So how do you do youth ministry as a single mom?

October ushered in new and exciting adventures into my otherwise pretty predictable routine of life and youth ministry.  Let me get you up to speed. I am going on TEN weeks of full time youth ministry in a...
1) New State
2) With No family around
3) No Friends (yet) 
4) No....husband
5) and SNOW (a huge change from my SoCal life!)

Basically a taste of life as a single mom. I am in Michigan and my husband is in San Diego. He is working on selling our house in California and staying gainfully employed for awhile longer. I am working in a new job, in a new state, with 3 kids (in a 2 bedroom apartment!) and am by myself. The most alone I've ever been. So yes, even if it's only a temporary situation, I kind of get the whole single mom thing now. It's not easy. I barely have time to shower.

I get a lot of emails from women who want advice for doing youth ministry without a supportive or involved husband. Sometimes women (and men) ask for advice on how to start a family and manage a youth worker's crazy schedule, specifically wondering what to do if they don't live near family for support. For those of you wondering about those kinds of things too or have friends who are trying to balance family and ministry without family around, here are a few tips to keep in mind...

#1 No guilt
Last night my 12 year old and I picked up Arby's (I had a coupon) on the way to youth group. This morning my kids had pumpkin flavored Pop Tarts for breakfast and took Lunchables to school in their lunch box. Some people would think that's pretty awful. I must be a bad or lazy mommy. But it's that kind of a week and I don't care. It's not everyday. I have my CSA (community supported agriculture) order to pick up next week, have inquired on a goat share for raw milk and fresh cheese, and have even made it to the Farmer's Market (once). I give myself permission to let some things slide. Especially when it means more time to giggle with my kids watching the Good Luck Jessie NY Christmas mash-up special on Disney. Yes we ate dinner in front of the tv.  Do you know what happened to the healthy vegetarian soup I made for dinner?  We hated it. It went down the garbage disposal. We busted out chips and salsa (that's a veggie, right?) for dinner. I did offer avocado with it. Oh did I mention we got cable? Yup. Screen time rocks and I so don't feel guilty about it. Oh and I didn't do the dishes either. So take that Flylady. I am sure I will regret the not doing dishes decision tomorrow when I have no clean bowls for cereal (we can eat Poptarts instead) Oh well, Good Luck Jessie was worth it.  Say BYE to guilt and to the "should haves" filling your brain space. I know I should have made my kids eat healthier these past 24 hours. Oh well.

#2 You can find anything on the internet
Have you heard of Care.com? It's pretty cool. While I am leading youth group once a week, I have a babysitter I found from Care.com come over to the house to watch my kiddos. She is awesome. My kids love her. She brings coloring books and crayons (I kinda forgot those in California). She is also expensive. Having no free grandma available for babysitting is costly $$ and needs to be factored into the budget.  I once found a baby sitter on Craigslist. Sound sketchy? Maybe, but when I replied to her ad she ended up being someone I already knew from church. Our families hung out a lot together and she ended up watching my daughter for almost 2 years. Gotta love the internet.

#3 Bribery Works
This is a tough one because it kills my budget and is really hard to do when money is tight. When I have overnight trips and need help with the kids, I get desperate and flash cash.  For me to be able to speak at a conference in Indiana I flew my mother in law out here to watch the grandkids. She loves watching the kiddos, but it cost me $450 for her airfare (she did end up sending us a check for half of the airfare to help us out).  When I had a trip to Nashville a few weekends back for the National Youth Worker Convention, it was costly. I spent a couple of hundred dollars helping some friends from California with a portion of their travel expenses to get here to Michigan. They were a huge help and my kids LOVED seeing them. Wiggle room in the budget is hard but essential when you have no family or friends to help (for free) with the kids. I just can't buy groceries now (back to Arby's coupons I guess).  I am kidding (sort of) but ya get the idea.

I also bribe my 12 year old and 8 year old to help around the house with Mom Bucks.  Mom bucks are awesome and can be redeemed once a week at my mom store.  I keep a bag full of junk they can buy from. It's stocked with things such as fake mustaches, putty that makes fart noises, glow sticks, etc...

#4 Be PROACTIVE in making friends. 
The conference in Indiana I went to (the Middle School Campference) was well worth the time and $ (during a crazy week of moving!) because it put me in contact with youth workers from my area. I met a few women from my own city and had lunch with one of them today! I had to be proactive and put myself out there to make the connection happen post-conference (it took one quick email!) and BAM a new friendship is in the making.  Over pasta and diet coke I spent a MUCH needed hour with a new youth worker friend. She also happens to be my same age and lives REALLY close to me. My advice is for you to get out there and attend a conference or a youth network meeting in your area to make friends and get a support system.

#5 Network and ask for help. 
My new church peeps in Michigan put me in touch with the best home daycare ever. My 2 year old chants "Miss Kelly's House" every morning as we get ready for daycare.  Daycare is a few blocks from church and my little one LOVES it so much.  I asked for a recommendation from someone who is well connected in the community and found the perfect childcare situation. When life is really tough and I desperately need help, I have to ask for it.  Occasionally a coworker helps by taking one of my kids to a school activity or picks them up when I lock my keys in the car. I can't do it alone. I may be the new kid on the block but I have also come to realize I have friends in my new church family. They do a really fantastic job of caring for me, of loving my family, and meeting needs even when they don't know me too well yet. You've got to do what it takes to get connected because you WILL have to ask for help sometimes, and that is ok! You need people on your speed dial to call when life gets funky and something crazy happens (and then don't feel guilty about asking for help!!).

#6 Did I mention PTO?
Make sure to have PTO (an allotment of paid time off) and work somewhere where no one guilts you for using it. Inevitably someone will wake up sick and you will need the day off (or MAYBE be able to work from home depending on your job situation). My boss has kids. Young kids.  He understands sleepless nights, barfing babies, potty training, and fevers that show up on the worst day possible. Having a boss who has kids is a huge plus when it comes to using your PTO.

There ya have it...
6 quick tips for managing life as a single mom in youth ministry from my tiny little jaunt of it. What would you REAL single moms (wow you amaze me!) add?   I am counting the days until my husband gets here. Even when I get it all handled and figured out,  I really hate being away from him for so long. I kind of have a crush on him.


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