8 Survival Tips for Single Shift Working Parents

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Are you a superhero, single working parent, juggling raising a family AND managing a busy shift work roster?

I watch you in awe and have nothing but respect for the loving and supportive life you’re trying to maintain for your child/children. I want to make your situation easier by sharing some golden gems of advice I have learned, observed and read about and truly make a difference.

How can I be a shift worker and a single parent? Prioritizing your own health first allows you to build and maintain a safe, loving and supportive environment for your children. Then it comes down to leaning on your social network of family and friends. Cost permitting, live-in nannies and even 24-hour daycare could help to find routine and balance.

While I am not a single mom, I am a shift working blogger and thought it was absolutely essential to provide a helpful guide for single shift working parents on our site. I am not going to pretend I know what it’s like because I can’t. So instead I asked a bunch of my single parent shift working friends, watched endless videos and read hours upon hours of help forums online to develop the best tips I could.

If I am off the mark at all, please correct me, but I hope the information provided is accurate and above all incredibly helpful. The shift work industry is growing and I’m seeing more single parents trying to make ends meet, surviving on less than 3 hours sleep daily. This shouldn’t be your reality anymore…

1. Look After Your Own Health as a Single Parent

This is the most important point that seemed to surface throughout my research, but generally only after it’s been forgotten about. Even though you’re doing everything you possibly can for your child/children, you need to look out for yourself too.

If you don’t, you’ll soon run out of steam and have nothing else to give to your child, which can often result in feelings of guilt and resentment about the situation you’re in.

But if you’re thinking “I just don’t have enough time for me,” here are 5 areas you should at least prioritize moving forward to stop burning the candle at both ends.

#1 – Sleep as Much as You Can, When You Can

I often hear single shift working parents say, “I’m surviving, but I’m not living” and sleep has A LOT to do with this.

While it’s easier said than done, try and sleep where and whenever possible. Such as before you drive home from a night shift, while the kids are asleep, at school, etc.

Prioritize sleep instead of the housework, jobs, watching TV and playing video games even if you do have to close your eyes to your messy home from time to time. The dishes will still be there once you wake up

If a task is urgent, like taking the kids to school, this is a must. But turning on another episode of Game of Thrones can wait. I think you get the idea.

Have a positive mindset to actually falling asleep and don’t be afraid to use sleep aids to make sleeping more achievable – when it needs to happen on demand.

These are our favorite sleep aids I highly recommend you check out. Most are at a reasonable price and make a huge difference.

We talk A LOT about sleep here and we want you to at least strive for 7-9 hours consistently, even if you’re currently getting a lot less than this.

Here are a couple of posts we wrote to get you thinking more positively about sleep.

Mother kissing daughter | Single shift working parent

#2 – Take a break from drinking coffee

This may seem basic, but due to the amount of coffee most shift workers drink, we often forget about drinking water until our mouths are super dry and we have cracked lips.

While coffee is great for an energy boost and antioxidant kick (which prevents aging and getting sick), caffeine can also prevent us from sleeping. Why? caffeine stays in our system for up to 12 hours!

So our advice is to skip the coffee 5-6 hours before you need to sleep. Actually give yourself a chance at sleeping when you want to hit the hay.

But what can you drink instead?

Check out this post we wrote titled, What Should I Drink On Night Shift? 10 Energy Boosting Beverages for some delicious and easy ideas. Plus, a helpful guide to how much water you should be drinking.

#3 – Fill Yourself With Healthy Fuel and Stay Active

If you expect yourself to work 8-16 hour shifts AND look after your child/children once it’s done, you need to give yourself the right fuel to do the job properly.

While the vending machine, take-out store and processed foods seem attractive due to simplicity and affordability, they are not sustainable in the long term. Of course, they are okay in moderation, but you need more nutritious options too.

Here are a few posts you’ll gain useful advice from:

Though you might roll your eyes and say “pfff, I don’t have time”… exercise is also a great way to support your own health so you can look after others, such as your family and not just those at work (for those who have jobs in healthcare).

This doesn’t have to be anything extreme such as a 3-hour long gym session.

No, it can be as simple as a 5-10 minute jumping rope session, a 30 minute home gym workout on an app or walking around the block with your pet and your child after school.

Here are some posts which may give you some inspiration to move:

#4 – Make Time for the Things You Want to Do

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make the time to fill your cup up with sleep, healthy foods and activities which make you happy.

Here are a few suggestions to find the time for these things:

  • If you’re working 2nd shift or even swing shift and you have school-aged kids, use your morning to do even the smallest things for yourself. Go for a run, work in the garden or cook something you love to take to work.
  • If you’re working a 1st shift/early, use the evenings to either go to bed earlier or for the things you want to do. Such as reading a book, taking a bath or working on an online side business such as a blog or your own product. This post will give you a lot more ideas how to use your downtime effectively.
  • Use your breaks at work and even your commute to do things for you. Don’t waste the entire time scrolling on social media as I often have. Listen to interesting podcasts, browse YouTube about how other shift workers meal prep, take note of dinner recipes you can try from online experts, learn hacks to help clean your house faster and read blogs about money-saving tips you could be utilizing.

#5 – Don’t Punish Yourself With Small Mistakes

It’s not the end of the world if you forget about a play date with another child or fancy dress days at school.

I’m sure you have a special way to say sorry to your child who will soon forget the event ever happened. Singing a song, playing games and even making cupcakes together works a treat!

You are doing the very best you can and one day your child will see that, even if they have no idea right now.

We wrote a similar post titled, Sleep, Sanity, and Success: Night Shift Tips for Busy Moms which targets the common pain points making life challenging. Once you’re done with this post, come back and take a look at this one, it’s very relatable.

[VIDEO] In creating this article, I stumbled across a woman called Stephanie Lyn who talks about blame, guilt and loneliness as a single parent.

I could try and summarize her message but she approaches this topic from experience. It’s well worth a watch or simply to listen if your driving or going for a walk by clicking below.

Single parents don’t just include those who are divorced, widowed or bringing up a child on your own. It can also include moms and dad’s who’s partner/spouse is away a lot for work such as those involved in the military. But it can also include those in a relationship where the emotional connection is unfortunately lost.

Related Posts:

2. Build a Single Parent Army Support Network

From all the research I have read and observed, this is a huge piece of the puzzle for single shift working parents.

Building a small “army” of people around you and your family is the key when you need help. Because the question is not “if” you need help but “when.”

Asking for help doesn’t make you a failure, weak or incompetent, so don’t think about it like this. I have read comments like this too many times from mom’s and dad’s scared about asking for help because of the way it makes them look as a parent.

If a family member including grandparents, friends or even a neighbor is putting out their hand to help, take it. And even if they aren’t – ask. In most cases, they are not expecting anything in return and just want to help you manage life as a single parent.

It’s important though not to strain the ties of your family if for example they already have small children.

Having a reliable group of people who can provide “stand by” help will take the stress out of the moment when your “regular help” is unavailable. Let your family and friends know your schedule well in advance and ask who can be the backup for each shift you are working.

This provides some structure for the person on standby as they are able to plan their schedule around yours to ensure they are available and not let you down. (source)

Embrace the grandparents where possible

“Take it one week at a time and don’t think too far into the future”

– Single parent working in a corporate beauty salon with shift work hours (source)

But what if you don’t have a close family or supportive, reliable friends?

Consider the following:

Licensed 24-hour Daycare:

What to consider:

  • Is there one available in your area?
  • Is their license to up-to-date?
  • Is there a minimum age the center will except?
  • Is there a waiting list?
  • Investigate whether any complaints have been made against the facility and when
  • Do the hours of operation work for you? (if not 24 hours)
  • Meet whoever runs the center and as many staff as possible
  • Have a good look around the center. What is your gut telling you? Is your child safe and in good hands? I know money could be tight, but childcare is not an area you want to skim on.

If there is no 24-hour childcare facility close by can you approach local government or gather a team of other shift workers and open one yourselves? Sounds adventurous, but anything is possible when the right, positive, determined people collaborate dreams and ideas. (source)

Use an AU Pier or Live-In Nanny

What to consider:

  • Can you afford a service such as this? It’s worth obtaining several quotes before settling on a company/individual.
  • Make sure you go through an organized, licensed and professional service to ensure thorough background checks have been completed. You want somebody who is safe, professional and reliant.
  • You may also want to investigate any personal and professional references before you hire them.
  • Suss out their driving history too. This may not be available in all states within the United States and you may need to do a bit of digging yourself. While talking about driving, explore the car they are driving and if it’s safe to carry car seats.
  • Are they trained in pediatric or neonatal (baby) CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and able to recognize what an emergency looks like.
  • Do they have a working cell phone in case of an emergency? Who pays for this bill?
  • Once hired, make sure they know about any allergies your child has to medication and foods and what to do if they are exposed.

Utilize the Service of a Friend Who Will Accept Payment for Helping Out

This could be awkward if payment is involved but in some cases can work out significantly cheaper than average childcare.

Other Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Are you able to move back in with your parents? If not, can they assist with school pick up for looking after the child/children while you’re on night shift?
  • Are you able to move bedrooms around in your home to make room for a live-in Au peir? Is doubling up the kid’s bedroom with bunks an option or utilizing the study for the youngest child?

Be cautious asking an older sibling or even a new partner to watch your young one while at work. Remember your focus should always be about ensuring safety for yourself and your child and also creating a loving, happy environment, no matter what shift you are on. Can you really guarantee these things here?

Women walking through the trees with baby
I know you think there is always MORE you can do. But your best is enough.

3. Be Honest With Your Employer and Establish a Trusted Relationship

If you feel comfortable, talk openly and let them know about the situation you’re in, particularly if you are struggling.

  • What shifts are most difficult to make on time or at all due to school pick up and drop off or other commitments?
  • What are the best shifts relative to childcare? (This could also be help from family)
  • How and when to best report your child is sick meaning you need to take a day off?
  • Are you able to transition to a different shift such as nights or even 12-hour shifts for a short period of time depending on when help is available?
  • Are you allowed to bring your phone onto the unit/workplace incase the carer calls?
  • Is there the ability to swap shifts last minute if there is a willing and able colleague able to help?
  • Be honest about the current workload and the expectations around retuning to work post-childbirth or if you have pre-school aged children.
  • Is there any opportunity to work from home? This may not be an option for the majority of shift workers but it could be worth exploring with management in some professions. You never know what data entry or research is being done behind the scenes which needs completion, but doesn’t require office time.

In being realistic, I understand having open communication discussions with your employer can be “hit and miss.”

Some managers are a lot more understanding than others, often making these discussions difficult.

But at the end of the day it’s you and your family that is the most important, so just be honest if the situation isn’t working and see what can be done. There is always something you can do.

Related Resources:

Are you able to manipulate your roster?

Manipulate your roster where possible to ensure you can spend maximum time with your child. Here is a post we wrote with some helpful roster tips.

4. Create a Routine and Structure as a Single Parent

While the word “routine” doesn’t mesh well with shift work there are some areas we can concentrate on to keep family life as structured as possible.

Here are a few areas where you can find routine in the home:

  • Develop a bedtime routine. 
    Make sure whoever is looking after your child, whether that’s you, a family member or carer, is aware of the bedtime routine and sticks to it. For example, when is bathing and brushing teeth time? Do we read a book in bed AND sing a song? Do you call them during your shift to say goodbye if it doesn’t upset them too much and become counterproductive?
  • Regular mealtimes.
    Again, depending on who is looking after the child, ensure they are aware of the dinner-time and breakfast routine. For example, sitting at the table without the TV on, using silverware and demonstrating proper table manners. Don’t get into the habit of skipping set mealtimes when you’re rushing between shifts and create a consistent routine.
  • Maintain a consistant sleep environment. 
    While pushing for your child to sleep in their own bed is not always achievable, it’s worth striving for.
  • Set Boundaries.
    Even if your shifts are all over the place, you need to set boundaries for your children as to what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Swearing, manners, respectable communication, inappropraite tone in their voice, doing their homework and tantrums… these are all things you can control. Despite working long hours, be tough but fair. You’ll thank yourself later.
Teaching them how to do the dishes will pay you dividends!

5. Be Open to Carpooling for School-Aged Children

This point is similar to an earlier tip about asking for help.

I know you want to be at the gates at school pick up every single day, but often, unfortunately, this is just not possible as a shift worker.

Suss out which parents you like, trust and live within your area. Can you organize a pickup/drop off situation for even a few days a week?

You never know what other parents (or even other shift working parents!) are struggling with, so it’s worth exploring if you’re struggling to get your child to and from school on time.

For those on a rotating shift work schedule, it could be tricky finding a flexible parent to help as your routine is constantly changing. But don’t let this stop you from finding a solution. You never know who else is out there struggling to connect the dots.

Read: Essential Guide to Working a Rotating Shift Schedule.

If carpooling isn’t an option, does the school offer after-school care activities like sport or art? Even just for a few hours, this could be a great option when working night shift and you are desperate for an extra few hours sleep.

Mothing kissing daughter | Single shift working parent help

6. Embrace Night Shift as a Single Parent If…

You have help.

If you are a single parent but have the support of family and friends nearby where you can drop your child off for the night, (or better yet can come to your place to look after your child), this may be a workable option.

If you don’t, night shift may not be appropriate until you can obtain assistance to safely care for your child in the hours you are away.

While night shift can be difficult both on your health and energy levels, it can also be a blessing in disguise for some parents.

Here are some pros to working night shift as a single parent:

  • You can sleep during the day if your child is of a school-age
  • There is a greater financial reward to working the night shift
  • Slower pace at night in some industries
  • Less politics and drama, again in some shift work industries, as there is minimal management around during these hours.
  • Easier commute to work meaning more time at home
  • Generally, night shift creates a close, supportive working team due to fewer resources
  • Working 10-12 hour night shifts allows for more days off which may suit some people

Related posts: Pros and Cons of Night Shift vs Day Shift. Who Wins?

There are of course some negatives to working night shift as a single parent such as sleeping during the day if you have smaller, pre-school aged children at home without support.

So you need to thoroughly analyze your situation carefully before accepting the 3rd shift job.

Tips for Working Night Shift as a Single Parent:

  • Depending on your shift start time, commute and school start time, having a sleep in the car or overnight sleeping room, if available at your workplace, will do wonders. Nobody can run on empty forever. Pack your eye mask and even a weighted blanketOpens in a new tab. (Click to view via Amazon) in the car to make this nap possible.

Related post: How to Stop Falling Asleep While Driving after Night Shift​

  • If possible, drop your child/children off at their moms/dad’s house, your parents or grandparents house to sleep and pick them up after work in the morning. While this is not ideal to constantly alter their sleeping environment, it’s a safe, loving situation.
  • Turn on the slow cooker once you get home. This way dinner is ready as soon as you get up and it’s one less thing you need to worry about. I often have all the jars and cans out on the bench and have my veggies cut up sitting in the fridge so I can just throw it in and go to sleep. If you don’t get to this, don’t stress and just prepare the crockpot once you get home.

Related post: How To Best Prepare for the Night Shift and Stay Healthy

  • I touched on this earlier but go to bed as soon as possible once you get home. If you need to drop the kids off at school, come home, enjoy breakfast and shower, then go to bed. If you need to wind down (as you probably will!) pop on your blue light blocking glasses and read a book instead or listen to meditative music like the kinds we recommend here. Check out the blue light glasses we love and wear here.

Related post: How to Fall Asleep Quickly Even When You’re Not Tired

  • Tidy up the kitchen before you leave for a shift. This limits the stress of wanting/needing to do it once you get home
  • “Sleep when they sleep” if you have babies at home. This was a frequent response to managing shift work with a baby.

If you are having trouble sleeping when working night shift we have a few articles which you will find useful here:

7. Consider If There Are Other Job Opportunities

Is your current shift work situation just not working?

This could be due to a HUGE range of factors from limited help, extended commute time and also your financial situation.

If you have tried what seems like everything to make your situation work, is it time to consider what other jobs are available in your area? I’m not suggesting to just pick up and leave immediately, but I encourage you to look around and browse online to see what could be a better (or even perfect) fit for you and your family.

This is just a thought, but could you drop your hours in your current shift work job and pick up a second job working from home? I know this is risky due to the unknown financially, but I have seen it work many times for single shift working parents.

Here are some options you may wish to consider:

2nd job opportunityPotential companies
Freelance writingFiverr, Askwonder
Customer service (generally 3rd shift)Uhaul, Nexrep
Teaching English to international studentsVipkid
Email support and online chat jobsSitestafe (US only)
Transcribing text and data entry jobs from home Axiondata, Scribie
Taking surveys for moneyTolunaOpens in a new tab.InboxPoundsOpens in a new tab.OnepollOpens in a new tab.
Review websites and apps for cashUserTesting.comOpens in a new tab.
Get paid for your opinionSwagbucks
Retail jobs with a different shift structureKroger, Walmart, Lowes, Macy’s

8. Take Your Kids to Work…

If you’re really desperate.

Dan and I recently went out for dinner on a rare Friday night and the waitress who took our order had her baby on her hip. It seemed odd at the time but the situation seemed to work.

She later put down her baby in a cot in the corner of the restaurant with some toys so she could watch him. Everyone seemed happy!

While this situation is far from ideal and doesn’t work in all industries, this mom made it work for her and her son.

So if you’re desperate and your area is safe, bring a fenced-in children’s play area to your workplace and placing it in a safe location like an empty meeting room or close to where you are working.

This is all dependent on your employer and what they allow to be appropriate, but ask and you never know what may be received.


Summary: 8 Survival Tips for Single Shift Working Parents

Don’t be afraid of being a single parent and working shift work. Use the support network around you and be organized with the things you can control.

But above all else, focus on creating a happy, loving, safe environment for you and your child – even if it looks unusual for a while.

What else can you share about managing being a single parent shift worker?

Next up – If you feel like a single parent sometimes despite having a hard-working partner in your life, this post will resonate.


Emma signature | theothershift.com

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts