Day in the Life of a Single Parent

It can sometimes feel like there are not enough hours in the day. Between work, errands, and caring for kids and other family members, it often feels like there is no time to pursue personal interests, much less rest and self-care.

These challenges are multiplied for single parents on a limited income. The median income for a single mother in Cumberland County is $43,355—well below a livable wage for a family. Now imagine English is your second (or third, or fourth) language, and you are navigating a new culture and a new home.

Women United’s signature investment Project WIN (Women in Neighborhoods) seeks to empower single mothers in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood to create a pathway out of poverty. The program emphasizes a two-generation approach and uses an evidence-based coaching model to help mothers and caregivers set personalized goals for their families and track progress.

Recently, one of the members of Project WIN shared a typical day in her life caring for her nieces and nephews, working, running errands, and trying to keep it all together.

5 AM – Wake Up!

“I am a guardian of four amazing children. On a weekday, our daily routine begins at 5 am. First, I wake up my two little ones, ages 7 and 9. [While they’re getting ready], I wake up their older sisters, ages 12 and 14. I do my routine with my niece, which consists of her getting dressed, doing her hair, and brushing her teeth. As soon as she is done, it’s her brother’s turn to do the same routine of getting dressed, doing his hair, and brushing his teeth. Once they clear out of the bathroom, it is time for the two older sisters to get ready, following the same routine of taking a shower, getting dressed, doing their hair, and brushing their teeth.”

7:30 AM – Off to School

“We are out the door by 7:30 am and off to school. One of the older girls catches the bus to go to middle school. The other older girl walks to her school, which is right down the road at Portland High School.”

11 AM – Pick Up Nephew

“My nephew deals with some behavioral issues, and there are times when we modify his day depending on what would fit best for him. For this week, his schedule is to spend half a day at school, which means I pick him up at 11 am.”

2:10 PM – School’s Out

“School normally ends at 2:10 pm and is followed by homework. Depending on the day of the week, the kids do various afterschool programs and activities. For my youngest niece, it’s either Anchoring Youth to Succeed* or My Place. My nephew also participates in My Place after-school program on Thursday. With my two older girls, it’s after-school sports or chorus group. They are finishing indoor track and will start outdoor track soon. Things like sports require a fee and equipment which is an added expense.

Sometimes we have other events like parent-teacher conferences, counseling appointments, and dentist or doctor’s appointments. Some days could be very eventful and busy; others could be just somewhat busy.”

5–6:30 PM – Dinner and off to Work

“One of the main issues I have faced is finding employment that fits my family’s busy schedule. My work schedule is spread out. I work three 12-hour shifts. I usually begin my workday at 6:30 pm, which means dinner has to be planned, already made, and set out in order for the kids to have something to eat. Showers and homework need to be done before I leave the house at 6 pm. Clothes are set out the night before.

Midnight – Laundry Time

“Not having a working washer and dryer is difficult because everything has to be washed at the laundromat. Finding the time to do so can be difficult after a day of appointments, homework, dinner, and cleaning up. I find myself doing laundry at a 24/7 laundromat way after midnight.”


“On the weekends, we usually have a sporting event we need to go to. The kids also visit their grandparents. I could also be scheduled to work. We also clean the house and try to get organized for our week ahead.”

“Go Go Go”

“One of the hardest things I face as a single parent is not having enough time to unwind. It is a constant hustle of “go go go.” It feels like I am constantly cleaning up one mess after another and preparing for the next thing.”

Saving For Emergencies

“Another issue I face is saving funds when there is so much I am responsible for and the kids are in constant need. Maintaining a household, maintaining a safe vehicle, finances, as well as trying to save are all very difficult things.

All the small little things add up—toiletries, hair products, deodorants, toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, clothes, shoes, gas, car insurance, car inspection, and so on. When you live in public housing, everything you earn is considered income, yet specific expenses are not considered a necessity even though they are absolutely necessary to maintain your quality of life.

One of those biggest expenses is a vehicle. It is a necessity for my family, but it is not considered a necessary expense. All the things that come with maintaining a vehicle are not deducted from your income or what they deduct from your living expenses when it comes to paying for your housing or receiving benefits.

It doesn’t leave much wiggle room to save or plan for emergency expenses because you are expected to spend your available income on rent. If you make too much, we may lose benefits that are supposed to help you, such as food stamps. Sometimes earning more money can cause the cost of our rent to go up.

Overall, I would like to be in a position where I am financially more stable and able to save more for my nieces and nephews’ future.”


Women United’s mission is to lift up single mothers and their families across Southern Maine. This year, their work will expand to communities in York County. You can be a part of this work by joining Women United. Contact Alexandra Turnbull at to learn more.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

*Women United also invests in Anchoring Youth to Succeed, a program run by Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine and A Company of Girls.