Simply acknowledging our challenges goes a long way.” Be flexible about your check-ins, too. Sometimes the best time for a single parent to have an adult conversation is at night when the kids are finally in bed, whereas at least one mom told us she leaves a FaceTime window to her single mom-BFF open for hours during the day, just to keep each other company while they go about their daily activities. You can plan a Zoom party with a single parent and a group of friends, or simply pick up the phone and ask how they’re doing.
Help them make a safety plan
Single parents who don’t have extended families to rely on are constantly worried about getting sick, not just for their own sake but for their kids’ sake too. From where the kids should go if the single parent catches the virus to how to coordinate any special needs they may have, coming up with a backup plan can go a long way to relieving a single parent’s stress during this time.
Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.
For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.